Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare

Article excerpt

Helen Cooper: The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). xv + 542 pp. ISBN 0-19-924886-9. £68.00.

This engaging, informative book treats the major genre of secular fiction from the twelfth to the seventeenth century. It evades the Scylla and Charybdis of genre histories: following a checklist of characteristics that generates sterile inclusions and exclusions, and tracing a 'development' or 'maturation' in the genre that forces its history into a linear evolution. Cooper escapes the checklist's dangers by positing that no single romance motif is constitutive on its own (not even a happy ending) and that each motif is used quite differently in single cases (a rudderless boat can carry the innocent, the adventurous, or the politically inexpedient). A recurring narrative unit, such as the woman falsely accused or the child abducted by an animal, Cooper calls a meme, 'an idea that behaves like a gene in its ability to replicate faithfully and abundantly, but also on occasion to adapt, mutate, and therefore survive in different forms and cultures' (p. 3). This figure of genetic variation within bloodlines, of 'a lineage or a family of texts' (p. 8), acknowledges the place of history in the genre's manifestations while steering clear of evolutionary teleology. The genre discovered in this approach is both coherent over time and highly adaptive: the 'elf-queen' of Chaucer's Sir Thopas, for example, 'should by rights have killed the whole motif stone dead, but so far as memes are concerned, all publicity is good publicity' (p. 174).

The book's eight chapters are organized around eight sets of memes, such as quest and pilgrimage, fairy monarchs and mistresses, and providence and the sea. …

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.