Vernacular epic frequently furnishes material and models for romance treatment: descriptions of arming, knightly combat, assembled barons in counsel, and so on. Reversing the order of historical appearance, romance may even establish prior claims in the genealogy of epic heroes, as when Floire and Blancheor are identied as the progenitors of Berte au grand pied, the mother of Charlemagne.
Both genres interact in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as many romances continue to exploit the materials and traits of oral poetry not only to prot from earlier or alternate modes of discourse but to play on the mixed character of their own transmission and reception as written narratives read out loud in castle hall or manor house chamber and in later centuries in bourgeois settings as well.
In Floire the opening epic call is quickly elaborated to address the courtly audience more specically targeted by romance: knights and maidens, damsels and noble youths are invited to listen, as are all those suffering from love 2: Cil qui damors se vont penant. The anonymous author of Partonopeu de Blois takes the romance play with love a step further by alternating and combining in the narrators voice the stances of lyric lover and didactic clerk.
The ample dimensions of Partonopeus prologue allow the narrator to give himself both the credentials of the learned, school-trained author and the qualications of the lover. He quotes St. Paul, But he also notes the glorious return of springtime and hears the amorous singing of larks, nightingales and orioles. Joy and youth summon him to sing, as they do the lyric poet, but the romancer will respond by putting an adventure into writing. Later interventions allow him to reect not only on his lack of success in love but on more general themes: the blindness of lovers or the disharmony created when beauty and chastity are allied.
The embryonic story of the narrator and his lady gradually builds and insinuates itself alongside that of the characters until we learn in the epilogue, following the celebration of Melior and Partonopeus marriage, that the narrator has by no means exhausted all the potential of his tale now over 10, verses long : he has only stopped momentarily because his pain in love is so great. At the ladys request, a verse Continuation follows with his own love no further advanced. As these examples demonstrate, the persona of the narrating voice as lter for the tale told, as well as link to the romance public, may vary considerably from work to work and even from one part to another in the same work.
Narrators may be distanced, or engaged, or both depending on the textual moment or level considered ; they are, by turns, economic or generous in their commentary, sympathetic or judgmental, gently or broadly ironic, learned and clerical in their teaching role, or amorous and involved as lovers whose own stories compete with and sometimes even interact with those of their characters. Later romances will continue to explore the possibilities.
Obliged by Arthur to marry the lady he has rescued from an evil enchantment, Guinglain has been forced to abandon the fairy mistress he really loves. But if Renauts lady will show him a fair countenance, he will continue the tale and bring Guinglain back to his beloved. Jean Renarts insistence on the technical virtuosity and difference of his Roman de la Rose with its lyric insertions , as well as the ironic, even comic, play of his narrator, may be considered one of the many fruits born from Chrtiens models.
By contrast, the narrators of the Prose Lancelot and the Vulgate Cycle in general will adapt and enormously amplify Chrtiens matter while for the most part abandoning his narrating voice. The witty je who mimics the oral storyteller by calling attention to his role gives way to the more impersonal stance of a story that claims to tell itself as transparently as the written text allows: now the story says. The intricate tissue of the interlaced account thus propels its readers through the maze of intersecting storylines. The frame of Arthurs court typically furnishes the setting for the opening and closing scenes, as well as the celebration of the heros interim successes.
In non-Arthurian romances like Ipomedon or Partonopeu de Blois, other courts fulll the same function. The Round Table supplies an abundance of standard characters who recur from romance to romance Gauvain, Keu, Sagremor, etc. And character types return as well: the dwarf, the lady who needs a champion, the Proud Knight, and so on.
Typical scenes like the tournament may become the focus of elaborate concatenations. In the second part of Cligs, the eponymous hero arrives incognito at Arthurs court and distinguishes himself at a three-day tournament in which he triumphs each day disguised in armor of a different color.
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Variations on this outstanding but gratuitous exploit reappear frequently in subsequent romances. Hue de Rotelande orchestrates a complex, comic variation in Ipomedons version as the doubly disguised hero plays simultaneously two separate roles. At a tournament arranged to determine who will marry La Fire, his disdainful lady a type borrowed from the rst part of Cligs , Ipomedon imitates the multi-colored performance of Cligs on three successive days, while spending each morning and evening at a different court in the parodic role of the Queens lover, a man apparently without honor who claims to eschew prowess for the pleasures of the hunt.
In the three-day tournament for Meliors hand that alone constitutes the entire second part of his romance, Partonopeu too ghts incognito, although he keeps the same armor from day to day so that his achievements will all accrue to the same man and earn him the right to marry his beloved Melior. The narrator magnies his appearance each time by setting it in tandem with his companion Gaudin and thus anticipates the elaborate tournament that occupies about a third of the narrative in the Livre de Caradoc, a complete romance included in the First Continuation of Chrtiens Perceval.
