Middle Dutch Arthurian Romances: What Are They and Why Should We Read Them?

Article excerpt

The corpus of Arthurian romances written in Middle Dutch is an incredibly rich manifestation of one of the most enduring textual traditions in European literary history. This corpus has, unfortunately, been largely overlooked by virtually all but those whose primary language is Dutch. This situation has been addressed in recent years by the efforts of a number of critics and scholars who have striven to open up these texts, both by publishing editions with facing-page translations (in English) of the texts themselves, and by publishing their critical studies in readily accessible venues.

This issue ofArthuriana is the first of two proposed to me by the journal's editor, Bonnie Wheeler. Bonnie has long realized that these romances deserve a wider audience, and what better venue is there to achieve this aim than Arthurianal We agreed that the first issue would address the rather straightforward questions: what are they and why should we read them? A subsequent issue will be devoted to readings by experts in other national traditions who have no previous knowledge of the Middle Dutch romances.

The first contribution in this issue, Norris Lacy's "The Uses of Middle Dutch Arthuriana," addresses both of these questions head-on, in that Lacy provides an excellent overview of what the corpus is comprised of, but moreover suggests strategies for how an audience unfamiliar with these texts might profitably approach them.

The next two contributions offer detailed insights into specific romances, and by virtue of their argued readings implicitly address the question of why those unfamiliar with this tradition should read them. Marjolein Hogenbirks piece, "Intertextuality and Gauvain," focuses on one of the indigenous Middle Dutch romances (Walewein ende Keye) to explore the intertextual allusions that cross both linguistic and genre boundaries, and considers what these allusions may tell us about the reception of this fascinating body of romances. …