Medieval Narrative: An Introduction

Medieval Narrative: An Introduction

Medieval Narrative: An Introduction

Medieval Narrative: An Introduction

Synopsis

An introduction to the variety of medieval narrative, intended both for students and more general readers who already know some of the classics of the Middle Ages, such as Beowulf, the Decameron and The Canterbury Tales,, and who wish to venture further. Medieval definitions and theories ofnarrative are considered in relation to modern narratology and the major medieval types of narrative are discussed. The perspective in this book is mainly English, with Chaucer as a central figure, but it refers to a range of well-known European texts and writers, such as Marie de France, Cretiende Troyes, the Niebelungenlied, the Poem of the Cid, Dante and Boccaccio.

Excerpt

This book was conceived as an introduction to the richest area of medieval English and European literature, the many narratives in verse and prose which survive from the eighth to the fifteenth century. It is intended for readers who already have some knowledge of major works of the Middle Ages, such as Beowulf, the Decameron and The Canterbury Tales, the Chanson de Roland and the Morte Darthur, and who wish to venture further. I have therefore assumed familiarity with some widely read texts, but have taken a more expository and frankly storytelling approach to less familiar and less readily available works. Some major poems such as Dante's Divine Comedy I have referred to without engaging in discussion, because of their scale and complexity: it is not difficult to find introductory accounts elsewhere. It seemed appropriate in a book about narrative to refer both to medieval definitions of its nature, and to modern theories of fiction and to attempt to establish some dialogue between them, but I had no wish to equip myself with any more than the bare necessities of the critical jargon of either medieval rhetoricians or modern narratologists and have used technical language sparingly, though I hope with an indication of the aspects of medieval tale-telling to which modern theorists have paid attention. I have not aimed to write a history of medieval narrative but rather to indicate its main types: exemplum and fable; chronicle, epic, and romance; fabliau and novella; voyage and dream; tragedy; the tale collection. Though this is a fairly long list, inevitably some things have had to be left out.

I have enjoyed the support of the English Department of Royal Holloway, University of London in my work on the book and owe thanks to the Heads of Department during the period of writing, Kiernan Ryan and Robert Hampson, for their affording me the role of retainer. Some of the topics included here are subjects I have taught as part of the course in Medieval Narrative for the Royal Holloway degree of M.A. in Medieval Studies; I am grateful to the students on the course whose interest has helped to develop my own awareness. I am grateful also to my medievalist colleagues in the English Department, Rosalind Field, Ruth Kennedy, and lennifer Neville, who have shared the formulation of the syllabus and . . .

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