A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle

A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle

A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle

A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle

Synopsis

The early thirteenth-century French prose Lancelot-Grail Cycle (or Vulgate Cycle) brings together the stories of Arthur with those of the Grail, a conjunction of materials that continues to fascinate the Western imagination today. Representing what is probably the earliest large-scale use of prose for fiction in the West, it also exemplifies the taste for big cyclic compositions that shaped much of European narrative fiction for three centuries. A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle is the first comprehensive volume devoted exclusively to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle and its medieval legacy. The twenty essays in this volume, all by internationally known scholars, locate the work in its social, historical, literary, and manuscript contexts. In addition to addressing critical issues in the five texts that make up the Cycle, the contributors convey to modern readers the appeal that the text must have had for its medieval audiences, and the richness of composition that made it compelling. This volume will become standard reading for scholars, students, and more general readers interested in the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, medieval romance, Malory studies, and the Arthurian legends. Contributors: RICHARD BARBER, EMMANUELE BAUMGARTNER, FANNI BOGDANOW, FRANK BRANDSMA, MATILDA T. BRUCKNER, CAROL J. CHASE, ANNIE COMBES, HELEN COOPER, CAROL R. DOVER, MICHAEL HARNEY, DONALD L. HOFFMAN, DOUGLAS KELLY, ELSPETH KENNEDY, NORRIS J. LACY, ROGER MIDDLETON, HAQUIRA OSAKABE, HANS-HUGO STEINHOFF, ALISON STONES, RICHARD TRACHSLER. CAROL DOVER is associate professor of French and director of undergraduate studies, Georgetown University, Washington DC.

Excerpt

Carol Dover

The early thirteenth-century French Lancelot-Grail Cycle (or Vulgate Cycle) brings together the stories of Arthur with those of the Grail, a conjunction of materials that continues to fascinate the Western imagination today. It is a vast compendium of Arthurian literature whose importance for the development of European fiction is finally being appreciated. Representing what is probably the earliest large-scale use of prose for fiction in the West, it also exemplifies the taste for big cyclic compositions that shaped much of European narrative fiction for three centuries. Dante admired the meandering seductiveness of the Cycle's storytelling, Malory relied on it in large part for his fifteenth-century Arthuriad, and it spawned a progeny of adaptations in other languages. Despite its impressive medieval pedigree, the Lancelot-Grail's sixteenth- and seventeenth-century critics pronounced it soporific, boring, worthless, while it fared no better with 'scientific' nineteenth-century critics who berated it for being repetitive, derivative, unfocused, and prosaic. Scholarship on the work was hampered until recently by the complexity of its manuscript tradition, the compilatory nature of the Cycle, its gigantic size, and its complex artistry. However, modern critical editions of all five branches of the Cycle have fanned scholarly interest in this vast text, while on a broader front the recent English translation of Sommer's Vulgate Cycle under the general direction of Norris J. Lacy (Lancelot-Grail: the Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, 5 vols. [New York: Garland, 1993—96]) opens up this medieval bestseller to a much wider audience of scholars, students, and general readers.

This volume attempts to convey to modern readers the appeal that such an unwieldy text must have had for its medieval audiences, and the richness of composition that made it compelling. the Lancelot-Grail Cycle could be described summarily as an anonymous text comprising at least five different works, possibly by five different authors, a text with no clear provenance although the majority of its manuscripts come from the north-east corner of France and what is now Belgium and Flanders. This description of the Cycle in terms of what it does not have, has the advantage of compelling us to focus largely, though not exclusively, on the text itself as our primary source of documentation.

Manuscript evidence suggests that the Cycle existed initially as a mini-cycle, the Lancelot — Queste — Mort Artu trilogy, which narrates the biography of Lancelot and the glory and downfall of the Arthurian kingdom. the subsequent addition of the Estoire del Saint Graal and the Estoire Merlin — Suite, however, gave . . .

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