Cligss arrival at the Oxford tournament plays on a conventional pattern that shapes many romances. Indeed, it appears earlier in the same romance with his father Alexandre: a fair unknown comes to Arthurs court to be knighted and claims the rst challenge to launch his knightly career. Perceval, too, follows this narrative scheme but with signicant and comic variations, since he arrives from the forest where he has grown up with no knowledge of courtly conventions and nds a court in considerable disarray. Jaufre, the only Arthurian romance that has come to us in the Occitan corpus, does a more traditional rendition of the fair unknown pattern in its opening scenes, but later plays with burlesque delight on the comic example of Perceval.
In the Conte du Graal the Blood Drops The three drops of blood contrasted against white snow remind Perceval of the face of his beloved Blancheor. Lost in contemplation of her semblance, Perceval is challenged by Sagremor and Keu, who are both unhorsed when they try to take the unknown knight to Arthur.
Each time Perceval resumes his revery, until nally Gauvains more courtly approach is able to establish friendly contact and mutual introductions. In Jaufre a similar series of jousts between the hero and the knights of Brunissen, into whose garden he has inadvertently strayed, redeploy many of the same elements used in the Conte du Graal.
But they are rearranged to lead into the meeting of the hero and the lady who will become his beloved and nally his wife. Although there is some uncertainty about the dating of Jaufre, either contemporary with Chrtiens romances or c. We are thus expected to recognize how individual romances reinvent common elements and re shape their own contours both against the abstraction we call romance tradition and through the more particular allusions that differentiate even as they connect specic romances. The simple, chronological plots of the early antique romances typically frame and juxtapose a series of amplications based on topical subjects: portraits of the characters idealized beauty, elaborate descriptions of objects and monuments e.
These romances continue the Classical convention of ecphrases, descriptions of art works as elaborate setpieces, as in the two descriptions of Adrastes tent Roman de Thbes, , : both the natural and the human world are extensively represented, with a detailed world map, the twelve seasons of the year, the history and laws of Greece, etc. A golden eagle, embellished with precious stones, crowns the top and sends out a ery blaze as soon as the suns rays touch it That commanding eagle will reappear in a whole series of tent descriptions, which continue to play through romance tradition from the abbreviated description of Eneass pavilion to a series of tents more closely tied to the individual and amorous adventures of Arthurian heroes.
Chrtien, in particular, uses such descriptions to link matiere and san. In his last, unnished romance, Perceval sees a wondrous tent soon after leaving his mother and jumps to the conclusion that it must be a church, since his mother told him in her parting advice that churches which he has never seen are beautiful edices. When he then discovers a maiden sleeping inside, the episode intersects comically with the kind of erotic encounter gured by the tent in Marie de Frances Lanval, where the fairys pavilion also sports a golden eagle and provides a mistress and abundant gifts for the needy hero.
Perceval continues to misunderstand and misapply his mothers advice on love, as he helps himself to the ladys kisses and pries off her emerald ring. Perceval will later have to correct his foolish, but deadly, mistakes when he encounters the lady and her jealous friend, whose punishment of her indelity has entailed both persecution for her and death for a whole series of knights. When the First Continuation picks up the thread of Chrtiens romance by continuing Gauvains adventures, he offers new variations on the tent description as invitation.
First, Gauvain comes upon a tent, topped with the characteristic golden eagle and painted with birds and owers and beasts. Within he nds a maiden who seizes the occasion for love. When combat ensues with her brothers and father, their vengeance is postponed because of Gauvains previous wounds. When the episode is resumed much later, Gauvain himself recounts what happened earlier, but the second version offers a tale of rape rather than seduction initiated by a willing lady.
Multiple views thus highlight the problematic status of the paradigm itself: the tent constitutes a remote space, a special place for love, yet it remains difcult to assign a place to the woman who inhabits it, be she fairy, maiden, or lady. The themes of female sexuality and delity are equally problematic in Jean Renarts Roman de la Rose known as Guillaume de Dole to distinguish it from Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meuns romance.
The heroine Linors birthmark becomes the crux of narrative play on the power of description to set conicting events into motion. Jean Renarts work shows how non-Arthurian romance mirrors the tendency of Arthurian romances, in verse as in prose, to follow Chrtiens models by embedding description in diverse narrative patterns.
It demonstrates further how topical descriptions may be oriented in new directions by later romancers, in particular by a technique of glissement or sliding. Jealous of the Emperors love for Linor and his interest in Guillaume, the seneschal When the seneschal falsely claims to the Emperor that he knows Linor in all the biblical ramications of the term, she uses disguise and false tales in particular, a story of rape in which she is the victim, the seneschal the perpetrator to prove her innocence and establish his guilt.
