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A Companion to Wace

A Companion to Wace

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 314
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to Wace
    Book Description:

    The twelfth-century writer Wace is best known for his two influential works on the history of England (the Roman de Brut) and on the history of the Normans (the Roman de Rou), but despite this he has, until recently, been neglected. This book aims to provide a comprehensive overview of all his surviving works, including his hagiographical pieces, La Vie de sainte Marguerite, la Vie de saint Nicolas and La Conception Nostre Dame. Beginning with an examination of the historical and textual background necessary to an informed understanding of the poet, it moves on to discuss the manuscript tradition of each of Wace's poems, together with the sources that underlie each text, highlighting the additions, omissions and modifications made by the poet in adapting his material for new, non-Latinate audience. Particular attention is given to Wace's swan-song, the Roman de Rou, where his skill in combining history and romance is most clearly revealed. Dr F. H. M. Le Saux teaches in the Department of French at the University of Reading.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-390-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction Wace: His Life and Times
    (pp. 1-10)

    We have very few certainties regarding the life of Wace. His date of birth is unknown, and attempts to estimate it have been based essentially on extrapolations from the dates of composition of his extant works. The nineteenth-century scholar Gaston Paris concluded that the poet must have been born around the year 1100, on the grounds that by the death of Henry I, in 1135, he had already completed his studies and was established as a ‘clerc lisant’.¹ Anthony Holden, the editor of theRoman de Rou, inclines towards 1110. A date of birth in the first half of the...

  6. Part I Wace:: hagiographer

      (pp. 11-12)

      Wace’s earliest extant works are three religious poems, all in octosyllabic couplets: a Life of Saint Margaret (La Vie de sainte Marguerite, 746 lines), an account of the Conception and Life of Our Lady (La Conception Nostre Dame, 1810 lines), and a Life of Saint Nicholas (La Vie de saint Nicolas, 1563 lines). They have not attracted the critical attention one might have expected, partly because of a scholarly bias against religious literature in general throughout the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century,¹ and partly, one suspects, because these early poems do not correspond to the image of...

    • 1 La Vie de sainte Marguerite
      (pp. 13-29)

      It is generally accepted that the oldest work of Wace’s to have come down to us is hisVie de sainte Marguerite. It is preserved in three manuscripts only, none of which preserve the dialect of composition i.e., Norman French:

      1. Tours, Bibliothèque municipale, 927, a paper manuscript copied in the late thirteenth century, probably in the Touraine area.¹ This manuscript, which is best known for preserving the only extant text of the twelfth-century playLe Jeu d’Adam, also contains Wace’sConception Nostre Dame. The beginning of Wace’sMargueriteis incomplete due to damage; the poem is copied on folios 205–...

    • 2 La Conception Nostre Dame
      (pp. 30-50)

      As we have seen, scholars tend to place theConception Nostre Damerelatively early in the poet’s career, before hisVie de saint Nicolas. The main reason for this is that in theNicolasthe reader can more readily discern the Wace of theRoman de Brut, whereas (to put things bluntly) theConceptionwas not considered to be very good literature. The first editors of the poem, G. Mancel and G.-S. Trébutien (1842), despite their more favourable opinion of Wace than many of their contemporaries, felt that he had not made the best use of his sources in this...

    • 3 La Vie de saint Nicolas
      (pp. 51-78)

      Whether or not the composition of theVie de saint Nicolaspostdates theConception Nostre Dame, this poem occupies an interesting intermediate position between the relatively straightforward task of adapting for a French-speaking audience theVie de sainte Marguerite, from two, quite similar Latin versions, and the textual labyrinth offered by the sources relating to the life of the Virgin. Though the subject matter was less elevated than for theConception, for hisVie de saint NicolasWace was working with even more popular material than that ofLa Vie de sainte Marguerite. Saint Nicholas was one of the most...

      (pp. 79-80)

      The three surviving religious poems by Wace show that he was a major poet well before he undertook theRoman de Brut, and a recognised scholar. It would be difficult to find three works more different from each other than theVie de sainte Marguerite, theConception Nostre Dameand theVie de saint Nicolas: from a relatively simple, linear narrative to a tripartite exposition and commentary, and ending with an episodic compendium of miracles. However, as pointed out by Elizabeth Francis (p. xvii), all of Wace’s poems have ‘un intérêt d’actualité’: theVie de sainte Margueriteis composed at...

  7. Part II Le Roman de Brut

      (pp. 81-84)

      In 1155, Wace (by then well into his forties or early fifties) completed what is generally considered among literary scholars to be hischef d’oeuvre: the long narrative poem now known under the title ofRoman de Brut. Its main claim to fame for most is that it is the first vernacular piece of literature to treat of the character of Arthur, and the first work ever to mention the Round Table; as a result, the account of the reign of Arthur has all too frequently been studied in isolation from the surrounding narrative, thus distorting the way the work...

    • 4 Manuscripts, Sources and Adaptation Principles
      (pp. 85-107)

      TheRoman de Brutwas by far the most successful of Wace’s works. Over thirty manuscripts have survived containing all or part of the poem, and further fragments continue to come to light; one was discovered as recently as 1999.¹ A full list of these manuscripts is provided by Judith Weiss in the introduction to her edition and translation of the work. Nineteen of the manuscript witnesses (eighteen of these being medieval) preserve a complete, or near-complete, text. Interest in the poem was especially great in England, as might be expected: nine of the nineteen complete or near-complete texts, and...

