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A History of Arthurian Scholarship

A History of Arthurian Scholarship

Edited by Norris J. Lacy
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    A History of Arthurian Scholarship
    Book Description:

    This book offers the first comprehensive and analytical account of the development of Arthurian scholarship from the eighteenth century, or earlier, to the present day. The chapters, each written by an expert in the area under discussion, present scholarly trends and evaluate major contributions to the study of the numerous different strands which make up the Arthurian material: origins, Grail studies, editing and translation of Arthurian texts, medieval and modern literatures (in English and European languages), art and film. The result is an indispensable resource for students and a valuable guide for anyone with a serious interest in the Arthurian legend. Contributors: NORRIS LACY, TONY HUNT, KEITH BUSBY, JANE TAYLOR, CHRISTOPHER SNYDER, RICHARD BARBER, SIAN ECHARD, GERALD MORGAN, ALBRECHT CLASSEN, ROGER DALRYMPLE, BART BESAMUSCA, MARIANNE E. KALINKE, BARBARA MILLER, CHRISTOPHER KLEINHENZ, MURIEL WHITAKER, JEANNE FOX-FRIEDMAN, DANIEL NASTALI, KEVIN J. HARTY NORRIS J. LACY is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of French and Medieval Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-477-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    • Arthurian Origins
      (pp. 1-18)

      ‘Did King Arthur really exist?’ This is the Inquisition for Arthurian scholars. It does not matter whether or not the question interests them – and for many of the greats it did not – it will still be uttered by nearly every student or new acquaintance who discovers that you study Arthur. To make matters worse, there is no easy answer.

      The scholarly quest for Arthur’s origins¹ goes back at least as far as the twelfth century, when historians like William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon tried to distinguish between historical fact and a legend growing exponentially.² The question certainly concerned...

    • The Search for Sources: The Case of the Grail
      (pp. 19-36)

      The search for sources has always been, and continues to be, a major aspect of Arthurian scholarship, whether for the historical sources for Arthur himself or for the widely varying literary elements incorporated into the romances.¹ In this chapter, I shall take the Grail as an example of how Arthurian scholars have dealt with the problems of sources; it is probably the most vexed and controversial topic in this field, and covers a wide variety of approaches.

      While discussions of literary texts were focused on the text itself, like the medieval commentaries on Dante’sDivine Comedy, the pursuit of sources...

    • Editing Arthuriana
      (pp. 37-48)

      The notion ‘editing’ covers a wide range of ambitions, from the restoration of an original text in a form as close as possible to that in which it left the hands of its author to the mere cleaning up of an existing manuscript copy in accordance with modern printing conventions. There is a host of intermediate positions. The principal determinants of whatever approach is chosen are, first, the nature of the manuscript transmission (which involvesrecensio, that is, the careful comparison of the manuscripts and their relationships), and, second, the methodological principles espoused by the editor concerningemendatio, or textual...

    • Translation of Medieval Arthurian Literature
      (pp. 49-61)

      The continuing popularity of Arthurian literature, especially in the Englishspeaking world, has created a veritable cottage industry of translation, adding a great many Arthurian texts to the thousands originally composed in English.¹ A through survey of that translated literature is thus entirely impossible. One can hope only to offer an acceptable compromise between a simple listing of texts, on the one hand, and a proper evaluation of their quality, on the other. Such a compromise exacts a price: some significant titles will be omitted, whereas the information given about many others will necessarily be skeletal. The result is thus not...


    • Latin Arthurian Literature
      (pp. 62-76)

      In 1913, W. Lewis Jones remarked, in a somewhat despairing way, on the ‘mounting pile’ of Arthurian scholarship — a pile that was daunting both by its size and, to Lewis, by its emphasis on everything except what might interest ‘the unsophisticated lover of mere literature’. This early division of Arthurian studies into that which concerned itself with ‘literature’ on the one hand, and that which covered everything else on the other, is of particular relevance when we come to consider the history of Latin Arthurian scholarship. Viewed from one perspective, the pile of printed critical matter on at least some...