In this second type of slippage, the beauty of the birthmark becomes problematized, rst discredited and nally rehabilitated through Linors own ingenuity. Description of the marvel is thus redened in the process of narrative invention in much the same way that Jean Renart has redened the character of romance through his use of a wide variety of lyric insertions, all sung by the characters.
The combination of narrative and lyric setpieces sets a new vogue for romance that can be seen in Gerbert de Montreuils Roman de la Violette and the Roman du castelain de Couci et de la dame de Fayel. Guillaume de Lorriss own Roman de la Rose offers yet another approach to mixing lyric and romance, this time through the multiple resources of allegory. The narrator is transformed through dream into a lyric lover engaged in a narrative quest of his beloved, now gured and fragmented as a rose in a garden.
Unlike Arthurian romance where chivalric prowess generally leads to the rewards of love, the quest here is related to the art of loving and the gradus amoris, the stages of love that begin with the perception of the beloveds beauty and culminate in loves ultimate joy. Allegorical gures and descriptions proliferate as action slows and then stops: Guillaumes lover fails to achieve his quest, which requires the continuation of Jean de Meun to bring it to completion. Before allowing the lover to storm the ladys castle and pluck the rose, however, the second author opens up further possibilities for protean hybridization: his enormous amalgam includes the extended discourses of allegorical and non-allegorical gures, scientic materials, contemporary polemics, and classical stories rewritten.
The continuation stretches Guillaumes unnished romance from verses to 20, plus, a striking contrast to the tidy dimensions of Guillaume de Doles verses, or the standard length of Chrtiens romances, between and verses. What are the basics of romance narrative in the twelfth century? How does the wide range of possibilities explored pick up from the antique romances and lay the groundwork not only for the continued production of verse romances in the thirteenth century but for the new phase marked by prose romance cycles? This is an enormous eld, and I can only begin to sketch some of the most signicant patterns of romance construction.
A number of key techniques will have wide and varying applications: the segmentation of the narrative into episodes, the use of analogy to build intra- and intertextual patterns, the interlacing of narrative segments or lines. With a corpus of ve romances and his genius for crystallizing powerful models that operate directly or indirectly in the developing romance tradition, Chrtiens work provides a valuable starting point to explain and illustrate these techniques, as well as their potential for reinvention.
An initial problem or lack launches the hero on a quest, which is realized in a series of episodes. The heros success is celebrated by marriage with his beloved, discovered and won as a result of his prowess. But a crisis soon disrupts their happiness. The heros reputation cast in doubt, he must once again set out on a series of adventures to redene his identity. His success in these further trials sets a new level of extraordinary achievement and culminates in the celebration of the heros triumph. This is gured by the coronation of Erec and Enide in the nal scene of Erec; Yvains ending, with the reconciliation of Laudine and the Knight of the Lion, is rather more problematic.
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There have been many critical disagreements about how exactly to characterize the overall design of this complex plot. Arguments for bipartition and tripartition generally hinge on the role attributed to the moment of crisis that brings together and sets into dynamic motion what comes before and after the turning point. Two crucial aspects remain clear. Romance puts together multiple stories; these multiple segments echo each other through analogies and the interplay of repetition and variation. The sans that will emerge from romance depends on our recognition and interpretation of such patterns, since romances do not make explicit what meaning s they offer, even though authors and narrators assure us that they do indeed produce meaning.
While Chrtien himself explored different narrative structures in his other romances, the pattern that can be clearly discerned in Erec and Yvain provides a model that helps make sense of many romance plots by contemporary and successive romancers, witness Ipomedon, Florimont, Gliglois, and Meraugis de Portlesguez. Other romances offer adaptations of the model through omission and duplication. The idyllic romance Floire et Blancheor omits the initial series of adventures, since the lovers are already united at the beginning, but subsequent events follow the same pattern as that of the model.
Other romances amplify the model with two storylines generated by two ladies, as in the interlaced adventures of Guinglain with Blonde Esmeree and the Pucele de lIle dOr. In Ille et Galeron the two lines run parallel and concurrently, starting from the When he loses an eye, he despairs of her love and goes off to Rome, where he falls in love with Ganor.
The second storyline is added and pursued, as each plots crisis corresponds to the others momentary union. The conict is resolved when the rst wife retires to a convent and makes way for the second lady to become Illes wife. Gautier dArras thus amplies in romance form the same story that appears in Marie de Frances lai Eliduc. The demonstrations of the heros prowess repeatedly take the form of combat, for example, but the adversaries and beneciaries constantly change. The juxtaposition of episodes within the overarching quests of romance narrative does not require but may occasionally use the logic of causation.
In general, episodic construction in romance is disjunctive, reiterative not organic. It follows the non-mimetic logic of design, which builds the narrative structure through echoes and conventions constantly reinvented.
