A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature

By Laura Cooner Lambdin; Robert Thomas Lambdin | Go to book overview

18

Romance

Carolyn Craft

One of the most denotatively perplexing of medieval genres, romance refers to an extended narrative, usually involving more than one episode, including a quest, adventure, or test undertaken by a knight or someone of noble but sometimes initially unknown parentage. The knight usually quests alone or accompanied by his squire or a damsel. Often marvels or the supernatural are involved, and the presentation is idealized, with good and evil usually clearly demarcated: there are good knights and bad knights, good kings and bad ones (good knights, such as Lancelot, and good kings, such as Arthur, may, however, do bad deeds that carry disastrous consequences). Sometimes the knight may not perceive this distinction except in retrospect; for example, Perceval, about to make love to a woman, crosses himself and only then discovers that she is a demon, or Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, having retained the magic girdle given him by his host–s wife, realizes a day later that he has violated his knightly honor and oath to his host by his failure to exchange all his winnings the final day. Arthur, who fathers Mordred through incest and adultery, and Lancelot, who commits treason and adultery with Guinevere the queen, are prime examples of retrospective realization: in these situations the reader or audience sometimes sees moral distinctions before the protagonist does. At other times supernatural voice or vision is necessary to reveal the good or evil; nevertheless, the distinctions are idealistically heightened so that there is little, if any, moral ambiguity. This good/evil dichotomy relates to the general tendency toward stereotypic presentation of characters and situations, so that romance also denotes a method of presentation involving a number of frequent motifs such as the distressed damsel, the evil challenger, the fair unknown, the knight of unusual prowess, the power of love that enables overcoming otherwise-insurmountable obstacles, or the enchantment that must be removed by a feat

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A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1 - Old English and Anglo-Norman Literature 1
  • Selected Bibliography 23
  • 2 - Religious and Allegorical Verse 26
  • 3 - Alliterative Poetry in Old and Middle English 37
  • Selected Bibliography 48
  • 4 - Balladry 50
  • Selected Bibliography 66
  • 5 - The Beast Fable 69
  • Selected Bibliography 84
  • 6 - Breton Lay 86
  • 7 - Chronicle 98
  • 8 - Debate Poetry 118
  • Selected Bibliography 152
  • 9 - Medieval English Drama 154
  • 10 - Dream Vision 178
  • Selected Bibliography 196
  • 11 - Epic and Heroic Poetry 210
  • 12 - The Epic Genre and Medieval Epics 230
  • Selected Bibliography 253
  • 13 - The Fabliau 255
  • 14 - Hagiographic, Homiletic, and Didactic Literature 277
  • Selected Bibliography 294
  • 15 - Lyric Poetry 299
  • 16 - The Middle English Parody/ Burlesque 315
  • Selected Bibliography 333
  • 17 - Riddles 336
  • 18 - Romance 352
  • Selected Bibliography 373
  • 19 - Visions of the Afterlife 376
  • Selected Bibliography 394
  • Selected Bibliography 399
  • Index 425
  • About the Editors and Contributors 431
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