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Christianity and Romance in Medieval England

Christianity and Romance in Medieval England

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 226
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  • Book Info
    Christianity and Romance in Medieval England
    Book Description:

    The relationship between the Christianity of medieval culture and its most characteristic narrative, the romance, is complex and the modern reading of it is too often confused. Not only can it be difficult to negotiate the distant, sometimes alien concepts of religious cultures of past centuries in a modern, secular, multi-cultural society, but there is no straightforward Christian context of Middle English romance - or of medieval romance in general, although this volume focuses on the romances of England. Medieval audiences had apparently very different expectations and demands of their entertainment: some looking for, and evidently finding, moral exempla and analogues of biblical narratives, others secular, even sensational, entertainment of a type condemned by moralising voices. BR> The essays collected here show how the romances of medieval England engage with its Christian culture. Topics include the handling of material from pre-Christian cultures, classical and Celtic, the effect of the Crusades, the meaning of chivalry, and the place of women in pious romances. Case studies, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Malory's Morte Darthur, offer new readings and ideas for teaching romance to contemporary students. Thtey do not present a single view of a complex situation, but demonstrate the importance of reading romances with an awareness of the knowledge and cultural capital represented by Christianity for its original writers and audiences. Contributors: HELEN PHILLIPS, STEPHEN KNIGHT, PHILLIPA HARDMAN, MARIANNE AILES, RALUCA L. RADULESCU, CORINNE SAUNDERS, K.S. WHETTER, ANDREA HOPKINS, ROSALIND FIELD, DEREK BREWER, D. THOMAS HANKS, MICHELLE SWEENEY

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-797-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. General Editors’ Foreword
    (pp. ix-ix)

    This series addresses the challenge that the study of literature, history and material culture of the past often poses for modern researchers, students and teachers, because the religious assumptions of previous centuries are remote from the worldviews of contemporary people. The volumes in the series aim to provide research, discussion and critical perspectives on the role of religion and the historical interrelationships of religion, society and culture, each focusing on a particular period or topic. They are designed primarily for those in university research, teaching and study, but their subjects and approaches are also likely to be of interest to...

  4. Editors’ Preface
    (pp. x-x)
  5. List of Contributors
    (pp. xi-xi)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxii)

    ‘Romance’ is a capacious term, and as those who have tried to define it have discovered, it has an unnerving tendency to metamorphose from text to text or period to period. It is much easier to recognize a text as a romance than reduce the term to a single meaning. So far as the Middle Ages are concerned, however, when the word first appeared, both definition and recognition are made easier by its derivation: it first emerges in French asromanz, with the sense of a work in the vernacular as distinct from Latin. That is far more than just...


    • 1 Medieval Classical Romances: The Perils of Inheritance
      (pp. 3-25)

      Thus beginsCursor Mundi(c. 1300), listing popular subjects for romances. It continues with Brutus (‘Furste conqueroure of engelande’), Arthur, Gawain, Kay, the Round Table, Charlemagne, Roland, Tristan and Isolde and others, a concatenation of great heroes, pagan and Christian. Moving on to ‘paramours’ (courtly love), its mutability and miseries (lines 51–110), the poet offers his alternative narrative, a history of salvation, with Mary as a pure mistress who never fails her lovers.

      This prologue to a religious work illustrates the ease with which pagan antiquity had gained a prime position among subjects for romance and also within a...

    • 2 Celticity and Christianity in Medieval Romance
      (pp. 26-44)

      It is well known that medieval romance is rich in both Celtic and Christian elements, but it is common to assume they are separate, even opposed. Yet while some texts follow a Celtic inspiration and others pursue a Christian path, in some of the finest achievements of romance, from Robert de Boron’s Merlin-focused Grail story to Malory’s presentation of Arthur’s end, the Celtic and the Christian are potently condensed.

      The notional hostility of Celticity and Christianity in romance derives in part from ignorance, sometimes amounting to prejudice. Remarkably few analyses of Chrétien refer to the WelshMabinogionstories, and Guyer’s...

    • 3 Crusading, Chivalry and the Saracen World in Insular Romance
      (pp. 45-66)

      The romantic figure of the crusader knight is firmly rooted in our popular imagination, largely thanks to Sir Walter Scott’s romances of the Third Crusade,¹ but tracing this stereotype in medieval literature in England, or identifying a body of insular ‘crusading romances’, is not a simple matter. The romance ofRichard Coeur de Lionis very loosely based on the career of Richard I and his achievements in the Third Crusade to the Holy Land (1189–92), fighting against the Muslim leader Saladin for the Christian crusader states that had been established in the wake of the First Crusade (1096-9).²...


