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Strange Footing

Poetic Form and Dance in the Late Middle Ages

Strange Footing

Poetic Form and Dance in the Late Middle Ages

For premodern audiences, poetic form did not exist solely as meter, stanzas, or rhyme scheme. Rather, the form of a poem emerged as an experience, one generated when an audience immersed in a culture of dance encountered a poetic text.

Exploring the complex relationship between medieval dance and medieval poetry, Strange Footing argues that the intersection of texts and dance produced an experience of poetic form based in disorientation, asymmetry, and even misstep. Medieval dance guided audiences to approach poetry not in terms of the body’s regular marking of time and space, but rather in the irregular and surprising forces of virtual motion around, ahead of, and behind the dancing body. Reading medieval poems through artworks, paintings, and sculptures depicting dance, Seeta Chaganti illuminates texts that have long eluded our full understanding, inviting us to inhabit their strange footings askew of conventional space and time.

Strange Footing deploys the motion of dance to change how we read medieval poetry, generating a new theory of poetic form for medieval studies and beyond.

Read chapter three: "A Certain Slant of Light": Reenacting Danse macabre as Dance.

304 pages | 10 color plates, 25 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, Romance Languages

Medieval Studies

Music: General Music


"Innovative. . . . Bold."

Times Literary Supplement

“At every step of the way, Seeta Chaganti sets us onto a ‘strange footing’—an uncanny hop or glide between modern, premodern and contemporary, disorienting—in the best possible way—any expectation the reader might hold as to which period or genre illustrates which. . . . In this way, [the book] enacts a premodern critical aesthetic, employing ductus and virtuality perpetually to posit a translucent scrim between contemporary ways of gazing at performance and the temporally and spatially ductile ways late medieval poetic forms integrate cross-temporal experience into and across media. If intermediality itself is premodern, Chaganti shows how far contemporary critical theory can still go to move the form of its scholarship along.”

Critical Inquiry

“Bold, original, and brilliant . . . . Possibly the greatest contribution of Chaganti’s work in this monograph is the way that it opens up a new vista onto the political dimensions of medieval poetic form. To approach medieval poetry with the virtual supplement of danced experience in mind is also to consider how that verse might interact with social hierarchies and power relations in ways not immediately evident on the surface. . . . One can only hope that literary scholars will follow suit and take up Chaganti’s invitation to acknowledge and explore the strange and unfamiliar world of medieval movement.”

Studies in the Age of Chaucer

“Seeta Chaganti’s Strange Footing: Poetic Form and Dance in the Late Middle Ages is interdisciplinary in the most powerful sense of the term. Chaganti is fully conversant with the theory and practice of both dance criticism and medieval literary studies, and works at the intersection of the two fields to produce a genuinely original model of poetic form illuminated by danced virtuality.”

Katharine Breen, Northwestern University

“With great originality, Chaganti’s luminous book probes the experience of medieval poetic form through dance. Her sensitive, felt understanding of how the dancing body creates a virtual shape borne out of movement enables her to develop a richly multifaceted approach to medieval poetry: to the danse macabre, carols, and dance songs from many languages and vernacular cultures. In her skillful and imaginative readings, dance becomes a newly powerful means by which contemporary audiences can experience the living perceptual practices of the past.”

Ardis Butterfield, Yale University

“Bringing together discourses and art forms normally isolated one from the other—namely medieval dance, medieval poetry, medieval and modern art, and contemporary theory—Strange Footing marks out an exciting new field of intergeneric studies. A prolific scholar and an astonishingly original thinker, Chaganti writes with admirable insight and unforgettable, ‘terpsichorean’ grace.”

Peter W. Travis, Dartmouth College

"... this is an impressive and engaging work, one that takes chances—particularly in its extended treatment of modern dance—as few have done before it, and that as a result is likely to challenge and advance agendas in many different fields."


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Part One

1. “Vanysshed Was this Daunce”: Reenactment, Experience, Virtuality
2. Bonaventure and a Strumpet: A Theory of Medieval Poetic Form

Part Two

3. “A Certain Slant of Light”: Reenacting Danse macabre as Dance
4. “Dredful Fotyng”: Reenacting Danse macabre’s Poetic Form

Part Three

5. The Carole’s Virtual Circles
6. Dance on the Surface, Dance in the Depths: Reenacting Form in the Middle English Carol

Conclusion: Dance in the Margins, Dance in the Center



Modern Language Association: MLA Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies

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