    • Welsh Arthurian Literature
      (pp. 77-94)

      It is tempting for a Welshman to claim the figure of Arthur as one of our own, but temptation must be debated and ultimately resisted.¹ The figure of Arthur (whether or not the man ever existed) is attributable to the fifth–sixth centuries A.D., that apparently chaotic time following the end of Roman control, before the emergence of the term ‘Cymry’ to describe part of the island and its inhabitants, known to Saxon invaders as ‘Welsh’ (= ‘foreigners’!).² The people of the southern part of the island of Britain, who long resisted attacks from all directions with varying degrees of...

    • French Arthurian Literature
      (pp. 95-121)

      The privileged position of Old French Arthurian romance at the beginning of the history of the genre means that knowledge of it and the scholarship devoted to it is often a necessary preliminary to the study of, say, Middle High German or Middle English romance. Moreover, general studies of medieval Arthurian romance, its themes and characters, usually begin with consideration of French. Consequently, a number of the scholars discussed in this chapter are also important for the history of scholarship on romance in languages other than French. We are thinking here particularly of the early mythologists and folklorists, such as...

    • German Arthurian Literature
      (pp. 122-139)

      The emergence of medieval philology is intimately connected with German scholarship. Even the earliest researchers who showed interest in the Middle Ages, Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700–66), Johann Jakob Bodmer (1698–1783), and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–81), paid attention to Arthurian literature. Gottsched discussedWolfram von Eschenbach’sParzival, which he had read in a printed version from 1477, in hisKritische Dichtkunst(1730), summarizing, however, only the Gahmuret section, without considering any of the central parts of the romance. Bodmer anonymously published a versified version of Wolfram von Eschenbach’sParzivalin 1753, and offered a paraphrased retelling of Hartmann von...

    • English Arthurian Literature
      (pp. 140-157)

      The medieval English texts to which Arthurian scholarship has addressed itself are various in size and shape. Ranging from cursory chronicle treatments of Arthur’s reign to Sir Thomas Malory’s full realisation of the Arthurian legend, theMiddle English tradition and the body of scholarship that has attended it are correspondingly diverse. ‘Gawain-poet studies’ and ‘Malory studies’ have come to constitute scholarly fields in their own right, LaƷamon’sBrut(c. 1185–1225), the AlliterativeMorte Arthure(c. 1360–1400) and the StanzaicLe Morte Arthur(c. 1400) have commanded a good deal of critical attention, and a substantial number of studies of...

    • Dutch Arthurian Literature
      (pp. 158-168)

      Ironically, the currently flourishing study of Arthurian literature in the Low Countries had a false start, as L.G. Visscher’s 1838 publication ofFerguut, the thirteenth-century Middle Dutch rendition of Guillaume le Clerc’sFergus, was full of flaws.¹ The many inaccuracies in this first complete edition of a Middle Dutch chivalric romance not only confirmed the editor’s self-characterization as an autodidact, they served unintentionally as a teething ring (to borrow Willem Kuiper’s expression) for young philologists.² One of these critics, W.J.A. Jonckbloet, gaveMiddle Dutch literature the status of a scholarly discipline, by – among other things – writing a three-volume history of Middle...

    • Scandinavian Arthurian Literature
      (pp. 169-178)

      The year 1226 plays an important role in the history of Arthurian literature in Scandinavia, for in that year a certain Brother Robert produced at the behest of King Hákon Hákonarson of Norway (r. 1217–63) a translation of Thomas de Bretagne’sTristan. This work, known asTristrams saga ok Ísöndar, is invaluable for Arthurian literature, since today it is the only complete witness to Thomas’s romance. It inaugurated a program of translation at the Norwegian court that was to include other Arthurian narratives. Except for saints’ lives, no imported text was to have as significant an impact on indigenous...

