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The Broken Pot Restored: 'Le Jeu de la Feuillee' of Adam de la Halle.

By Gordon Douglas McGregor, ed. by Karl D. Uitti and Joseph Miller. (Lexington, Kentucky: French Forum Publishers, 1991). 185 pp. ISBN 0-917058-76-3. $14.85.)

This book consists of three chapters which analyse and discuss the Jeu, finishing with an English version of the play and some translations of fatrasies -- a style of writing important for an understanding of the play itself. Chapter i, |The broken pot', proposes an interpretative strategy based on the |broken pot' proverb of line 11, which will be thematically central to the play's structure. The second, |The shards', consists of a detailed exploration of the play's intertextuality -- conge fatrasie, chanson de geste, Amadas et Ydoine -- and the third, |The pot restored', draws the strands together, adducing the Mystire d'Adam as the key to an understanding of the moral/hermeneutic significance of Adam's text.

McGregor's survey of the critical literature makes it dear that the central problem in this text -- as, for example, in parts of Villon's Testament -- concerns the relation between the referential and poetic functions of the text's language (p. 32). Research has shown how rich it is in allusion to contemporary local reality, and the hermeneutic puzzle that it sets the reader may well originate in the possibility that the meanings of the text lie partly in referential structures to which the text itself does not give us access. McGregor hesitates between seeking intratextual meaning and identifying |aimlessness and disorder' (p. 68) and |vivid fragments' (p. 131). His search for meaning internal to the text constantly runs into instances in which the text's |set' to the context is dominant and its poetic structure apparently weak. He has many suggestive comments to make, but his identification of possible thematic structure is too often notional and piecemeal. Criteria for the thematic status of repeated elements, such as mentions of broken pots and the idea that the relation between Adam and Maroie is reiterated in that between Morgue and Robert Sommeillon, are never made explicit. A similar problem of method arises in deciding if and when intertextual structure is mobilized by intratextual collocation; does the fragmented pot of line 11 (|Encore pert il bien as tes queus li pos fu') imply an extensive scriptural intertext as McGregor claims, or does it connnote, for example, a class of proverbs of similar meaning, for instance |Bien pert el chef quels les oilz furent'?

McGregor attempts to solve the problem of the play's fragmentary nature by identifying |fragmentariness' as its unifying theme (p. 33), but it is never clear if and how this thematization occurs, since the ruptures which mark the text have no discernible semantic structure. The relevance of the fatrasie is that it suggests the possibility of an associative metaphorical patterning of the text, but this is only touched on. More interestingly, McGregor points out the possible thematization of coutel between Adam's set-piece description of the beauty of his wife, in which her hips are compared to a carved knife-handle, and the crucial absence of a knife in Maglore's place-setting. The force of this idea lies in the |relational' character of the repeated structure, not |Knife [right arrow] knife' but |knife/ woman [right arrow] knife/woman', not a simple repeated element but a recurring relation between two distinct lexically expressed ideas. This, however, is a rare instance, and too much of the argument relies on notional identifications of intratextual parallels (as on page 38) and structurally baseless intertextual correlations, such as matching the apple in the inn scene with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge from the Mystere d'Adam (p. 123) as well as Adam's change of clothing with that of Adam and Eve before leaving Paradise.

The interest of this book lies in its attempt to synthesize literary-historical and stylistic approaches to the text; and although the question of the play's poetic structure needs a more systematic approach, possibly a discourse-semantic one, the editors are to be thanked for publishing an argument that will do much to stimulate reading of and thinking about this fascinating and difficult text.
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Author:Pensom, Roger
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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