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A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle

A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle

Edited by Carol Dover
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle
    Book Description:

    The early thirteenth-century French prose Lancelot-Grail Cycle (or Vulgate Cycle) brings together the stories of Arthur with those of the Grail, a conjunction of materials that continues to fascinate the Western imagination today. Representing what is probably the earliest large-scale use of prose for fiction in the West, it also exemplifies the taste for big cyclic compositions that shaped much of European narrative fiction for three centuries. A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle is the first comprehensive volume devoted exclusively to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle and its medieval legacy. The twenty essays in this volume, all by internationally known scholars, locate the work in its social, historical, literary, and manuscript contexts. In addition to addressing critical issues in the five texts that make up the Cycle, the contributors convey to modern readers the appeal that the text must have had for its medieval audiences, and the richness of composition that made it compelling. This volume will become standard reading for scholars, students, and more general readers interested in the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, medieval romance, Malory studies, and the Arthurian legends. Contributors: RICHARD BARBER, EMMANUELE BAUMGARTNER, FANNI BOGDANOW, FRANK BRANDSMA, MATILDA T. BRUCKNER, CAROL J. CHASE, ANNIE COMBES, HELEN COOPER, CAROL R. DOVER, MICHAEL HARNEY, DONALD L. HOFFMAN, DOUGLAS KELLY, ELSPETH KENNEDY, NORRIS J. LACY, ROGER MIDDLETON, HAQUIRA OSAKABE, HANS-HUGO STEINHOFF, ALISON STONES, RICHARD TRACHSLER. CAROL DOVER is associate professor of French and director of undergraduate studies, Georgetown University, Washington DC.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-048-7
    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. The Contributors
    (pp. viii-ix)
  5. A Note on the Lancelot-Grail Cycle
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    The early thirteenth-century FrenchLancelot-Grail Cycle(orVulgate Cycle) brings together the stories of Arthur with those of the Grail, a conjunction of materials that continues to fascinate the Western imagination today. It is a vast compendium of Arthurian literature whose importance for the development of European fiction is finally being appreciated. Representing what is probably the earliest large-scale use of prose for fiction in the West, it also exemplifies the taste for big cyclic compositions that shaped much of European narrative fiction for three centuries. Dante admired the meandering seductiveness of theCycle’s storytelling, Malory relied on it in...


    • 1 Chivalry, Cistercianism and the Grail
      (pp. 3-12)

      TheQueste del Saint Graalis a remarkable feat of the imagination. It is a deeply religious story, yet it has little basis in the received history and teachings of the Church, and is embedded as an integral part in a series of romances which have quite other, secular values. Despite the unofficial nature of its material, the theology it contains is complex and subtle; yet at the same time it succeeded in appealing to the courtly audience for whom the romances were created. We may well wonder how these disparate themes of chivalry, mysticism and apocryphal stories of the...

    • 2 The Making of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle
      (pp. 13-22)

      TheLancelot-Grail Cycleas we know it was not fully planned from the start. It is generally acknowledged that theEstoire del Saint Graaland theEstoire de Merlinwere later additions to theCycle, carefully presented to prepare the way for later events.¹ However, the development of the romance from the account of the childhood of Lancelot, beginning ‘En la marche de Gaule et de la Petite Bretaigne’ (LK1) [In the borderland between Gaul and Brittany],² to the death of Arthur has given rise to greater controversy. In contrast with some early scholars such as Brugger and Bruce...

    • 3 A Question of Time: Romance and History
      (pp. 23-32)

      L’ Estoire de Lancelot, as the epilogue of theMort Artuseems to call the entireLancelot-Grail Cycle, is indeed a long story.¹ From its beginnings that merge with the origins of Christianity in the Holy Land under the Roman emperor Vespasian, to its endde vers Occidentwith the passing of Arthur in the year 542 at Avalon, what we tend to see as a ‘romance’ shares much of its action with what medieval readers probably would have not hesitated to call ‘history.’ In particular the stories of Utherpendragon, the account of Arthur’s youth, the Saxon and Roman wars,...

    • 4 The Vulgate Cycle and the Post-Vulgate Roman du Graal
      (pp. 33-52)

      The thirteenth century was one of the most fruitful periods in the history of medieval narrative fiction. It was not only the time when the twelfth-century Arthurian and Tristan verse romances were turned into prose, but when previously unconnected themes were adapted to form parts of larger cycles. Robert de Boron who himself wrote in verse at the end of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century, and who inherited on the one hand from Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace the stories of Merlin and Arthur’s kingdom, and on the other hand from Chrétien de Troyes the theme...


