The Development of Arthurian Romance

The Development of Arthurian Romance

The Development of Arthurian Romance

The Development of Arthurian Romance

Excerpt

In this book I have endeavoured to write a history of Arthurian literature in the Middle Ages that will make intelligible a prodigious and puzzling phenomenon in the culture of Europe. If I have stressed origins and sources, it is because I believe with Vergil: 'Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. For, without understanding the forces which went to the making of a work of art, one cannot understand the work of art, and right understanding is the basis of all true appreciation. Needless to say, no one can pretend to analyse all the multiple and complex factors which entered into the composition of a masterpiece. Of course, there may be hidden influences and subliminal motives which only the author could reveal, and sometimes not even he. But medieval literature, far more than modern, is a product of tradition, and the Matter of Britain, even more than other medieval narrative genres, requires a knowledge of mingling racial and cultural streams.

Hence the modern scholar and critic has advantages over the medieval reader of Arthurian romance and in some respects over the romancer himself. In our libraries we have the means of detecting many things about his material which he could never have known or even suspected. By comparison with other texts we can sometimes assess what share of credit should go to him and what share should go to his predecessors. We can avoid some of the baseless and wild theorizing founded on ignorance of the man, his times, and the tradition which he inherited.

Some critics have complained that a study of sources and origins is 'a flight from the 'masterpiece', and it is true that many scholars of the past tended to ignore the purely literary techniques and values of the works which they edited and . . .

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