chapter
18 Pages

Ritual and Text in the Renaissance

WithThomas M. Greene

This chapter describes the changing status of a certain kind of sign, and the effects of the change on literary texts, during that period we have come to call the Renaissance. The changing sign is the symbolic act employed in ceremonial and ritual performances. The very word “ritual” today has acquired a clinical meaning; psychotherapists refer to certain neurotic compulsive habits as “private rituals.” Medieval ritual was itself subject to transmutation and debate and doubtless intermittent indifference. The space for ritual invention which opens more than once in the Commedia reopens in a less solemn context on the pages of Boccaccio’s Decameron. An anthropologist, Roy Rappaport, has contrasted the effects of ritual with the effects of language. He writes, The distinctions of language cut the world into bits — into categories, classes, oppositions, and contrasts.