Five Interpolated Romances from the Lancelot Compilation

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DAVID F. JOHNSON and GEERT H. M. CLAASSENS, eds., Five Interpolated Romances from the Lancelot Compilation. KATTY DE BUNDEL and GEERT PALLEMANS, ass't. eds. Arthurian Archives x, Dutch Romances Vol. III. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003. Pp. 761. ISBN: 0-85991-792-4. $110 / £ 60.

What if in 1664 Peter Stuyvesant, the governour of New Netherland, had had full and unrestrained support from the Dutch West Indian Company in his struggle to oppose the seizure of New Amsterdam by the English, and what if he had not antagonized the burghers of the city to the extent that they decided to abandon the use of Dutch with the coming of the new rulers? For one thing, a modern map of the world's major languages might have presented an entirely different picture. In that case also Noam Chomsky would have presented his linguistic theories in, and on the basis of, Dutch. And hundreds of American medievalists would have dedicated their research interests not to Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur, but to the fascinating Middle Dutch compilation often Arthurian texts, known as the Lancelot Compilation, which would then have held the position which it so rightly deserves, in the center of the field where the scholarly debate takes place.

But, in spite of what Guillaume de Lorris says about them, we know 'qu'en songes/ n'a se fables non et mençonges,' and the Middle Dutch texts have mostly remained at the periphery of Arthurian studies due to the inaccessibilty of the material. But that situation is rapidly changing, thanks to the energetic efforts of David F. Johnson and Geert Claassens. After they had first published new editions with parallel translations of two individual Arthurian romances, the Roman van Walewein by Pennine and Pieter Vostaert (dated to c.1230-60), an original Dutch creation, and the slightly older, French-based Ferguut (Arthurian Archives vi and vu, Dutch Romances Vois 1 and 11. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000) they apparently felt they were ready to embark on the gigantic project of editing and translating the entire Middle Dutch Lancelot Compilation. The scope of such an enterprise can hardly be overestimated: the so-called Lancelot-codex, in which the text has been preserved (The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS 129 A 10) is a three-column manuscript of 480 folio pages, containing 87,296 lines of rhymed couplets, which is only the second part of what must have been a two-volume Middle Dutch translation of the most important Old French Arthurian romances. In its original form the text possibly comprised translations of the three parts of the Old French Lancelot en prose, the Lancelot propre, Queste del Saint Graal and Mort le roi Artu, preceded by Middle Dutch versions of Joseph d'Arimathie and texts from the Merlin cycle. But as if this were not enough, the Dutch compiler/adaptor added no fewer than seven new romances to this collection, two between the Lancelot propre and the Queste del Saint Graal, and another five between the latter and the Mort le rot Artu. The text in the Hague manuscript begins at about the last third of the Lancelot propre, but all the other romances have been preserved in their entirety (for more detailed information on the manuscript, see Bart Besamusca, The Book of Lancelot. The Middle Dutch Lancelot Compilation and the Medieval Tradition of Narrative Cycles. Trans. Thea Summerfield. Arthurian Studies LIII. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003: pp. 8-14).

It goes without saying that scholars have tried to find reasons why the compiler decided to include so many extra texts in his already bulky collection. …