In the Tristan romances, for example, once the love potion connects Tristan, Iseut, and King Mark in an unresolvable triangle with no solution but death, the intervening episodes will all follow the same pattern that moves from separation of the lovers to reunion and back to separation again, as the nal act is anticipated and deferred. Other patterns may invite comparison of recurrent elements while at the same time moving the plot forward more vigorously.
Gradualism frequently builds in tension and progress. In the series of adventures that constitute the second half of Erec et Enide, during which both husband and wife must dispel accusations of fault, echoes among the episodes act as an implicit commentary on the couples actions, but they also trace a linear trajectory, as the adventures become increasingly difcult and move from private defense to public weal.
Interlace is another important technique for linking episodes. All ve of Chrtiens romances show how he takes full advantage of the potential suspense generated by interweaving. In Le Chevalier au Lion, when Yvain agrees to defend Lunete in a judicial combat against her three accusers, he must rst seek hospitality for the night. There the knight of the lion agrees to defend his hosts family against a giant before leaving the next morning for Laudines castle, where he will arrive just in time to save Lunete from being burned at the stake.
Interlacing not only achieves narrative goals of creating suspense or handling multiple lines of plot; It expresses both the impetus to segment the narrative into separate units and the equally powerful compulsion to associate and continue romance across such divisions. The chronological development of the genre from the midtwelfth to the mid-thirteenth century charts the shifting and combined force of these two tendencies, as the cyclical impetus of the antique romances follows a detour through the works of Chrtien de Troyes, and then emerges redened in the prose cycles that continue to reshape the history of romance.
Just as Virgils A eneid appropriated the tradition of Greek literature, its history and legends, by rewriting Homers Odyssey and Iliad as part of Romes own legendary history, so the romances of Thbes, Eneas and Troie, taken together, translate and rewrite the account of Classical civilization and its encounter with the east, as empire moves inexorably westward. Amplication and the continuity of history remain the constitutive modes underlying the antique romances. Geoffrey of Monmouths history of the kings of Britain as translated by Wace furnishes a framework, the pax arthuriana, within which Arthurian romances proliferate.
In Erec and subsequent romances, Chrtiens founding gesture operates by stepping outside that history and replacing its linear march forward with the spiralling designs of romance. The discontinuities and patterns of each individual romance thus play with and against the possibility for continuity and continuation. A new beginning for a genre itself in the process of beginning thus appears, as each of Chrtiens ve romances forms a distinct and separate whole. The energy released by such fragmentation opens the door to new and multiple departures: situations, materials, themes, and characters, may now be explored and reinvented from a variety of angles that may resist synthesis or resolution in any overarching frame.
To capitalize on that freedom, many Arthurian and non-Arthurian romances will follow Chrtiens powerful example in setting the outward dimensions and the individual status of their own romances. In size and comprehensive scope, this format may initially seem a regression from the point of view of the antique romances, but Chrtiens substantial corpus also includes signicant models for linking romances and rediscovering the impetus toward totalization implied in romance cycles. It is worth Similarly, Hue de Rotelande presents his two romances as continuations of Thbes, where the heroes of Ipomedon and Protheselaus rst appear, and as continuations of each other, since one brothers tale follows the others.
Chrtien himself seems to experiment constantly with ways of associating romances, as well as distinguishing them. If, in general, the story of Tristan and Iseut remains a constant subtext in Chrtiens romances, in Cligs he follows explicitly the model of the two-generational legend in his own bipartite narrative, telling rst the story of Alexandre and Soredamor, then the story of their son and Fnice.
Inter- and intratextual echoes proliferate and overlap, as Chrtiens constantly displaced variations on the famous lovers ironically interact to destabilize the place for judgment: anti-Tristan, neo-Tristan, superTristan? In his next two romances, Chrtien not only seems to work at the same time or alternately on both works, he invites his public to do likewise. A number of specic allusions included in the Chevalier au Lion refer to the events of the Chevalier de la Charrette and create a pattern of interlace that weaves together their two plots.
This concatenation combined with the parallel construction of their titles, the lack of an ofcial prologue at the begining of Yvain, and thematic echoes of all sorts, invite readers to consider these two romances in tandem and interpret the patterns of repetition and variation that play across their gaps and points of convergence.
I have already referred to the problematic continuation of the Charrette by Godefroi de Leigni, but the most radical step toward continuation and interlace in Chrtiens corpus is his last and most enigmatic romance. The Conte du Graal realizes the potential for interlacing separate plot lines with multiple heroes, unexpectedly making Gauvain a second hero in a story that originally seemed to belong to Perceval alone.
At the traditional moment of crisis, which requires the hero to undertake a second series of adventures, Chrtien doubles the accusers who arrive at Arthurs court and sends both Perceval and Gauvain out on quests. Perceval will try to return to the castle of the Fisher King to ask the questions about lance and grail that he failed to ask in his previous visit, but rst the narrator will follow the adventures of Gauvain, as the kings nephew sets off for Escavalon to ght a judicial combat.
