Academic journal article Arthuriana

Sir Torrent of Portingale Ed. by James Wade (Review)

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Sir Torrent of Portingale Ed. by James Wade (Review)

Article excerpt

This Middle English romance, which survives uniquely in Manchester, Chetham's Library MS 8009 (Mun.A.6.31), along with fragments of two sixteenth-century prints, has not been edited in a published edition since Erich Adam's 1887 edition for EETS. For this reason alone, Wade is to be thanked for making this text newly accessible. Wade's edition merits reading because it is an important witness to Middle English romance's popularity and influence in late medieval England, and it is a good story. As Wade notes in the Introduction, Sir Torrent 'is a rollicking tale of love and adventure' and is 'chock-full of what might be called generic accoutrement' (p. 1)β€”an unmistakably apt summary.

This tale follows the adventures of Torrent, the son of a Portuguese earl, who falls in love with Desonell, the daughter of the Portuguese king. Torrent has to overcome a series of challenges in order to win Desonell's hand, and even then, in contradiction to his promise, the King of Portugal refuses to let his daughter marry Torrent, instead banishing Desonell and the two sons she had with Torrent. The sons are duly separated from the mother, and Torrent then wanders the world in mourning for what he believes to be his deceased family. As is standard for the genre, all are eventually reunited and justice is reinstituted by the story's conclusion. Readers versed in Middle English romance will immediately recognize the story's debts to Sir Eglamour of Artois (of which Wade calls Sir Torrent 'a brilliant amplification' [p. 7]), as well as its more general debts to numerous romance motifs.

The Introduction concisely lays out the basic background to the text, ranging ably across its textual history, generic affiliations and indebtedness, and formal qualities. In traditional TEAMS fashion, the Introduction is sufficiently detailed to teach scholars something new, while also being accessible enough not to scare away neophytes. The text itself is presented with what strikes me as the appropriate amount of glossing: obscure words or phrases are explained, but words that can be intuited by reading aloud and/or from context are generally left unexplained, leaving the reader to do a bit of the lifting. This is a hard balancing act for editors to undertake, but Wade seems to have gotten it right.

The apparatus is a model of concision. The Explanatory Notes do a nice job of unpacking passages of particular lexical, literary, or historical difficulty. Here, Wade brings to bear his expertise in Middle English romance, situating many of the oddities of Sir Torrent within their cultural context. As one example, on a single page (p. 79) Wade usefully explicates three particularly obscure points from the text. First, he explains l. 489's invocation of 'the forrest of Maudelayne' with reference to Mary Magdalene's forest in the Legenda aurea; then, he situates ll. …

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