Le Morte d'Arthur of Sir Thomas Malory and Its Sources

By Vida D. Scudder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
FRENCH VERSE ROMANCES OF THE TWELFTH CENTURY

I

THE national spirit burns like an inward fire through the chroniclers who developed the central Arthurian story in England. With the almost contemporary verse romances which were celebrating Arthur's knights on the Continent, England had little to do. Yet these poems can not be ignored in the sequence leading to Malory; for to them was due nearly all that the word "romantic" usually means.

While Geoffrey and Layamon clung to a patriotic purpose which forced them to remain ostensibly within hailing distance of fact, romance was developing independently at its own sweet will. The Arthur of the French poets is not a militant monarch, defending his country and enlarging his empire, he is a monarch in position, seldom or never the subject of the story. Securely established on his throne, he makes his court the focus of all chivalric adventure. Thence issue, thither return, his devoted knights, -- a Lancelot, an Erec, an Ywain, a Gawain, a Perceval. Attached to the king by a sentimental rather than a political tie, they are bound on quests in which for the first time may be breathed the full romantic air. The poems have no historic perspective and no epic scope;

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