In This Article Lancelot-Grail Cycle

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Authors, Writers, and Scribes
  • Cyclicity and the Narrative Cycle
  • Manuscript Illustration
  • Historical Context

Medieval Studies Lancelot-Grail Cycle
by
Douglas Kelly
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0216

Introduction

The anonymous Vulgate Lancelot-Grail cycle contains five branches: the Estoire del saint graal, the Merlin, the Lancelot Proper, the Queste del saint graal, and the Mort le roi Artu. Although the chronology and order of composition of these branches are sometimes disputed, the entire cycle seems to have emerged c. 1215–c. 1240. There is now general agreement that the last three branches were composed first. They relate the life of Lancelot from birth to death, with emphasis on his affair with Guinevere, as well as the brief life and career of his son Galaad; the cycle ends with his death followed by the apocalyptic devastation of Arthur’s kingdom and the king’s death. The Estoire goes further back in time in order to amplify on material in the Queste: the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden and Cain’s murder of his brother Abel; the Ship of King Solomon built to communicate with his descendant Galaad. The death of Christ adds the invention of the Grail as the cup from which Christ and his disciples drank at the Last Supper: it became the Grail that received His blood while on the cross. The Estoire fills in the story after Christ’s death by relating events leading to the Christianization of Britain after the Grail had been transferred there from the East. The Merlin adds the birth and life of Merlin, Arthur’s birth and early life, and the establishment of the Round Table. The king’s life, like Lancelot’s and that of many other important personages, ends with their deaths in the final branch, the Mort Artu. The entire cycle links three historical or pseudo-historical narrative lines: rewritten biblical history centering on the table of the Last Supper, Arthurian history centering on the Round Table, and Grail history centering on the Grail Table. For purposes of clarity, the expression “Lancelot-Grail cycle” will refer here to the Lancelot Proper, Queste, and Mort branches, whereas “the Vulgate Lancelot-Grail cycle” will refer to the Estoire and Merlin branches and the three branches of the earlier Lancelot-Grail cycle.

General Overviews

Kelly 1993 and Krueger 2000 locate the Vulgate Lancelot-Grail cycle in the broad context of medieval French romance; Poirion 1983 provides a more scholarly format. Combes and Bertin 2001 treats the cycle in the context of Arthurian and Grail romances in France. Burgess and Pratt 2006 includes Occitan literature. The complete Vulgate cycle is treated as a composite work in Dover 2003 (cited under Studies: The Cyclic Lancelot-Graal). Earlier critical overviews are available for those interested in the history of approaches to and interpretations of the cycle, notably Frappier and Grimm 1978–1986.

  • Bouget, Hélène. Ecritures de l’énigme et fiction romanesque: Poétiques arthuriennes (XIIe–XIIIe siècles). Paris: Champion, 2011.

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    Wide-ranging study of “enigmatic fiction” and narrative suspense and signification. Identity and the Grail are two themes that receive special emphasis.

  • Burgess, Glyn S., and Karen Pratt, eds. The Arthur of the French: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval French and Occitan Literature. Cardiff, UK: University of Wales Press, 2006.

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    A thorough review of scholarship on Arthurian romance in French and Occitan. See especially chapter 1 on manuscripts; chapter 6 on Perceval, the Grail, and the Robert de Boron matter; chapter 7 on the non-cyclic Lancelot and the Vulgate cycle; and chapter 9 on the Post-Vulgate Roman du Graal attributed to Robert de Boron.

  • Combes, Annie, and Annie Bertin. Ecritures du Graal (XIIe–XIIIe siècles). Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2001.

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    Overview of the verse and prose romances that treat the evolving legend of the Grail and Grail narrative from Chrétien de Troyes and Robert de Boron to the Vulgate Lancelot-Grail cycle.

  • Frappier, Jean, and Reinhold R. Grimm, eds. Le Roman jusqu’à la fin du XIIIe siècle. Vol. 4: 1–2 of the Grundriß der romanischen Literaturen des Mittelalters. Heidelberg, Germany: Winter, 1978–1986.

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    See Vol. 4: 1, “Partie historique: Le roman en prose en France au XIIIe siècle” (pp. 503–625), and Vol. 4: 2, “Partie documentaire,” especially paragraphs 172, 324, 352, 364, and 396 on the Vulgate Lancelot-Grail cycle and related romances.

  • Kelly, Douglas. Medieval French Romance. New York: Twayne, 1993.

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    An introduction to medieval French romance that locates the Lancelot-Grail cycles in the broader literary context of medieval French romance, especially in the 12th and 13th centuries. See especially chapter 3: “Thirteenth-Century Prose Romance.”

  • Krueger, Roberta L., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Offers a European perspective on romance, including the Vulgate Lancelot-Grail cycle and its influence.

  • Poirion, Daniel, ed. Précis de littérature française du Moyen Age. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1983.

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    See especially chapter 3: “La Mise en roman”; chapter 7: “Romans et merveilles”; and chapter 8: “La littérature allégorique.”

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