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A Companion to Medieval Popular Romance

A Companion to Medieval Popular Romance

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to Medieval Popular Romance
    Book Description:

    Popular romance was one of the most wide-spread forms of literature in the middle ages, yet despite its cultural centrality, and its fundamental importance for later literary developments, the genre has defied precise definition, its subject matter ranging from tales of chivalric adventure, to saintly women, and monsters who become human. The essays in this collection seek to provide an inclusive and thorough examination of romance. They provide contexts, definitions, and explanations for the genre, particularly in, but not limited to, an English context. Topics covered include genre and literary classification; race and ethnicity; gender; orality and performance; the romance and young readers; metre and form; printing culture; and reception. CONTRIBUTORS: ROSALIND FIELD, RALUCA L. RADULESCU, MALDWYN MILLS, GILLIAN ROGERS, JENNIFER FELLOWS, THOMAS H. CROFTS, ROBERT ALLEN ROUSE, JOANNE CHARBONNEAU, DESIREE CROMWELL, AD PUTTER, KARL REICHL, PHILLIPA HARDMAN, CORY JAMES RUSHTON

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-707-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The study of medieval popular romance, in Middle English or any other language, is a notoriously tricky business. Scholarly consensus over the apparent low aesthetic quality, unsophisticated form and limited conceptual framework exhibited by most medieval popular romances has affected many analyses of these texts until relatively recently. An impatience concerning the debate over the nature of their genre and classification, as well as their representative (or not) status in relation to English medieval literary culture, resulted in the selection of very few such texts for inclusion into the mainstream undergraduate curriculum – usually reserved for texts of high literary status,...

  7. 1 Popular Romance: The Material and the Problems
    (pp. 9-30)

    The Middle English verse romances of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries have always posed a problem to academic study and modern readers. The majority are textually fragile, anonymous, and lack clear cultural and social contexts. Dealing with such textual and cultural problems is the business of scholarship, but these works remain resistant to an academic discourse that privileges difficulty in interpretation, an elite response, a professional readership. More seriously they are evidently the ancestors of a popular literary culture that academic discourse prefers to ignore, unless under the copious umbrella of cultural studies.

    There are basic problems with the double...

  8. 2 Genre and Classification
    (pp. 31-48)

    An attractive and, in some cases, defining feature of some medieval popular romances is (the intrusion of) the outrageous and the spectacular or unexpected, which unsettles the order of chivalric adventures encountered in these texts. The shocking twists and turns of popular romance have continued to appeal to medieval and modern audiences alike, and have prompted, at least in part, the revival of critical interest in these texts in recent decades. It is the anonymous romance authors and audiences that we should credit with the enduring appeal of texts that continue to ‘unsettle our assumptions about, among other things, gender...

  9. 3 The Manuscripts of Popular Romance
    (pp. 49-66)

    Popular romances survive in a number of manuscripts, both medieval and post-medieval, though the variety of contexts that result from their varied transmission has affected their modern interpretation. Chaucer’sCanterbury Tales, for example, itself part of an often diffuse tradition, presents a basic identity which allows for interpretation of individual tales and the collection as a whole, and themes across common manuscript fragments. The individual romance, each a distinct tale which may share themes or even characters with other romances, can look very different in its manuscript context; scribes and collectors exerted a significant amount of power over how a...

  10. 4 Printed Romance in the Sixteenth Century
    (pp. 67-78)

    Although there have been a number of studies of Middle English romance in the sixteenth century from the point of view of printing history or of descriptive bibliography,¹ very little attention has been paid to the actual texts in relationship to earlier manuscript traditions or to one another.² In this chapter I offer a textual characterization of the post-medieval versions of the five romances in Cambridge University Library, MS Ff. 2.38 (Sir Eglamour of Artois,Syr Tryamowre,Sir Bevis of Hampton,Guy of WarwickandSir Degaré) that were printed in the early Tudor period. My own work on Bevis...

  11. 5 Middle English Popular Romance and National Identity
    (pp. 79-95)

    ‘Who are the English; where do they come from; what constitutes the English nation?’ Such were the questions regarding Englishness that Thorlac Turville-Petre posed in 1994 when he observed that ‘the establishment and exploration of a sense of a national identity is a major preoccupation of English writers of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries’.¹ Turville-Petre’s work, which found its most expansive form in his seminal studyEngland the Nation,² established medieval English nationalism as a vibrant field of interest, and has led to the proliferation of studies of the development of medieval Englishness over the past decade or...

  12. 6 Gender and Identity in the Popular Romance
    (pp. 96-110)

    Like folktales, myths, and legends, many Middle English romances focus on constructions of identity, heroic behaviour, and an individual’s defiance of or conformity to familial, social, cultural and political forces. In many of these texts, the desires of individuals are pitted against societal or familial forces lined up to thwart them: kings, treacherous lords or stewards, problematic fathers, or evil mothers-in-law. These are not always or merely archetypal or generic opponents, as the romances invest folkloric motifs with political and social resonances particular to England in post-Conquest times. Unlike folkloric stories in which monsters (such as giants and dwarfs) are...

  13. 7 The Metres and Stanza Forms of Popular Romance
    (pp. 111-131)

    Discussions of versification and prosody tend (as in thisCompanion) to be tucked away in discrete chapters or sections, as if these were purely technical subjects without wider relevance. In fact, metre is a central entry point to questions of performance, theme, style, and cultural context. Verse form naturally shapes thought and expression; it also reveals the poet’s sense of belonging – his ideas about the kind of work he was writing and the performance he envisaged – and gives us clues about the date, provenance, and reliability of the texts in which poems have come down to us. For all these...

  14. 8 Orality and Performance
    (pp. 132-149)

    ‘This collection’ refers to theReliques of Ancient English Poetryby Thomas Percy, first published in 1765. Percy appended ‘An Essay on the Ancient Minstrels in England’, from which the introductory quotation comes. The picture painted by Percy of the minstrel as both the performer and composer of popular Middle English romances was already in his time severely criticized, a criticism that led Percy to some modifications in later editions of his essay.¹ When reading Percy’s essay today, almost 250 years after its first publication, it is gratifying to see that progress in philology has given us reliable editions of...

  15. 9 Popular Romances and Young Readers
    (pp. 150-164)

    The phrase ‘popular romance’ has received extensive scrutiny in two recent collections of critical essays on Middle English romance, where various binary configurations have been offered to explore its semantic field: popular/courtly romances;¹ popular/official culture.² Nicola McDonald celebrates the ‘inherent unorthodoxy’ of popular romance,³ as she seeks to expose the conventional prejudices of critical discourse from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries but, despite noting the popularity of medieval romance judged by the diversity of its audience,⁴ her argument draws attention to critical prejudice in relation to age. McDonald alludes to the early reading habits of Sir Walter Scott, ‘whose...

  16. 10 Modern and Academic Reception of the Popular Romance
    (pp. 165-180)

    The reception of popular medieval romance in England has always been inextricably linked with academic study of both the history of the language and of medieval society. Popular genres tend to evolve, often resisting coalescence around particular texts or authors, and the medieval romance lives on today through being subsumed in a variety of cultural contexts (the western, for example). Those medieval romances which have survived the passage of time, when encountered today, are found almost exclusively in the academy, and the study of their reception cannot be separated from literary history and intellectual inquiry. This leads to some unexpected...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-204)
  18. Index
    (pp. 205-210)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-211)