Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Wace to La3amon Via Waldef

Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Wace to La3amon Via Waldef

Article excerpt

It has long been recognized that Wace's Roman de Brut, especially its Arthurian section, had a great influence on subsequent romances written in both France and Britain.1 But its importance for Anglo-Norman romance has been less well charted; this had to wait until 1963 when Dominica Legge, in Anglo-Norman Nterature and its Background discussed Waldef (c. 1200-10) and mentioned briefly the reference to the Norman historiographer at the start of the poem.2 Holden's edition of Waldef and an article by Rosalind Field have subsequently set matters straight.3 Extending their discussions, I intend to argue in this article that an important part of Waldef is concerned with issues raised in Wace's Brut which concern dangerous ambition and overweening power used to secure conquest by force majeure but without justice or right. Moreover I believe it is possible that llamón was familiar with Waldef and drew upon it in two episodes of his own Brut.

The likelihood that llamón knew and used other Anglo-Norman romances as well as Wace's Roman has been barely considered but it is strong. From at least the mid-twelfth century there was a two-way traffic between insular romance and insular historiography: Gaimar's story of Haveloc in his Estoire des Engleis is used by the Lai d'Haveloc;4 the story of the Roman de Horn is intertwined with that of Hereward;5 Wace and his predecessor Geoffrey of Monmouth both leave their mark on Gui de Waremc.6 G.J. Visser thought that 'Tiamon must of course also have perused other Norman works"; Françoise Le Saux agrees in the same general terms: "Traces of French works other than the Roman de Brut could therefore conceivably be found in the English Brut ... La3amon thus appears to have been well-informed of the literary achievements of his Anglo-Norman masters."7 But the only Anglo-Norman text Le Saux discusses is Thomas's Tristan.8 It is possible critics have thought that La3amon would not have drawn on insular romance because such narratives are largely non-Arthurian, but insular romance was in fact very well acquainted with Arthurian narrative and its recurrent themes and motifs.9

I want to focus primarily upon two episodes, described by both Wace and llamón (and originally occurring in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae). They are, first, the arrival of the Roman ambassadors at Arthur's coronation feast, with the responses to them from Arthur and his vassals; and second, the moment when Arthur, having defeated Lucius, receives bad news from home. It is my belief that the poet of Waldef combined these two scenes that he found in Wace into one to produce a splendid, if protracted, climax to his own poem. La3amon, in turn, perhaps knew this romance. He returned, as he had to, to narrating the two Arthurian episodes as distinct, but in the case of the second, above all, he had learnt from Waldef how to portray with a fine sense of drama the reception of disastrous tidings concerning those closest to oneself. He drew upon the dramatic content of Waldef s climax (though he chose to ignore its moralistic tone, just as he also ignores some of the moral messages in Wace) and combined this with his own inventiveness, creating Arthur's dream. The result was a memorable culmination to the British monarch's European war and a suitably ominous prelude to the disruption of his kingdom.

The arrival of the Roman ambassadors in Wace's Brut shows the Norman poet already making some interesting additions to the material he found in Geoffrey's Historia. In both works, the white-haired emissaries rebuke Arthur for his pride in annexing Roman possessions and demand he pay tribute to the emperor Lucius, citing Julius Caesar's conquest of Britain many years before; in both, Arthur's response, reported when he takes counsel with "Ses dux, ses cuntes, ses privez" ("his dukes, counts and friends", 1. 10727),10 is to cite the prior conquest of Rome by his ancestors, Belin and Brenne.11 Wace pre-empts Arthur's reference: in an earlier scene when Julius Caesar gazes across the Channel at Britain he depicts him evoking "Belins et Brennes, ki tant crurent / Qu'il pristrent Rome la cité / E destrurent nostre señé" ("Belin and Brenne, who grew so great that they took the city of Rome and destroyed our senate", 11. …

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