    • 5 Interlace and the Cyclic Imagination
      (pp. 55-64)

      The recent reintroduction of the notion of cycle into critical discussion of medieval romance has not enjoyed the unanimity of definitions that characterize the use of the term interlace since Ferdinand Lot.¹ Let us turn therefore to the ancient and medieval past when cyclicity had a more precise meaning which we can use to approach theLancelot-Grailas a cycle of interlacing narratives. David Staines has noted Horace’s reference to cyclic poets in theArt of Poetrylines 131–9 and their ‘tendency to diffuseness.’ Although there is a ‘gathering of literary creations that have the same general subject-matter, or...

    • 6 The Gateway to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle: L’Estoire del Saint Graal
      (pp. 65-74)

      When Chrétien de Troyes’ naïve hero, Perceval, sees the Grail procession in the Fisher King’s castle, he is confronted with a mystery that writers have sought to elucidate ever since. In Chrétien’s text, the scene is presented as if through Perceval’s eyes. Aseries of persons carrying various objects – a lance that bleeds, candelabra with ten candles each, a grail that gives off an extraordinary light, a silver carving dish – cross the hall where he and his host are seated, and enter another room.¹ Perceval gazes with awe at the lance and the grail, promising himself to ask about them later....

    • 7 The Merlin and its Suite
      (pp. 75-86)

      The genesis of theMerlinis a complex romance project in the image of its eponymous character. It is a work with a history, firstly because it was fashioned from a variety of earlier texts, and secondly because it was inserted into one cycle, then into another. Like a polychrome print that needs several inkings before the final printing can be made, the romance combines figures and colors from earlier works, but the end result is a flawless landscape, a literary monument so tightly woven and self-contained that it fits almost intact into a very different textual environment, like a...

    • 8 The Book of Lancelot
      (pp. 87-94)

      The anonymousLancelot, probably composed between 1215 and 1220, is acknowledged as the oldest member of theLancelot-Grail Cycle.¹ We may never know the identity of its author(s) beyond Lot’s suggestion that he was a cleric of aristocratic background in service at court,² whose work combined a Grail story with a courtly story, apparently to make good on what Chrétien had attempted in his Grail story. Although each of the members of the Cycle has its particular perspective and texture, Jean Frappier’s concept of the entireCyclebeing planned and directed by a single mind that he calls the ‘architect,’...

    • 9 Redefining the Center: Verse and Prose Charrette
      (pp. 95-106)

      A knight paradoxically associated with a shameful cart rescues the Queen, liberates the captives, and becomes Guinevere’s lover. In its barest outline, that is the plot of Chrétien de Troyes’sChevalier de la Charrete, the romance that catapulted Lancelot into fame and forever changed the course of Arthurian history. What existed before Chrétien remains uncertain, but there is no doubt that his version became the starting point for all subsequent tales of Lancelot as the knight whose extraordinary prowess is inextricably linked to his love for Arthur’s Queen. Identity and love, the two great themes of theCharrete, set the...

    • 10 The Queste del saint Graal: from semblance to veraie semblance
      (pp. 107-114)

      TheQueste del saint Graal, composed c. 1225–1230, survives in a large number of manuscripts – currently forty-three complete manuscripts – which contain either the entireLancelot-Grail Cycleor theLancelot–Queste–Mort Artutrilogy. In the epilogue, the name ‘Mestre Gautier Map’ purports to be the one who, ‘pour l’amour du roi Henri son seigneur,’ transposed from Latin into French thisestoirethat has been kept since the days of Arthur in thearmoire[library] at Salesbieres [Salisbury]. The attribution of the narrative to Gautier Map, a cleric who lived at the court of Henry II and composed works in...

    • 11 The Sense of an Ending: La Mort le Roi Artu
      (pp. 115-124)

      The reader approaching the end of theQueste del saint Graallearns that only Bors, Perceval, and Galahad are able, though to differing degrees, to achieve visions of the Holy Grail. We read of the death of Galahad, after which the Grail is taken up into heaven. Soon Perceval dies as well, leaving only Bors to tell the full story of the quest. He returns to Camelot, where the adventures he recounts are recorded in writing. And with that, we are told, ‘si se test a tant li contes, que plus n’en dist des Aventures del Seint Graal’ [the story...

    • 12 ‘Mise en page’ in the French Lancelot-Grail: the First 150 Years of the Illustrative Tradition
      (pp. 125-144)

      If the number of surviving manuscripts is a reliable guide to what was read in the Middle Ages, the five-partLancelot-Grail Cycle(orVulgate Cycle) and its derivatives and followers ranked with Geoffrey of Monmouth’sHistoria regum Britanniaeand the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle of Charlemagne’s exploits in Spain as one of the most popular vernacular texts.¹ Surviving in over a hundred manuscripts, most of which are densely illustrated, it provides a formidable and somewhat unwieldy corpus from which to explore questions about the format and layout of text and illustration in the period between the composition of the texts c. 1220...