In the midst of Gauvains adventures, the narrator recounts Percevals visit to his hermit uncle, which takes place after ve years of fruitless adventures. A strange time warp into the future opens, but just as this single episode promises to reorient Percevals quest, the narrator loops back to Gauvains story, whose adventures continue to accumulate. When Chrtiens narrative stops abruptly mid-sentence, The manuscript tradition testies to the fascination exercised by this incomplete story and demonstrates the power of romance narrative to generate continuations and retellings that continually postpone endings.
Four continuations and repeated reworkings follow in the wake of Chrtiens romance. They pick up the unnished threads of his plot and constantly reinvent the materials of his originating masterpiece. The rst continues only Gauvains tale and leads him several times to the Grail castle, where new marvels and tests rewrite Chrtiens episode and keep open the narrative impulse. A second continuator returns to Perceval, whose adventures now follow the pattern set by Gauvain, mixing amorous quest and grail adventure. It ends in mid-episode at the Grail castle, at which point two more romancers take up the narrative.
Manessier and Gerbert apparently worked independently of each other, but in two manuscripts an editor has collated all four continuations and inserted Gerberts before Manessiers more standard ending some 65, verses in all. The puzzles of the Conte du Graal operate on many different levels, including of course the mysterious grail, but no less so the enigmatic association of two heroes linked across an unexpected and asymmetrical pattern of interlace left suspended in an uncustomarily lengthy romance by Chrtiens standards.
Equally problematic are the allusions to Arthurian history included in the Conte du Graal through the characters comments. References to events told by Wace in the Roman de Brut point back in time to the difcult transition between Utherpendragons and Arthurs reigns and forward to the moment of destruction that will mark the end of Arthurs kingdom.
Given these hints, as well as the connections suggested among Chrtiens own romances, the groundwork for the prose romance cycles of the thirteenth century, with their interlaced episodes and multiple heroes, has clearly been laid. The ve parts of the Vulgate Cycle will weave together the stories of Arthurs kingdom, the love of Lancelot and the Queen, and the quest for the holy Grail entrusted to a new virginal hero, Galahad the son of Lancelot , all arranged in the chronological history of Arthurs rise and fall.
Interlacing and continuation, amplication and cyclebuilding, along with the continued production of individual verse romances, will continue to characterize romance writing in the thirteenth century and beyond, thanks to the powerful models set into motion by the antique romances and Chrtien de Troyess corpus. As later chapters will demonstrate more fully, the protean shapes of romance respond to the multiplicity and complexity of problems the genre engages for contemporary audiences, whether medieval or modern. The strategies and techniques of romance, its displacements and designs appear to create a world of evasion and play, mesmerizing in its intricacies and ourishes.
Yet the apparent Consider, in this respect, the themes already evoked in this discussion of romance shaping: problems of identity linking the individual and society; the role of love within competing value systems; power relationships and relations of affection; the effects of language and representation, as well as the interplay of history and romance. The philosophical and socio-historical questions that romance confronts by indirection and formal patterning remind us nally of the inseparability of form and content.
We cannot begin to consider the genres themes and issues without fully engaging the playful shapes of romance. Norris J. The Individual in Twelfth-Century Romance. Medieval French Romance. New York: Twayne Publishers, Maddox, Donald. Vinaver, Eugne. The Rise of Romance. Oxford University Press, Alexander the Great approaches the beautiful and rich Queen Candace.
He is disguised as his own messenger, and travels under the protection of Candaces son. Long ago she had sent Alexander letters offering both her realm and her love, but only if he would take her as his equal si a pier la volt avoir. Candace awaits, gorgeously dressed, attended by minstrels, E se st vieler e harper un nouvel son Coment danz Eneas ama dame Didon, E coment sen ala par mer od son dromon, Cum ele sen pleint sus as estres en son, E cum au de roin se art en sa meson. Pensive en est Candace del torn de la chanon.
Es vous donc son z! Candeules ot non, E tient par le poing destre son noble compaignon. And she had them playing on viol and harp a new tune How lord Eneas loved lady Dido, And how he went off to sea in his swift galley, How she cried her lament up to the rooftop, And how at last she burned herself in her palace.
Candace was pensive at the close of that song, When behold! Heres her son, Candeules was his name, Holding his noble companion by the right hand. Roman de Toute Chevalerie, Candaces choice of music and her thoughtful reaction seem prescient: Alexander too will dally with her briey then return to imperial conquest in frank relief. Yet the implication is not just one of erotic analogy. Some readers at least would recognize here a version of earlier history and lineage, in that Alexanders Macedonian ancestors were, it was thought, also survivors of Troy. This passage in Thomas of Kents Roman de Toute Chevalerie conates dynastic history, courtly eroticism, and a self-conscious reworking of Latin models; in all these ways it exemplies the group of French and Anglo-Norman texts that have been called the romans dantiquit.
