Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Reading the Landscapes of La3amon's Arthur: Place, Meaning and Intertextuality

Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

Reading the Landscapes of La3amon's Arthur: Place, Meaning and Intertextuality

Article excerpt

To set any medieval writer, such as La3amon, in his context requires several things at once: ascertaining the place and time in which he wrote; understanding what that place and those dmes were like, physically, economically, politically, and socially; and reading the texts which served as sources for or influences on a writer's work. La3amon himself tells us that he was a priest in "ErnJ^e" (1. 3), now Areley Kings, and his reference to "Ælienor / \re wes Elenries quene \> es he3es kinges" ("Eleanor who was the great King Etemÿs queen", 11. 22-23) allows narrowing the poem's date to between 1189 and c. 1235.1 Although this still leaves the composition of the Brut somewhere within a period of nearly fifty years, it does at least provide some temporal parameters for re-imagining La3amon's world and for identifying those texts which may reveal or clarify allusions, debts, borrowings and innovations. llamón acknowledges his reliance on the book "j^a makede a Fenchis clerc, / Wace wes ihoten" ("which a French cleric called Wace ... had composed", 11. 20-21), and the Roman de Brut was clearly his main source. Scholars have found, and will continue to find, particular passages or ideas for which llamón is indebted to other texts, but the close relationship between his Brut and the Roman de Brut prompts examining just what llamón kept, discarded or added to his Anglo-Norman model.

In addition, we need, so far as is possible, to understand the intellectual and conceptual environment in which llamón wrote and to attempt to recapture characteristically medieval ways of reading and conceiving of texts, in order to improve our chances of seeing his poem as he designed it to be seen or as his contemporaries may have seen it. In this article, therefore, I wish to focus on landscape, perhaps viewed by present-day readers as inert or merely descriptive, but which to medieval ways of thinking was richly suggestive.2 Two ideas underpin my analysis. First, for medieval thinkers the world was not just a phenomenon but a creation, the product of divine action. The universe was therefore imbued inevitably not only with purpose but with beneficent purpose, and nothing was wasted or without reason. Everything had a meaning, a piece of information from God himself, and thus the geographical features of the physical world were, like the sacred texts of the Bible, fit subjects to be studied for symbolic meanings. The habit of looking for meaning in objects or situations that to subsequent centuries might appear incidental or neutral was carried from the realm of biblical exegesis into the reading and writing of other texts.

Secondly, it needs to be borne in mind that the landscapes encountered within the authoritative texts read by the medieval literate classes came to shape their understanding of how to interpret landscapes in the real world and in the imaginative worlds that they created in their own writings. Thus a medieval writer would make sense of a hill that he saw in front of him, or read about, or wrote about, by reference not only to the other hills that he had seen for himself, but also to those about which he had read, for example in the Bible or in theological texts or the influential school-texts from which he had learned his Latin. In this way, texts that are not "sources" in the traditional sense have influence over the meaning of apparendy inert or innocuous elements in medieval texts, including landscape. By teasing out the ways in which events interact with the landscape within which they take place in the Brut, I hope to show that La3amon was fully attuned to the medieval habits of mind outlined above and that he drew on them in presenting landscapes as a means of commenting on and interpreting his history of the Britons.

Given that his poem is so much longer than Wace's Roman de Brut3 La3amon seems not to have added much by way of landscape in his retelling of Wace's narrative. Yet it is notable that some of his most striking additions are not only amongst the finest pieces of writing in his poem, but they also have a very strong sense of place. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.