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Romance and its Contexts in Fifteenth-Century England

Romance and its Contexts in Fifteenth-Century England: Politics, Piety and Penitence

Raluca L. Radulescu
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Romance and its Contexts in Fifteenth-Century England
    Book Description:

    Although the anonymous pious Middle English romances and Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur have rarely been studied in relation to each other, they in fact share at least two thematic concerns, vocabularies of suffering and genealogical concerns, as this book demonstrates. By examining a broad cultural and political framework stretching from Richard II's deposition to the end of the Wars of the Roses through the prism of piety, politics and penitence, the author draws attention to the specific circumstances in which Sir Isumbras, Sir Gowther, Roberd of Cisely, Henry Lovelich's History of the Holy Grail and Malory's Morte were read in fifteenth-century England. In the case of the pious romances this implies a study of their reception long after their original composition or translation centuries earlier; in Lovelich's case, an examination of metropolitan culture leads to an opening of the discussion to French romance models as well as English chronicle writing. Overall romance reception is investigated through analysis of the manuscript transmission and circulation of these texts alongside contemporary devotional and political texts and chronicles. Dr Raluca Radulescu is Senior Lecturer in Medieval Literature and Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies at Bangor University.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-175-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. 1 Fifteenth-Century Contexts for the Reading of Middle English Romances
    (pp. 1-39)

    The analysis of romance reception in the present study consists of two inseparable processes: a consideration of the texts within the fifteenth-century cultural and political context in which they were copied or written, and an examination of the manuscript contexts in which the romances have survived. The historical framework will be explored in the first part of this chapter, with a view to exposing the emergence and establishment of the main chosen thematic threads and their relevance to the study of Middle English pious and Grail romances. A clarification of how themes common to other periods received particular attention in...

  7. 2 Spiritual Journeys through Political Realities: The ‘Pious’ Romances
    (pp. 40-86)

    The three pious romances discussed in this chapter draw on recognisable penitential models: Isumbras is modelled on the legend of St Eustace, but with a happy ending typical of Middle English romance; Robert and even Gowther typify the ‘fall of princes’ motif through the sin of pride borrowed from the biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar.¹ On the one hand, none of these romances conforms to a unique generic label; on the other, all three combine a variable degree of interest in family values with social restitution and harmony. Isumbras, Gowther and Robert also address a universal concern with a king’s...

  8. 3 Chronicling Britain’s Christian Conversion: Henry Lovelich’s History of the Holy Grail
    (pp. 87-148)

    By the time Lovelich, a London skinner, completed his translations of the first two pillars of the Old French Vulgate Cycle, the Estoire del Saint Graal and Estoire de Merlin (henceforth the Graal and the Merlin), in the first half of the fifteenth century, manuscripts of the various parts of the cycle had been in circulation in England for two centuries.¹ The Graal and the Merlin circulated together in sometimes heavily illuminated manuscripts, which may account for Lovelich’s choice or at the very least the way in which his two translations were copied and presented in the unique surviving copy...

  9. 4 The Politics of Salvation in Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur
    (pp. 149-197)

    The transmission of the pious romances selected in this study throughout the fifteenth century proposes, as indicated in Chapter 1, an ‘open envelope’ structure for the analysis of Lovelich’s and Malory’s projects. While Lovelich and his annotator Cok took a visible interest in both strands explored in this study, Malory’s approach to one of the themes, the king’s suffering, is not as evident as his concern over lineages. Furthermore, it is a commonplace in criticism to note Lancelot’s pre-eminence in Le Morte Darthur (henceforth Morte), stemming from Malory’s empathy for his favourite knight’s values and inner conflicts. For these reasons...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 198-200)

    The richness and diversity of the material explored in this study can only do partial justice to the complexity of the forms in which the two thematic strands of the king’s suffering and concerns over lineages were expressed from the end of the fourteenth century and throughout the fifteenth in England. Both themes emerge naturally from the material itself: first in the transmission of the pious romance Robert, then in striking linguistic parallels between the vocabulary employed in all three romances (Gowther, Isumbras and Robert), on the one hand, and the political propaganda produced for the houses of Lancaster and...

  11. Appendix 1 Plot Summaries (excluding Le Morte Darthur)
    (pp. 201-208)
  12. Appendix 2 Genealogies
    (pp. 209-210)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-228)
  14. Index
    (pp. 229-238)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-239)