    • 5 Britain, Rome and the House of Constantine
      (pp. 108-124)

      The Rise and Fall of the Celtic rulers of Britain, in Wace as in his Latin sources, takes place in four phases:

      1. The Foundation and early kings. This part has at its core Britain’s relation with Rome, and ends with the Roman retreat from the island.

      2. The House of Constantine and the advent of the Saxons.

      3. Arthur, who constitutes the culmination of the House of Constantine, and whose reign faces the dual threat of Rome and the Saxons.

      4. The passage of dominion to the English.

      These parts are linked together by the theme of Brittany. Conquered by the Emperor Maximien...

    • 6 King Arthur and the Passage of Dominion
      (pp. 125-150)

      The reign of Arthur is the section of Wace’s work where the poet takes the greatest liberties with his sources. Most notably, it is the episode where the historical stance appears to be at its weakest, with the intrusion of material that is neither didactic nor religious in origin. It is also the fullest account of any of the Celtic kings of Britain, covering two Books (Books IX and X) or 37 chapters (out of a total of 207) in the Latin sources. Wace’s account of Arthur’s reign is not a homogeneous, uniform whole. It develops in three stages, starting...

      (pp. 151-152)

      It is apparent from our study that Wace was thoroughly in control of what he was doing throughout hisRoman de Brut. His translation is based on an in-depth analysis of the themes and implications of theHistoria Regum Britanniae, as represented by the Variant version of the text. Though the Norman writer was clearly familiar with the vulgate text and did not hesitate to borrow from it, the general framework supporting his narrative is firmly that of the Variant, with occasional interpolations. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s vulgate text is not, therefore, markedly different in status to the tales mentioned in...

  8. Part III Le Roman de Rou

      (pp. 153-159)

      When Wace set out to produce his verse account of the history of the dukes of Normandy, in 1160, he was confronted by a very different set of problems from anything he had encountered before. The preparatory phase of collecting his materials would have been much more complex, and the task of selecting those suitable for inclusion in his work would have been far more delicate. The subject matter itself was heavily charged politically, and some of the events he had to deal with were still within living memory. There was no one, single work whose structure he could adopt...

    • 7 The Ancestors of William the Conqueror
      (pp. 160-208)

      TheRoman de Rouis made up of four different parts, distinguished by metre and style as well as by their specific function within the overall scheme of theRoman de Rou. TheChronique Ascendante, in monorhyme stanzas containing a varying number of lines (of twelve syllables), shares its formal characteristics with theDeuxième Partie, and thePremière Partie, in octosyllabic couplets, announces theTroisième Partie, also in octosyllabic couplets. Wace seems to have planned his poem on a principle of stylistic alternation, possibly reflecting the shifting influences of his various sources, but also pointing to three main phases in...

    • 8 William II of Normandy – the Conqueror
      (pp. 209-252)

      The rule of William II of Normandy takes up more than half of theTroisième Partie, covering some 6100 octosyllabic lines out of a total of 11440; in terms of length, this is therefore the most important episode in the work. The rule of his son and successor Duke Robert Curthose, at under 1800 lines in length, appears by comparison as a rather half-hearted postscript, thus echoing (whether by design or by accident) the impact of the Arthurian section and its aftermath in Geoffrey of Monmouth’sHistoria Regum Britanniaeand in Wace’s ownRoman de Brut. However, William II of...

    • 9 The Aftermath of Hastings
      (pp. 253-274)

      If William the Conqueror is to theRoman de Rouwhat Arthur is to theRoman de Brut, we would expect his highpoint to be followed by a pattern of decline. This is indeed what happens, but in such a different way to what we find in theRoman de Brutthat the comparison is barely valid. Contrary to Arthur, William is a deeply flawed character, from whom much of the darkness in the ensuing narrative originates; his failure to follow in the footsteps of his wiser forebears and forego the royal dignity results in an identity crisis in the...

      (pp. 275-278)

      It is customary to consider theRoman de Rouas an unfinished work, abandoned by its author before its completion because Henry II decided to entrust the project to someone else (11419–24):

      Die en avant qui dire deit;

      j’ai dit por Maistre Beneeit,

      qui cest’ovre a dire a emprise

      com li reis l’a desor lui mise;

      quant li reis li a rové faire

      laissier la dei, si m’en dei taire.¹

      This is certainly the impression derived from a first reading of these lines, and it must be admitted that theRoman de Rouends rather abruptly. On the other...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 279-286)

    Having come to an end of our survey of Wace’s surviving works, it may be concluded that the most salient feature of his oeuvre is the consistency of his approach. The five characteristics of the poet’s religious works listed in the conclusion to Part I apply equally to both theRoman de Brutand virtually all of theRoman de Rou. These characteristics were:

    1. The use of more than one source.

    In the case of the hagiographical poems, it could be argued that the plurality of sources used by Wace was dictated by the agenda his patron(s) wished him to...

  10. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 287-296)
  11. Index
    (pp. 297-305)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 306-306)