Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Legend of Guy of Warwick

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Legend of Guy of Warwick

Article excerpt

Velma Bourgeois Richmond, The Legend of Guy of Warwick, Garland Studies in Medieval Literature 14 (New York and London: Garland, 1996). xvi + 551 pp.; 75 illustrations. ISBN 0-8153-208 5-x. $95.00.

The legendary matter of Guy of Warwick exists in multiple versions that date from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. The multifaceted career of Guy was adapted to romances, 'historical' and dynastic texts, penitential literature, drama, children's literature, popular ballads and chapbooks, topographical and travel writings, and the visual arts. In addition to English, related texts exist in French, Italian, German, Catalan, Irish and Latin, and Guy crossed the Atlantic' as early as the eighteenth century, appearing thereafter in a number of American versions. The general neglect of such a vast and protean body of texts has led to an unbalanced impression of the complexity of certain literary periods and authors. Velma Bourgeois Richmond's impressive survey of this material comes, appropriately, at a time when the traditional notion of a literary canon has been questioned. New historicist and other approaches have encouraged an interest in the sort of popular and often nonliterary texts that are central to Richmond's topic. However, Richmond's study is not rooted in any one theoretical or ideological approach; indeed, her work is mercifully free of critical jargon and restrictive points of view. Rather, she offers a work of careful, traditional scholarship, a painstaking consideration of the many forms through which the legend has evolved.

The earliest surviving version of the legend is the thirteenth-century AngloNorman romance, Gui de Warewic, but before considering this Richmond devotes chapter I to antecedents to Guy's legend: Old English battle poetry, the historical context of the thirteenth-century world in which the legend began, the Life of St Alexis, Chretien de Troyes's romances, and other relevant texts. This section is effective because it does not strain to make precise source connections; it gives instead a credible sense of the materials from which the legend of Guy was born. Chapter 2 deals with the Anglo-Norman Gui de Warewic. Here, as indeed throughout the book, Richmond's approach is traditionally historical, viewing the work as the artefact of its contemporary political, social and literary circumstances. …

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