    • 4 How Christian is Chivalry?
      (pp. 69-83)

      In this passage fromThe Awntyrs off Arthur, the reader is presented with a knight’s rare moment of self-awareness, in particular of the wrongful use of chivalry; here Gawain, the archetypal English romance hero, articulates the anxieties of his peers, listing the priorities of knightly life (‘fonden to fight’ and ‘wynnen worshipp’) and its associated social repercussions (unlawfully despoiling others, both at home and abroad, of their possessions). The ghost of Guenevere’s mother replies to this by drawing attention to the sin of covetousness which is displayed by the very leader of the knights, King Arthur himself, a sin which...

    • 5 Magic and Christianity
      (pp. 84-101)

      Contemporary thought tends to oppose magic and Christianity. The term magic suggests superstition and illicit ritual, with roots in a misty, perhaps imagined, pagan past. It also implies material wish-fulfilment, by contrast to religious faith and prayer. Yet the origins of magic are interwoven with religion, and while some aspects of magic came to be connected with the illicit, pagan and heretical, magic was also endorsed by the powerful belief in a Christian supernatural that encompassed the divine, demonic and otherworldly, and by belief in natural, occult forces in the cosmos. A strong learned tradition of magic was sustained by...

    • 6 Subverting, Containing and Upholding Christianity in Medieval Romance
      (pp. 102-118)
      K. S. WHETTER

      One of the great problems for medieval society, as Maurice Powicke long ago observed, was the reconciling of Christian teaching and the views of the Church with the everyday ‘life of the ordinary man’ and woman.¹ For patristic writers such as St Augustine the solution was to look exclusively to the heavenly afterlife.² This view is adopted by some secular writers as well: Geoffrey Chaucer closesTroilus and Criseyde(mid-1380s) by having Troilus laugh at and reject the earthly loves and tribulations which had so troubled him earlier in the poem.³ The author of theQueste del Saint Graal(c....


    • 7 Female Saints and Romance Heroines: Feminine Fiction and Faith among the Literate Elite
      (pp. 121-138)

      Romance writers do not, as a rule, gender their audience. They often address their traditional opening remarks along the lines of class and, in the fiction of the genre, suppose that their poems will be listened to by ‘lordynges’ and their households, to entertain them in the public space of the hall:

      Lordinges that ar leff and dere,

      Lystenyth and I shall you tell

      By old dayes what aunturs were

      Amonge oure eldris þat by-felle¹

      Herkneth to me, gode men,

      Wives, maydens, and alle men,

      Of a tale, þat Ich you will telle,

      Hwo-so it wile here, and þer-to duelle.²...

    • 8 Athelston or the Middle English Nativity of St Edmund
      (pp. 139-149)

      The middle english text known asAthelston¹ has long proved an awkward presence amongst the romances that purport to deal with subjects from English history. Its grasp of that history seems slippery, both inaccurate and anachronistic to a degree unusual even amongst the romances, and its accumulation of romance motifs fails to build convincingly into a romance. It is fast-moving, dramatic and well-paced and thus seems to be a popular narrative, but it exists in only one manuscript and leaves no trace of other copies or of wider circulation. It has no discernible source, although analogues have been identified amongst...

    • 9 Romance Traditions and Christian Values in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
      (pp. 150-158)

      This late-fourteenth-century english romance in mainly alliterative verse by an unknown author, writing in the dialect of somewhere in the North Midlands,¹ is the best chivalric romance in English, a work of extraordinary richness and complexity. It is, nevertheless, built on a simple basic story (essentially of a folkloric type),² the testing of the young Gawain, who is presented as the exemplar of Christian knighthood in the court of King Arthur.³ The fascination ofSir Gawain and the Green Knightis the way in which this clear story line and the conventional topics of romance narrative – treated here with great...


    • 10 Questioning Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Teaching the Text through its Medieval English Christian Context
      (pp. 161-175)

      So much has been written aboutSir Gawain and the Green Knightthat it can be daunting both for students and for teachers. It is particularly difficult to undertake its preparation for teaching because students often do not know much about chivalry or the romance genre. For many of our students, even the old stand-bys of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot are fading in cultural significance. Equally, they are likely to have little or no familiarity with Christian traditions. Clearly, diversity of backgrounds and skill levels can often be a significant challenge, but it is also true that many of us...

    • 11 Teaching Malory: A Subject-Centered Approach
      (pp. 176-198)

      Prior to her second class in a semester-long course onMalory’s Morte Darthur(assigned reading was Vinaver’s one-volume Malory,Works, pp. 3–37), Molly sent in this email journal entry:

      The first tale Malory tells the reader contains the account of Arthur’s parents and how he came to being in this world. This story does not seem to be one of a great and noble figure; eventually Arthur’s mother is forced to hope for a man to defend her part in the relationship and Arthur’s legitimacy as the son of Uther: ‘there wold some good man take my quarell’ (30)....

  12. Index
    (pp. 199-204)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)