Thomass late twelfth-century Alexander romance, and the roughly contemporary Roman dAlexandre of Alexandre de Paris, come at the end of the rst blossoming of the romances of Antiquity, well after the anonymous Roman de Thbes or a little before and Roman dEneas c. Thomas claims connection to these predecessors by this overt reference as well as by a series of geographical overlaps and historical summaries of Alexanders classical forebears at Thebes and Troy.
At the same time, the Roman de Toute Chevalerie often encounters its predecessors in ways that contest, or at least re-examine, their preoccupations.
Although she does soon lose her lover as did Dido, for instance, Candace rst solicits Alexander as a feudal equal a pier , controls the terms of their affair, sees Alexander off without explicit regret, and appears rmly in power as she leaves the narrative. By such complex echoes and inversions of literary models, the romances of Antiquity group themselves into a recognizable cluster, if not quite an independent genre. Alexander and Candace meet not just in the presence of Candeules, but also the performers of the nouvel son. This group, performers of one erotic story and audience of another, nicely reects the anomalous position of educated clerks most of them in some level of holy orders at the secular court in the twelfth century.
It is a persistent habit in the romances of Antiquity to interpolate versions or icons of their own learned makers within their texts: poets, inscriptions and epitaphs, buildings and fabrics decorated with scientic and cosmological learning. The learned, clerkly poet brought ancient narrative to his aristocratic audience. The very scene of Queen Candace listening to a new version un nouvel son, of an already ancient tale provides a mirror within the text for the key role played by the romances of Antiquity in twelfth-century aristocratic culture.
They made available to an aristocratic audience with little command of Latin the stories of what it often considered its own genealogical past. This past was at once distant by chronology, yet connected by genealogy, and through it the clerical redactors created a discursive space in which to regard the political conicts and erotic negotiations of their own time, as well as the unstable family lines resulting from both.
This was especially relevant to the Anglo-Norman court with which most of these texts are to some degree connected; that court embraced a mythical, double Trojan genealogy as descendants of the Norseman Rollo and through the Britons descendants of the Trojan Brutus whose island they occupied. History lessons notwithstanding, the scene is also doubly an erotic interlude, This function of similitude and repetition, especially around moments of heightened eroticism, tends to resist, even subvert, the linear narration of history. Alexanders military triumph over the emperor of India is bracketed, and to some degree conditioned, by his earlier receipt of Candaces letters and later the amur ne of their actual encounter.
Individual romances often follow a typical narrative trajectory: exile leading to return, loss redeemed by restoration, complacency goaded by instructive ordeal, innocence riven by experience, the construction of careers and the fall of kingdoms. At the same time, however, the genre is extremely flexible.
Its repertoire alters over time as romance writers discard, patch, and adapt their conventional materials so that they can speak more intimately to the on-the-spot concerns of their audiences. Its exploration of loss and recuperation can speak intimately to the anxieties of its audiences; its fantasies can express yearnings that are profoundly and traceably historical. The genre serves audiences who need simultaneously to be reassured by the traditional and gripped by the urgent and imminent.
The sheer variety of Middle English romance suggests that it is not something that we should try to domesticate or taxonomize. In fact, its openness invites a particularly rich exploration of the ways genres — and especially medieval genres — work: improvisationally and experimentally rather than as static taxonomies.
They are part of the phenomenology of reading: they help readers make meaning in texts from moment to moment as readers traverse them. Genres are themselves generated through histories of reading; readers gather their various experiences of reading into a sense of the central preoccupations of different types of books and then read individual works within and against that set of experiential references. Thus, no work perfectly fits a single genre and the genres themselves change over time as more works play with in them.
Readers are often most drawn in when a work tempts, teases, and outrages their generic anticipations. Romance may be such an enduring genre simply because it allows such a breadth of play. In Middle English poetry this play could even cross over into the devotional genres to which romance was so often opposed. Baronial romances such as Havelok the Dane and King Horn can cast a shimmer of the sacred upon the endeavors of their heroes. Homiletic romances such as Sir Gowther and Guy of Warwick can assay the ethical imperatives of a culture equally invested in pious self-restraint and secular display.
Sources Many Middle English romances translate or draw from French, AngloNorman, or Latin works, and in fact Middle English writing in general is a latecomer to medieval culture. This belatedness is an effect of the Norman Conquest when William the Conqueror displaced the indigenous English nobility and established a French-speaking monarchy and ruling class, endowing his own nobles and installing Norman bishops and archbishops in England. This long eclipse of literary English means that the fi rst romances written in England were written in Latin, French, and Anglo-Norman.
