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7 Class Notes 1
APE Medeval Literaure and Frye’s Mythoi Dan Parker

1 Medeval Literature
- Western Literature from this time period is not stressed on the AP
- most work had religious influence
- even secular works have very strong conform-to-society and anti-individual themes
- most stories have no authors
- passed down through the oral tradition
- “creative” was almost an insult
allegory: a narrative in which abstract ideas figure as circumstances or persons, usually to enforce a
moral truth
- the structure of an allegory comes from outside the text
- refers to something that exists prior to the text
- the outside structure provides motives, psychological realism, characters, verisimilitude, and so
on automatically
- often, without the outside structure, the allegorical story would appear bizarre and unrealistic
- with the outside structure, we see it is based on fact, and is, in fact, quite realistic
- therefore, if we do not understand the outside events or situation, then the full meaning of the
text cannot be grasped
- see Medievalism and Allegory Handout

1.1 Everyman Plays

- these are comedy and used today
- unless it is a Medeval piece with the character specifically named “Everyman”, refer to the
character as “everyman”
e.g. Joe Public is a common pseudonym for an “everyman” figure
- How to recognize an Everyman:
- vague personal characteristics
- unnamed
- setting is “mythic” or somehow “outside” of time
- see the handout Everyman

1.2 Dante’s Divine Comedy

- see the handout called Why Dante? Who Cares?
- watch for circles, especially concentric ones
- watch for guide figures
- watch for unattainable women
- watch for allusions to Inferno
- these are all allusions to Divine Comedy
- it may be the most referenced book after the bible
- Ms. Holmes will try to sneak allusions past us to see if we catch them
- everyman-figures, Divine Comedy, and allegory are the concepts and features from Medieval Literature
that come back in later works

2 Ex Tempore Works
- say we have a piece of greek literature with all the features of an Sececan Revenge Tragedy
- can we call it one?
- in short: no
- instead, say it is “similar to a Sececan Revenge Tragedy” to show the AP that you recognize the
features of one, but aren’t confusing the time periods
- usually, techniques and features are lowercase, but the time period is capitalized
e.g. Postmodernism is postmodern
e.g. The Wizard of Oz(the film) is a Postmodern allegory with romantic features laid over grittily
realistic themes
2010.2.7 Class Notes 2
APE Medeval Literaure and Frye’s Mythoi Dan Parker

3 Trends in Western Literature

- see the handout Trends in The History of Western Literature

4 Frye’s Mythoi
p: (Northrop Frye)
- the first person to try to unify the field of literary criticism
- wanted a single system to analyze all of literature
l: Hero with a Thousand Faces
- by Joseph Campbell
- main concept: ‘there is only one story’ — the quest
- popularized by Frye and others of his generation, several decades after it was written
- when mentioning Frye’s Mythoi, be sure to mention them in that context, so they are not confused
with the standard literary meanings of the terms
- Frye believed that the mythoi arrived into a society’s literature in this order

4.1 Romance
- Stages of The Quest:
- the hero begins as an embodiment of societal virtues
- perilous journey
- reaches a low point
- then travels back to the top as a stronger, better person
- this endorses the culture by showing that, if you follow the virtues dictated by society, you will
eventually be better off
- this mythoi dominates the early literature of a culture
- always a complete whole

4.2 Tragedy
- the “first half only” of the Romance Mythoi
- truncated at the low point
- endorses the society indirectly by showing the effects of losing the benefits of society

4.3 Comedy
- the “second half only” of the Romance Mythoi
- begins at the bottom and rises up
- endorses the values of the society by show the “top”, the pinnacle of the society to be desirable

4.4 Irony
- chronologically, the last to develop in a society
- starts low and ends low
- “meaningless quest”, i.e. the world lacks value
- often parodies other mythoi, usually the romance
- clearly, this does not endorse society
- Frye didn’t claim all of Western Literature fit into his scheme
- however, he did believe most did
displacement: slight deviations from the common pattern of Mythoi in modern literature
- originally, stories were basically straight archetypal
- now, however, all such stories have been told many time
- they are “uncreative”
2010.2.7 Class Notes 3
APE Medeval Literaure and Frye’s Mythoi Dan Parker

- so authors modify the basic Mythoi, so as not to appear clumsy

- these new works still ‘display the elements of the story’
- it’s the ‘same story, just disguised’
- so to be interesting, the one story must be disguised for a modern audience

5 Novels
- see the handouts What makes it a novel? and The Novel

6 Literary Terms
- see the handout Literary Terms Practice
- also look at the AP Latin Literary Terms handouts, there is lots of overlap