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Malory and his European Contemporaries

Malory and his European Contemporaries: Adapting Late Arthurian Romance

Miriam Edlich-Muth
Volume: 81
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Malory and his European Contemporaries
    Book Description:

    The late-medieval adaptions and compiliations of the Arthurian story are a European phenomenon that has sparked both mystification and controversy. Often dismissed as nostalgic recreations that attempt to halt the literary tide, these ambitious projects saw adaptors from across Western Europe combining a vast array of prose and verse sources from different languages into encyclopedic narrative chronologies of King Arthur and his court. Ranging from ornate verse adaptations to heavily condensed prose works, the resulting texts reflect a process of translating, cutting and arranging Arthurian material into new literary incarnations, which nonetheless retain recognisable versions of the Arthurian story. This study re-evaluates Malory's 'Morte Darthur' and four broadly contemporary European romance collections, including Jean Gonnot's French manuscript, Ulrich Fuetrer's German 'Buch der Abenteuer', the Dutch 'Lancelot' Compilation, and the Italian 'Tavola Ritonda', in the context of this adaptative process. In doing so, it investigates how the adaptors respond to the shared structural and stylistic challenges of incorporating new material into the well-known story of King Arthur and comes to intriguing conclusions about the ways in which the narrative demands of late Arthurian adaptations invited authors to populate the Arthurian court with new and more complex protagonists. Miriam Edlich-Muth currently teaches Old and Middle English language and literature at the University of Cambridge.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-205-1
    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. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    These are the words with which David Robson praises the ʹbluntnessʹ and ʹhumilityʹ of Peter Ackroydʹs 2010 adaptation of MaloryʹsMorte Darthur.² Highlighting the fact that he has made ʹno effort to give the narrative a postmodern twistʹ, Robson admires how Ackroyd ʹhas simply condensed Maloryʹs book, stripping out the rambling and repetitive elements that would have little appeal to a modern readershipʹ, and turning Maloryʹs prose into a ʹcontemporary idiomʹ.

    Ackroydʹs adaptation of a single prose source in English into a new English prose work may seem tame when compared with the more ambitious adaptations being produced in fourteenth-...

  5. 1 The Adaptation Process
    (pp. 11-37)

    This chapter examines some of the core structural features of the five chronographies in this study with the aim of highlighting common strategies of adaptation and identifying the organisational choices open to late medieval compilers and adaptors of Arthurian material. As discussed in the Introduction, the term ʹcycleʹ may be too prescriptive to provide a helpful basis for discussing structure and genre. In contrast, the word ʹadaptationʹ appositely describes a process that, in the case of these medieval authors, we can assume to have included selecting, sometimes translating, always ordering, usually pruning and frequently re-phrasing earlier Arthurian material. It is...

  6. 2 Style and Narrative Strategy
    (pp. 38-61)

    Apart from the sheer length of Arthurian chronographies, one of the most striking aspects of the works in this study is the diversity of styles and narrative strategies the authors and adaptors deploy. These strategies are to some degree a reflection of the process of adapting sources outlined in Chapter 1. Nonetheless, far from simply being predictable solutions to the wide-ranging stylistic demands of their assorted sources and plotlines, the adaptorsʹ choices of narrative technique and self-presentation clearly reflect a wide range of literary aims and abilities. This chapter will examine the five adaptations in turn and use comparable passages...

  7. 3 Chronological and Genealogical Structures in the Morte Darthur, the Buch Der Abenteuer and the Tavola Ritonda
    (pp. 62-86)

    One of the things the writers of late Arthurian collections have in common is that they all base their work on an already rich tradition that had blossomed centuries earlier.¹ These writers therefore needed to combine a wide range of source materials from different traditions and in different languages, most notably French and other vernaculars. Given the popularity of Arthurian stories in the thirteenth century, the tales would have been familiar to a large proportion of their audience, making it necessary for later adaptors to remain close to their source material.² As Jane Taylor puts it:

    Writer and reader […]...

  8. 4 Narrative Plot Development in the Morte Darthur, the Buch Der Abenteuer and the Tavola Ritonda
    (pp. 87-115)

    As established in the previous chapter, the organic ʹrise, prime and declineʹ structure of the core Arthurian narrative invites compilers and re-writers to insert material into the central sections of the established plotline. In doing so, they succeed in incorporating varied material whilst keeping the indispensable narrative elements surrounding the rise and fall of the Arthurian world in place. As a result, it is these central sections that depart most noticeably from the narrative style and structure of earlier sources such as theLancelot–Grailcycle. This is mainly because the introduction of ʹtimelessʹ new adventures into the central parts...

  9. 5 ʹThe Best Knight in the Worldʹ: Adapting Character Constellations
    (pp. 116-146)

    One of the striking differences between the very earliest Arthurian works and their fifteenth-century counterparts is the number and variety of characters that populate Arthurʹs court. Where eleventh-century depictions of the king portray him with a retinue of two or three knights, later descriptions of Camelot contain whole clans of knights, with a wide range of backgrounds and allegiances. Clearly, the introduction of new characters, as well as the interpolation, combination or integration of heroes and storylines from different traditions, is a key method by which Arthurian chronographies were created and expanded. Thus theMortecombines the Vulgate Cycle with...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 147-158)

    This study has covered several aspects of late Arthurian chronographies as a group. The central conclusions emerging from the chapters above are:

    1. that one of the defining features the chronographies in question share is that of lengthened central sections created by adaptors adding new characters and adventures into the phase of Arthur’s prime.

    2. that these central sections are characterised by a ʹtimelessnessʹ resulting from the adaptorsʹ condensation of sources and removal of chronological context and that this timelessness is expressed in different ways by the various adaptors.

    3. that Arthurʹs lengthened prime gradually reshapes the plot development of chronographies, reducing the...

  11. Appendix: Note on the Texts and Manuscripts
    (pp. 159-168)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 169-180)
  13. Index
    (pp. 181-186)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 187-191)