British and Irish Literature Medieval Romance, English
by
Aisling Byrne
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0115

Introduction

Romance is probably the mode of writing that modern audiences most readily associate with the Middle Ages, yet it is a notoriously difficult term to define. Etymologically the term derives from the French romanz, which initially designated the narrative works composed in that vernacular that first appeared in 12th-century France. Texts usually described as “romance” typically concern chivalry, questing, romantic love, and magic. There are also various subgenres that fall under the heading of medieval romance such as the Breton lay and Arthurian romance. Romance arrives in England definitively with the Norman settlers, though a single romance in Old English, Apollonius of Tyre, survives from the years immediately prior to the Norman Conquest. Many of the earliest romances are written in the Anglo-Norman dialect of French, and some of these are translated into Middle English at a later point. Romances in Middle English begin to appear regularly in the mid-14th century, and some of the most famous English romances, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the romances included in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for example, are composed at the end of the 1300s. Defining what exactly constitutes “English” romance presents its problems: does it mean romances written in English, or romances written in England? The definition cannot be limited to romance in the English language because so many of the early texts from England are Anglo-Norman productions. Some texts that could readily be characterized as romance were also written in Latin. Furthermore, Continental French texts were often translated and adapted into English (though there was little or no movement of texts in the other direction), so the category of “English romance” is not necessarily limited to narratives that originate in England itself. However, English romance also presents certain features or emphases that could be described as distinctive. The interest in romantic love is generally less pronounced than in French texts. Political concerns are to the forefront, and Arthurian material has a particular tendency to explore disputes and tensions over political boundaries and territories. English romance is usually written in verse (not in prose) with over eighty verse romances surviving in Middle English. Vernacular prose romance arrives late in England, only flourishing in the second half of the 15th century. The corpus of surviving prose romances is relatively small but includes one of the most celebrated of all Middle English texts, Malory’s Morte Darthur. This bibliography focuses on medieval romances in various languages written in England or translated into English. It takes the year 1500 as its chronological terminus, but it is worth noting that many of these texts were still being printed, copied, and performed well after this date.

General Overviews

Although most Middle English romances were edited at an early stage, the seemingly low literary quality of many of the texts and the obscurity of the editions they appeared in led to their relative critical neglect. However, by the 1980s scholars had begun to reassess the significance of the Middle English romance tradition, culminating in the influential study Barron 1987. Work on the area has burgeoned since, and romance from medieval England is an increasingly well-served field. New Historicist trends have proved particularly fertile ground for study of English romance and have enabled more fruitful and more frequent engagement with a wide variety of texts in the romance mode. The social background, manuscript contexts, politics, and cultural impact of a range of romances have been studied extensively. Crane 1986 stresses the shared concerns of romances in the two linguistic traditions of England: Anglo-Norman and Middle English. Crane illustrates how these works were shaped by distinctive social and political factors. Political concerns are also at the forefront in Heng 2003, which explores proto-national identities articulated in English romance and in Knight 1986, which analyzes how romance ideologies relate to their social context. The rise of feminist scholarship also encouraged the study of Middle English romance, which often seems designed to appeal to female audiences and female interests. Cooper 2004 is perhaps the most comprehensive and influential account of romance in England; its introduction articulates a convincing redefinition of the genre. The book also makes a powerful argument for the continuity of romance readings across the medieval/Renaissance divide. Increased attention to romance in undergraduate courses has also prompted and been facilitated by a number of useful companion volumes, including Krueger 2000 and Saunders 2004, the latter of which ranges well beyond the medieval period. The most user-friendly reference work for romances in Middle English is MacDonald 2012.

  • Barron, W. R. J. English Medieval Romance. London and New York: Longman, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An influential account that traces the development of romance in England and balances attention to major texts with analysis of often neglected minor works.

    Find this resource:

  • Cooper, Helen. The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199248865.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Generally considered the major work in this field. This book is not arranged chronologically but by particular motifs. There is a valuable appendix listing romance texts that still circulated after 1500.

    Find this resource:

  • Crane, Susan. Insular Romance: Politics, Faith, and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A concise account of a group of romances in Anglo-Norman and English that articulate the distinctive concerns of the baronial class in the period after the Norman Conquest.

    Find this resource:

  • Heng, Geraldine. Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Situates the rise of romance in the context of European exposure to the East through crusading and travel. Also deals with the thorny question of medieval attitudes to ethnicity and nationality.

    Find this resource:

  • Knight, Stephen. “The Social Function of the Middle English Romance.” In Medieval Literature: Criticism, Ideology, and History. Edited by David Aers, 99–122. New York: St. Martin’s, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes the political and historical background to Middle English romance. Particular attention is paid to Libeaus Desconus, Emaré, Sir Amadace, and Sir Eglamour.

