The Arthur of the English Poets

By Howard Maynadier | Go to book overview

XII
FROM LAYAMON TO MALORY

ONCE they had taken definite shape in French, the Arthurian legends speedily found their way into other languages. Next to French, the early German treatment of the stories was the most important, not because of far-reaching changes made in them, but because of the high merit of several of the poets who treated them, especially Wolfram and Gottfried. Less important was their development in Spanish, Italian, Scandinavian, and Dutch. English treatment of the stories, on the contrary, has been very important. Taking them in the organic form which the French had given them, the English, by steadily cherishing the stories, have done more than any other people to keep them alive.

The first Arthurian poet writing in English, Layamon , who wrote his Brut shortly after 1200, made, as we have seen, three important contributions to the legends. He gave a circumstantial account of the founding of the Round Table; he gave a more detailed account than the earlier writers of the departure of Arthur for Avalon; and he made Arthur, who had already changed from a British chieftain to a French or Anglo-Norman king, into a king with a good deal of English blood in him. After Layamon, it was to be long before an English poet should make any notable

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