Academic journal article Parergon

Resituating Romance: The Dialectics of Sanctity in MS Laud Misc. 108's Havelok the Dane and Royal Vitae

Academic journal article Parergon

Resituating Romance: The Dialectics of Sanctity in MS Laud Misc. 108's Havelok the Dane and Royal Vitae

Article excerpt

Havelok the Dane has been edited and published as a single edition or as part of an anthology of romances numerous times since 1826, when Sir Frederic Madden discovered it collated with saints' lives in a manuscript in Oxford's Bodleian Library. (2) These well-ordered and carefully conceived editions, complete with scholarly apparatus (such as modern titles, tables of contents, introductions, glosses, indices, and footnotes), are, of course, vital to the dissemination and understanding of Middle English romance in general and of Havelok in particular. But they offer an aesthetic and interpretive experience of Havelok quite different from how a medieval audience would have read or heard it. When Havelok is considered within the context of its unique manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Miscellaneous 108, the secular nature of the romance gives way to elements that align it with the fundamental spirituality of the manuscript's overwhelming number of hagiographic texts, collectively referred to as the South English Legendary. (3) Especially when understood within the framework of the royal vitae of Oswald, Eadmund, Edward, and Kenelm, Havelok the Dane can more appropriately be understood as a hagiographic romance: King Apelwold of England functions as a holy ruler who prefigures the sanctity of the protagonist, while Havelok himself emerges as a Christ-like hero who shares more affinities with Christ and the saints than he does with other romance heroes. Havelok, in turn, exerts its own influence on the vitae by offering a more complete picture of royal sanctity. (4) Such hagiographic dimensions in the romance are brought to the foreground of the narrative when it is examined within its manuscript context; a return to the Laud manuscript allows us to gain a closer proximity to a medieval reading and listening experience of the poem.

I. The Manuscript

The physical make-up of the manuscript offers clues to understanding Havelok vis-a-vis the South English Legendary (SEL hereafter). (5) Little is known about the provenance of the Laud manuscript prior to 1633, when it was acquired by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury (1633-45) and Chancellor of Oxford University (1629-41), who donated it to the Bodleian Library in 1635, but hand and collation evidence reveals how the plan for the manuscript was probably conceived. (6) Comprising twenty-two gatherings of sixty-seven texts written in several hands, the manuscript contains what originally may have been five or six individual 'booklets'. (7) All but the last booklet contain a massive collection of temporale ('scriptural narratives') and sanctorale (saints' lives) collectively referred to as the SEL (fols 1-198[r]), (8) as well as two religious poems, 'herkinez me a luytel prowe' (the Sayings of St. Bernard, fols 198[r]-199[r]) and 'Seue dawes aren that men callez' (the Vision of St. Paul, fols 199 [r]-200[v]), all copied in one Textura hand, dating about 1280-1300. (9) This matter is followed by the poem 'als I lay in wintris nyt' (the Debate of the Soul and Body, fols 200[v]-203[v]), copied in a contemporary but different hand. The last booklet contains Havelok the Dane (fols 204[r]-219[v]) and another early romance, King Horn (fols 219[v]-228[r]), both in a hand also contemporary with those that transcribed the other booklets. It is likely that these texts in the Laud manuscript were originally collected into individual booklets, so that portions of the SEL would have been read or listened to within the context of the other lives and religious poems, and Havelok the Dane and King Horn would have been read or listened to alongside each other. (10)

Soon after they were copied, though, all of the booklets were collated, as evidenced by the consecutive numbering of the SEL texts, Sayings of St. Bernard, Vision of St. Paul, the Debate poem, and romances in red crayon in an early fourteenth-century hand. …

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