Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Medieval Translations and Cultural Discourse: The Movement of Texts in England, France and Scandinavia

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Medieval Translations and Cultural Discourse: The Movement of Texts in England, France and Scandinavia

Article excerpt

Sif Rikhardsdóttir, Medieval Translations and Cultural Discourse: The Movement of Texts in England, France and Scandinavia (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2012). xii + 199 pp. ISBN 978-1-84384-289-7. £50.00.

Sif Rikhardsdóttir's book on the translation of French texts into Middle English and Old Norse-Icelandic develops translation theory beyond the study of sources and linguistic changes in order to investigate the larger cultural questions which translation raises. Investigating the transformations undergone by the Lais of Marie de France in Middle English and Old Norwegian, the Chanson de Roland in Old Norse, and by Yvain (or Le Chevalier au Lion) and Partonopeu de Blois in both languages 'reveal[s] the complex underlying cultural, political and social motivations behind literary production' (p. 3). Chapter 1 focuses on varieties of cultural imperialism in the dissemination of the Lais, dealing first with the Norwegian translations, Strengleikar, made at the court of King Hákon IV of Norway in the early thirteenth century. Here Sif shows how the translation of Marie's couplets into the prose form so powerful in vernacular tradition results in a powerful abrupt narrative style; apparently lacking interest in the psychology of the characters, it removes any trace of the poems' feminine authorship. French cultural superiority was, in the Norwegian court, unencumbered by the cultural politics attending the reception of French material into Middle English: French romances are adapted and assimilated to existing Norse tradition rather than supplanting it. Sif contrasts this situation with the hierarchical organization of language in Angevin England, where English struggled to assert itself against a number of other languages, including Anglo-Norman. Sir Launfal diverges markedly from its model in its tone. A good case is made for Launfal as a later satirical commentary on court culture, adapted to a contemporary political agenda which by no means regarded French literature as dominant, but rather resisted the idea of French cultural control. …

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