    • Hispanic Arthurian Literature
      (pp. 179-189)

      Hispanic Arthurian literature originated through a process of hybridization. Iberian allusions to the legends of King Arthur have been dated as early as 1170, and include evidence that legal witnesses bearing Arthurian names could have been living on the peninsula when Geoffrey of Monmouth completed hisHistoria regum Britanniae(c. 1136).¹ Yet in the most standard view Hispanic Arthurian literature begins with early fourteenth-century Portuguese romance translations, taken directly from the thirteenth-century French cycles.² As a result of these factors scholars have debated such issues as the comparatively late appearance of Arthurian literature on the Iberian Peninsula³ and the proper...

    • Italian Arthurian Literature
      (pp. 190-197)

      In his well-known sonnet, ‘Guido, i’ vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io’, Dante Alighieri speaks of his desire to be swept away, as it were, on a small boat with his two friends, Guido Cavalcanti and Lapo Gianni, and in the company of their three ladies¹:

      Guido, i’ vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io

      fossimo presi per incantamento,

      e messi in un vasel ch’ad ogni vento

      per mare andasse al voler vostro e mio.

      sì che fortuna od altro tempo rio

      non ci potesse dare impedimento,

      anzi, vivendo sempre in un talento,

      di stare insieme crescesse’ l disio....


    • Early Arthurian Art
      (pp. 198-219)

      Critical attention to Arthurian art and artifacts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance began as an antiquarian and archaeological interest. In 1540 the English antiquary John Leland, seeking proofs of King Arthur’s existence, visited the tomb at Glastonbury and the Round Table at Winchester. A few years later William Camden made similar journeys, described inBritannia(1586), which included an account of the tomb’s discovery.¹ The English translation reproduced life-size Camden’s drawing of the inscribed cross with critical comments:

      Ontheupper face (of theGrave stone) was fasteneda broad crosse of lead grossly wrought: whichbeingtaken forthshewedaninscription . . . whichInscriptionof lettersorEpitaph ....

    • Modern Arthurian Art
      (pp. 220-232)

      Like the poor step-child laboring under the rule of its more powerful siblings, Arthurian visual imagery has been the Cinderella of Arthurian Studies. Arthur’s story, although now well determined as deriving from the early oral traditions of the Middle Ages, and thus free of the fetters of the written word, has come down to us, and thus is understood unconsciously, as a written narrative. In light of the dominance of this written legend, much of the discussion of Arthurian visual imagery continues to be understood as illustrative of the more valorized text. This has meant that scholarship on Arthurian imagery,...

    • Modern Literature in English
      (pp. 233-251)

      Tennyson was still the pre-eminent Arthurian author, Malory a fairly recent addition to the canon of English literature andWagner a potent new force on the Arthurian scene when at the end of the nineteenth century a few men of letters began to look back and discern something like a postmedieval Arthurian literary tradition. The impulse to connect modern works with their medieval sources and influences was felt first in America and Australia and not in Britain — it was a time when Jessie Weston was attempting to spur the interests of her countrymen by complaining of ‘the ignorance of the Arthurian...

    • Cinema Arthuriana
      (pp. 252-260)

      Cinema’s love affair with the medieval begins early, at least as early as 1895, when Thomas Edison produced what is probably the first film about Joan of Arc, [The Burning of]Joan of Arc. I sayat least as earlyandprobablybecause early films share a common feature with manuscripts of medieval texts. Because of the vicissitudes surrounding their care, storage and preservation, both often survive more by accident than by design. Other films about Joan would follow in 1898 and 1900. Medieval-themed films begin to appear with some regularity in the first two decades of the twentieth...

  8. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 261-272)
  9. Indexes

    • 1. Index of Works Discussed
      (pp. 273-277)
    • 2. Index of Scholars and Critics
      (pp. 278-281)
    • 3. Index of Subjects and Themes
      (pp. 282-286)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-293)