The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

SALLY MAPSTONE


12. The Scots, the French, and the English: an
Arthurian Episode

In—probably—the mid- to late 1460s two authors, one Scottish, one English, were separately at work recasting different parts of the great thirteenth-century Old French Lancelot-Queste-Mort-Artu prose romance cycle. The identity of the Scottish poet is unknown to us, though it has been amply speculated upon.1 The English writer was Sir Thomas Malory, though quite who he was has not yet been unequivocally established.2 These two writers eventually produced two highly contrasting romances: the poem we now know as Lancelot of the Laik, surviving incompletely in one copy made in the late 1480s; and the massive prose Morte Darthur, surviving also in one manuscript, from c. 1475, and in the two copies of Caxton’s print of 1485.3 The choice in Scotland of verse and in England of prose for translations from prose is typical of one set of differences between Scots and English romances of this period,4 but the marked differences in length and narrative also reflect their respective range of sources. The Lancelot poet is concentrating on one relatively early part of the Lancelot French narrative, found in the same form in both the early non-cyclic romance and its cyclic successor.5 Malory was drawing on that romance too (though later parts of it),

1 Debate was at its most extensive in the early years of this century, when the detection of verbal and linguistic similarities between Lancelot and the Laik and The Quare of Jelusy prompted some critics to assert their common authorship, an interest heightened by the nature of the Quare’s damaged colophon, which was interpreted by David Laing, followed by (notably) Skeat and Gray as quod auchen, a name then linked to the ‘James Affleck’, or Auchinleck, in Dunbar’s Lamentfor the Makars. Various Auchinlecks from the last twenty years of the fifteenth century were put forward. See W.W. Skeat, ‘The Author of “Lancelot of the Laik”’, SHR. 8 (1910), 1–4; ‘Vidas Achinlek, Chevalier’, correspondence from Margaret Muriel Gray, Skeat, Alexander Lawson, and J.T.T. Brown, SHR, 8 (1910), 321–6; Margaret Muriel Gray (ed.), Lancelot of the Laik, STS, New Ser. 2 (Edinburgh and London, 1912), pp. xviii–xx; and RJ. Lyall, ‘Two of Dunbar’s Makars: James Aflleck and Sirjohn the Ross’, IR, 27 (1976), 99–109. The discussion is well summarised in a valuable unpublished study of Lancelot, Jeanette Johnston, ‘An Edition of Lancelot of the Laik’ (B. Litt. thesis, University of Oxford, 1979), pp. 118–25. But such attributions and datings remain highly conjectural due to the illegibility of The Quare of Jelusy’s colophon. Alexander Lawson thought it could read quod autor, J. Norton-Smith and I. Pravda (eds), The Quare of Jelusy, Middle English Texts 3 (Heidelberg, 1976), pp. 14–17, make a case for simply quod ane Lufar. On the unproven shared authorship of The Quare of Jelusy and Lancelot of the Laik, see n. 24, below.

2 The most extensive and convincing study has recently appeared: P.J.C. Field, The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory, Arthurian Studies, 29 (Cambridge, 1993).

3 Quotation from Lancelot is from the edition by W.W. Skeat, EETS, O. Ser. 6 (2nd ed. 1870); from Malory, Eugene Vinaver (ed.), The Works of Sir Thomas Malory, 3 vols (Oxford, 1973).

4 See Felicity Riddy, ‘The Alliterative Revival’, in R.D.S. Jack (ed.), The History of Scottish Literature, Origins to 1660 (Aberdeen, 1988), pp. 39–54 (46). Other Scots romances to convert prose into verse are Golagros and Gawane and Clariodus.

5 The non-cyclic version is edited by Elspeth Kennedy, Lancelot do Lac, The Non-Cyclic Old French Prose Romance, 2 vols (Oxford, 1980); the cyclic in A. Micha (ed.) Lancelot: roman en prose au Xllle siècle, 9

-129-

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