Medieval Romance in England: A Study of the Sources and Analogues of the Non-Cyclic Metrical Romances

Medieval Romance in England: A Study of the Sources and Analogues of the Non-Cyclic Metrical Romances

Medieval Romance in England: A Study of the Sources and Analogues of the Non-Cyclic Metrical Romances

Medieval Romance in England: A Study of the Sources and Analogues of the Non-Cyclic Metrical Romances

Excerpt

At the end of the twelfth century there were, according to Jean Bodel, but the three "matières," of France, of Britain, and of " Rome la grant," of which men wished to hear. This observation was as remarkably wrong as are most of the generalizations offered by critics concerning the literary tastes of their own time. For court circles, for the literary elect, the famous cycles of Carolingian, of Arthurian, and of pseudo-classical tales, were certainly the fashion, but so, likewise, and for a much longer period, if we may judge from the number of surviving manuscripts and allusions to stories of wholly different provenance, were what may be called the non-cyclic romances. These were the romans d'aventure: the local legends, the traditional tales, which poets could transform into romantic guise. Men who used materials such as these ranged free in them as life and language and taste itself; they drew at will on the great storehouse of folk lore, of local legend, of religious and patriotic tradition, -- to say nothing of individual invention. They imitated the style, epic or romantic, of the traditional cycles, and they developed to the full the formulas of speech and theme, of incident and character, in short, the stock materials of mediæval fiction.

Investigation in this great body of miscellaneous romance is no new thing. Single legends and special themes have long been studied with scrupulous care. In the case of certain legends such as those of Crescentia (Florence of Rome), or of Constance, the number of versions discovered has been so large that scholars have sometimes referred to the group itself as a saga or a cycle. But versions of these stories are always essentially the same; they have none of that continuity of character and of incident which is found in a series of romances connected with a favorite hero like Gawain or with a court like Charlemagne's. They are not cyclic in any true sense of the word, but they do afford, in the very multiplicity of their texts, irrefutable proof . . .

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