The Nature of Romance
IT IS, perhaps, a pity that the romances of Chrétien de Troyes have come to be regarded as the standard by which others should be judged. For it is clear that his work is the product not only of genius and an ironic temperament but that it can be understood fully only if it is assumed that the audience was aware of a tension, an interplay between the conventions and standards of a narrative genre which we can call "romance" and the poem which Chrétien himself wrote. Such an assumption means that there had been established by 1160 an idea of what the romance should represent. But what is the evidence for its existence?
The word "roman" itself is of no help whatsoever. A term applied to works so dissimilar as Le Roman de la Rose and Le Roman de Renard could have little genre significance, even if it were in contemporary usage when the works were composed, as distinct from the time when they were copied. It is clear, however, that writers of the Middle Ages had a strong sense of genre, even when no theoretical definition of that genre existed--or at least had not been recorded. The survival of such works as the Anticlaudianus of Alanus de Insulis and the De mundi universitate of Bernardus Silvestris shows that the genre we now call allegory was known and was being written, yet medieval theorists never define allegoria as a genre but always as a figure of speech, as it had been defined by the author of the Ad Herennium and by Quintilian. 1 To seek for the definition of the genre through the origin of its themes and motifs, as the Celticists and others have done, is equally pointless, since the same themes and motifs are found in works which are not romances. We would be better advised to approach the genre problem of the romance in the same way as we ap