When romance writers began to use English again, it 58 Romance was partly to bring these stories to wider audiences, and partly to retain audiences among the gentility and aristocracy themselves as the native knowledge of French began to dwindle among them. These writers drew, naturally enough, from the stories already circulating both in England and elsewhere in Anglo-Norman, French, and Latin; almost every AngloNorman romance has a Middle English version. Yet these were not simple translations but rather free reimaginings of their sources turned to the needs of new situations and audiences.
Middle English writers seized upon, redirected, parodied, and criticized the conventions of their sources in an astonishing variety of registers, from the blunt utility of King Horn to the intricacy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. While translations of continental romances continued throughout the period, many original narratives were also written — Gamelyn is one example — adapting the genre to specifically English contexts and audiences.
Throughout the period English writers allude to continental romance traditions; the Gawain-poet actually allows a character to criticize his hero for not living up to his French romance reputation. The ongoing complexity of literary borrowings makes it difficult to defi ne what sets off Middle English romances from their continental counterparts but two generalizations are possible.
Where French romances tend to centralize issues of literary authority and authorship, Middle English romances often thematize the tribulations of literary transmission and the exigencies of their own copying, compilation, and performance; they are more audience-centered. In addition, French and Anglo-Norman romances tend to be more interested in love-induced explorations of individual subjectivity, while Middle English romances, by contrast, tend to abjure such stricken interiorities and instead focus on how subjectivity is enacted through public performance.
Romance preoccupations Middle English romances are subject-centered; a romance is about somebody. As a result, ideas of identity and subjectivity — the performance of gender, class, and lineage — are at the heart of romance. Romances stereotypically recount the chivalric adventures of a worthy knight in the process of proving his prowess by deeds at arms and of love. However, romances, while drawing upon the practices and ideals of late medieval chivalric culture, could extend as widely beyond chivalry as its writers and readers required.
The romance of Ipomadon, for example, makes chivalric identity and gender into dramatic challenges for its characters. Rather she rules her own land, is universally respected, and has made herself all but unavailable by vowing to marry only the best knight in the world. The hero, Ipomadon, seems to be just as disdainful of romance conventions. Rather than courting honor to win her love, Ipomadon takes an intense, perverse pleasure in courting shame. The worthiness gains authority not because it is entitled although its entitlement is not incidental but because it dares to put itself at risk.
Yet this investment in risk is not without its stresses and difficulties. The accumulation of these painful and risky performances solidifies over time into an obligation to surpass past deeds and thereby gains a self-perpetuating ethical force. As romances grapple with the acculturations of class, gender, sexuality, and race, they connect heroes and heroines to their social milieu and that of their audiences. They give a local habitation and a name to otherwise elusive dissonances between social values, and offer their audiences dramatic access to crises of coercion, desire, love, labor, mortality, and social justice that implicate their own experience in the world.
In her Tale, as elsewhere, romance springs from a chivalric ethos only to stretch beyond it to investigate different ideas of social worth. Thus, romance can use chivalric conventions actually to erode aristocratic exclusivity and enact a notional social mobility that speaks powerfully to the continually shifting social networks of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England.
Style Alliterative romances such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight display some of the most gorgeous and elaborate poetry in English literature, while metrical romances such as King Horn often prefer a gale-force bluntness. However, they are both linked by their formulaic nature; whether brisk as an alliterative battle-sequence or devious as a courtly suitor, a romance works its spell through repetition and variation.
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Because its verbal surface is unvarying stately, formal, and often beautiful, a romance can lull readers and hearers with a glissade of conventional formulae, even as it underhandedly conducts them into very strange figural territories. It is easy for modern readers or medieval ones such as Chaucer in Sir Thopas to lampoon the repetitive predictability of the metrical romance style, but this style performed very useful functions: in conditions of oral performance it stabilized listeners, reiterated crucial information to ensure its uptake, and, more subtly, elicited a kind of assent from its audience.
The formulaic style helps give the idea of social convention in these romances an abiding force, but that does not mean that those conventions are not unquestionable. In fact, it is very instructive to try to resist the beauty and dignity of this verbal surface and remain alert to what we are being asked to accept. Oftentimes romances will push their conventions, pacts, and promises to the point of complete incredulity in order to implicate readers in their own acceptance and provoke questions.
By showing readers how easily one can be lulled into compliance, it becomes possible to persuade them to wake them up a little to the strangeness of the world such conventions helps to create. To take an extreme example: Amis and Amiloun is a romance that tests the validity of knightly friendship as an ennobling convention. Two knights, Amis and Amiloun, swear a youthful friendship to each other and everything in the romance seems to demonstrate that this sworn friendship is an ennobling act that should be respected, accepted, and imitated.
However, at one crucial point Amiloun becomes a leper as a result of his loyalty to Amis, and wanders for years as an outcast. When the two friends fi nally meet again, Amiloun is completely disfigured by the disease, while Amis is prosperously married, with two lovely children. It is at this point that the soothingly formulaic style comes into sharpest counterpoint with what is being depicted. He tok that blode, that was so bright, And alied that gentil knight, That er was hend in hale, And seththan in bed him dight And wreighe him wel warm, aplight, With clothes riche and fale. The style does everything it can to obscure the picture of the bloody leper or the memory of the murdered children.