    • 13 The Lancelot-Grail Cycle in England: Malory and his Predecessors
      (pp. 147-162)

      Sir Thomas Malory’sMorte Darthur, completed in 1469–70 and printed by William Caxton in 1485, is England’s Arthuriad, and as such it is the closest English equivalent to theLancelot-Grail Cycle.¹ Equivalence in scope, however, does not imply mere translation or adaptation. Malory’s work is the fullest single representative of the Lancelot-Grail in English, but he was neither the only, nor by any means the most faithful, English adapter ofCyclematerial.² His version is indeed strikingly innovative: he both alters hisCyclematerial and combines it with different sources in French and English to design (to use Chrétien...

    • 14 Lancelot in Italy
      (pp. 163-172)

      The most perceptive student of the Lancelot tradition in Italy may well be Francesca da Rimini. The well-read adulteress provides important evidence that, although no medieval Italian text of the proseLancelotexists,¹ the story was familiar, at least to the noble and educated, in fourteenth-century Italy.² Almost too well known to merit repetition, her discussion of theLancelotnevertheless raises too many relevant issues not to require yet another look.

      ‘Ma s’a conoscer la prima radice

      del nostro amor tu hai cotanto affetto.

      dirò come colui che piange e dice.

      Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto

      di Lancialotto come...

    • 15 Lancelot in Germany
      (pp. 173-184)

      The importance of theLancelot-Grail Cyclewas recognized early in Germany – too early perhaps, for the reception of the work is highly fragmented, like a broken line of stops and starts. The long process of appropriation began before the mid-thirteenth century and reached its peak in the second half of the fifteenth century. Even so, a complete German translation of theLancelot–Queste–Mort Artutrilogy did not appear for another hundred years, and the sole surviving manuscript, dated 1576, also marks the end of the history of theCycle.¹ Neither of the translations was printed, and we have no...

    • 16 The Spanish Lancelot-Grail Heritage
      (pp. 185-194)

      There is no ‘Spanish Cycle’ to complement any of the branches of the FrenchLancelot-Grail Cycle. Rather, certain works from the latter population of texts were variously translated, adapted, modified, excerpted, or imitated, most of them anonymously, in Castilian and related dialects, and in Portuguese and Catalan. At the same time, and subsequently, many Arthurian elements and characters widely known in the cultural milieu of the Peninsula were incorporated, in more or less disguised form, into so-called pseudo-Arthurian works.

      The earliest Peninsular reference to Arthurian matters is in a work by the Catalan troubador Guiraut de Cabrera, dating from around...

    • 17 Neither Sublime nor Gallant: The Portuguese Demanda and the New Destiny of Man
      (pp. 195-204)

      The Demanda do Santo Graal¹ (Quest for the Holy Grail) exists as a fifteenth-century copy of a manuscript from the preceding era consisting of the Portuguese translation (possibly direct) of a French original. It is thought that the latter, in its most complete form, has disappeared. The integral state of the text in its current manuscript form (MS 2594 of the National Library of Vienna) allows us to discuss the transformation processes (and the reasons for them) through which the matière de Bretagne must have passed to arrive at this point, for it contains numerous modifications when compared with its...

    • 18 The Lancelots of the Lowlands
      (pp. 205-218)

      What could be more natural than translating an Old French prose text into Middle Dutch prose? Two small fragments from a fourteenth-century manuscript illustrate precisely this, for they contain a Middle Dutch prose translation of the French proseLancelot. And yet in the Low Countries there is far more manuscript evidence of translations of the same text in rhymed couplets:Lantsloot vander Haghedochte(c. 1260), and theLanceloet–Queeste van den Grale– Arturs doettrilogy (c. 1280) preserved in theLancelotCompilation (c. 1320).¹ It is generally assumed that the two rhymed versions preceded the prose version, although there is...

    • 19 Manuscripts of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle in England and Wales: Some Books and their Owners
      (pp. 219-236)

      Manuscripts of theLancelot-Grail Cyclewere widely available throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. They were produced in large numbers from the first half of the thirteenth century, when the individual texts were composed and theCyclebrought into being, until the first years of the sixteenth century, by which time they were being superseded by the succession of printed editions that had begun with theLancelotof 1488. As one would expect, most of the manuscripts were written in northern France, but significant numbers were made on the fringes of French-speaking territory, in areas such as England, southern France...

    • 20 Towards a Modern Reception of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle
      (pp. 237-254)

      The large number of films either inspired by Arthurian themes (modern in scope) or drawn more closely from Arthurian works of literature is testimony to the continuing power of the Arthurian legends to fascinate and inspire, in the true spirit of the medieval tradition of continuation.¹ The change of medium is not restricted to feature films, since television producers have adapted the cinematic art to the small screen with serializations and made-for-television movies.² Kevin Harty lists 564 medieval movies produced since the first film was made in 1897,³ two years after the Lumière brothers invented the medium, to the present...

    • 21 A Select Bibliography of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle
      (pp. 255-258)
  10. Index
    (pp. 259-268)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-271)