It is up to the reader to resist the style and make the comparison. Even so, however, the doubts raised about the value of a friendship that demands such acts are not dispelled; the picture of the bloody lullaby is too uncanny to forget. Many scholars who compare Amis and Amiloun with its AngloNorman source fi nd the Middle English poem more skeptical of the friendship it depicts, yoking knightly friendship to divine miracle only with a perceptible strain that the serenity of tone cannot quite eradicate.
And it is at these moments of tension that we can trace the ways romances interrogate the social worlds they depict and implicate their readers. Readers who can resist the stylistic inducement to accept the conventions of such worlds are often well rewarded. Authors and audience Although I have been referring in the abstract to writers, audiences, and readers, and the ways that romances implicate them, we really do not know 63 Chr ist in e Chism much about the original writers and audiences of romance, or more than approximate dates and locations for their composition.
With a few exceptions — and in contrast to continental romances concerned with authorial self-inscription into worthy literary traditions — most Middle English romances are anonymous. It is equally difficult to identify patterns of readership and audience. Individual studies of manuscripts can cast light on particular romances but the sheer social penetration of romance and romance tropes make it impossible to associate romance exclusively with any single set of class imperatives or to identify it exclusively with any exclusive social positioning.
Romances are ubiquitous in manuscript compilations throughout the period, bundled next to hagiographies, debates, and histories without any logic discernible to modern scholars, or together with other romances as in the famous Auchinleck manuscript — Manuscript quality ranges from expensive, illuminated productions worthy of display in aristocratic libraries, to narrow-margined handbooks, produced in urban workshops for whatever readers could commission them. Romance manuscripts turn up at court, in monastic libraries, baronial households, and London workshops, effectively running the gamut of late medieval English literate society.
Romances do provide us with imagined audiences: one of the most repeated conventions of the genre is to situate itself as an oral entertainment before an audience of post-prandial gentlefolk. Romances appear in the libraries of forcibly retired queens such as Isabella of France, and kingchallenging magnates, such as Humphrey of Gloucester. Kings and nobles seem to exploit romance behaviors for their own ends.
Edward I tourneyed in France, and Edward III instituted the order of the Garter in England in a clear appropriations of Arthurian romance, and Susan Crane traces a readiness among the aristocracy and knighthood to imitate and even die for romance ideals. In this romance seems always to tread a balance between the glamorously courtly and the irremediably popular. The varieties of English romance If romance is best considered as a strange kind of outwardly mobile family, how can we describe its branches and offshoots?
Scholars divide Middle English romances into subgroups, with their own characteristic lengths, forms, patterns, and themes, but they disagree as to the best divisions and no one taxonomy has achieved canonical status. Anyone beginning research will encounter the following categories invoked pell-mell across a century of scholarship: the long metrical romance, the Breton lay, the alliterative romance, the prose compilation, the pious or homiletic romance, the historical romance, the romance of antiquity, the family romance, the romance of nation or empire, and the romance of travel, and more.
Anchoring the genre is a group of substantial chivalric romances that recount the martial and amorous adventures of a knight, group of knights, or chivalric leader. Many of these romances are homiletic, while others subordinate penitential themes to the exigencies of aristocratic self-fashioning. In opposition to these longer chivalric excursions, scholars often distinguish a shorter form: the Breton lay, invented or introduced by Marie of France.
Overlapping with these length-based subgenres are subgenres based on formal or metrical features: the Middle English metrical romance, the alliterative romance, and the prose compilation that is, Malory. Middle 65 Chr ist in e Chism English metrical romances use a variety of verse forms.
The most notable of the stanzaic forms is tail rhyme, mocked by Chaucer in his deliberately doggerel Tale of Sir Thopas, but there is a huge range of metrical forms, from the stanzaic shapeliness of rhyme royal to the briskness of continuous rhymed couplets. Tail rhyme consists of a rhyming couplet or triplet followed by a shorter line — a tail — that rhymes with other tails; rhyme royal consists of a seven-line stanza with the rhyme scheme ababbcc. In contrast to metrical forms, Middle English alliterative romances use a meter that harks back to Anglo-Saxon poetry without being traceable to it.
However, the opposition between rhymed metrical forms and alliterating forms is misleading; poets often mingled alliteration with rhyme to create an incredible variety of intricate and challenging metrical forms, such as the thirteen-line stanza of The Awntyrs off Arthure, which uses alliteration along with a convoluted rhyme scheme abababab-c-ddd-c; it is arguably the most intricate stanza form in English literature. The Cambridge Companion to Beckett. The Cambridge Companion to Bede.
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