    Find this resource:

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

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521553423Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A good handbook for undergraduate students, primarily focused on the English context, though the final third of the book also considers romance in other European traditions.

    Find this resource:

  • MacDonald, Nicola. Database of Middle English Romance. 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hosted by the University of York and originally launched in 2012, this online database provides summaries of each text in the extant corpus of romance material in English. Each entry is accompanied by a list of manuscripts and early prints in which the work survives along with modern editions. The keyword search is useful for motif-related research, and the database may also be searched by manuscript and form.

    Find this resource:

  • Saunders, Corinne, ed. A Companion to Romance: From Classical to Contemporary. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Employs a capacious definition of “romance” across periods. Chapters 2–6 treat medieval romance, covering Anglo-Norman romance (Weiss), English metrical romance (Brewer), Arthurian romance (Barron), Chaucer’s romances (Saunders), and Malory and English prose romance (Cooper).

    Find this resource:

Genre

Much critical ink has been spilt on the defining characteristics of “romance.” Strohm 1977 focuses on the uses of the term itself in medieval contexts. Fewster 1987 attempts to ground the definition in more literary terms and focuses on style, structure, and apparent audience. More influential is Cooper 2004, which argues for a definition grounded in the shared lexicon of motifs deployed by romance authors. A contrasting approach is provided in Whetter 2008, which argues for a more restrictive understanding of romance than has traditionally been employed. An approach grounded in stanza form is offered in Purdie 2008.

  • Cooper, Helen. The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199248865.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The introduction addresses the question of genre (though Cooper prefers the looser term “mode”), suggesting that recurring motifs enable us to distinguish “family resemblances” among these texts. Cooper offers the term “meme” to describe a narrative motif that develops and changes over time.

    Find this resource:

  • Fewster, Carol. Traditionality and Genre in Middle English Romance. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study focuses on three romances, Amis and Amiloun, Guy of Warwick, and The Squyr of Lowe Degre. It argues that English romances continually draw attention to their generic homogeneity and traditionality.

    Find this resource:

  • Purdie, Rhiannon. Anglicising Romance: Tail-Rhyme and Genre in Medieval English Literature. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on how the tail-rhyme stanza form came to almost define the romance genre in Middle English in the 14th century. A useful appendix assesses the evidence for provenance and dating of the thirty-six extant tail-rhyme romances.

    Find this resource:

  • Strohm, Paul. “The Origin and Meaning of Middle English Romaunce.” Genre 10 (1977): 1–28.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of the evolving use of the term “romaunce” and related terms such as “geste” and “lay” from the 12th to the 15th centuries.

    Find this resource:

  • Whetter, K. S. Understanding Genre and Medieval Romance. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The final chapter makes a case for excluding Malory’s Morte Darthur from the definition of romance, suggesting that it is best understood as a generic hybrid that Whetter terms “tragic-romance.”

    Find this resource:

Form

Verse appears to have been the standard form for English romance until the second half of the 15th century when prose works first begin to appear. Rhymed English romance comes in a variety of forms but uses tail-rhyme stanzas or couplets with considerable frequency. A good number of romances are written in alliterative meter, and these deploy rhyme to varying degrees. Scholarship such as Pearsall 1965 and Putter 2009 has stressed the importance of meter and verse form to the classification of English romances. The tail-rhyme stanza treated in Purdie 2008 is a popular form, and its ubiquity made it ripe for parody in Chaucer’s Sir Thopas. Turville-Petre 1977 treats a number of romances in its analysis of the role played by alliteration in Middle English narrative.

  • Pearsall, Derek. “The Development of Middle English Romance.” Medieval Studies 27 (1965): 91–116.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A broad analysis of English romance before 1400 that considers meter and verse form central to any definition of the genre.

    Find this resource:

  • Purdie, Rhiannon. Anglicising Romance: Tail-Rhyme and Genre in Medieval English Literature. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An extensive and influential exploration of the most dominant romance form: the tail-rhyme stanza.

    Find this resource:

  • Putter, Ad. “The Metres and Stanza Forms of Popular Romance.” In A Companion to Medieval English Romance. Edited by Cory J. Rushton and Raluca Radulescu, 111–131. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Stresses the central role that analysis of metrical and stanzaic forms can play in discussions of themes, performance, and cultural context. Gives an overview of the reasons for the shift from verse to prose in the 15th century.

    Find this resource:

  • Turville-Petre, Thorlac. The Alliterative Revival. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1977.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A general overview of the literature of the “alliterative revival” of the late 1300s. Chapters 3 and 4 provide an analysis of alliterative style, meter, and vocabulary. Particular attention is paid to the most famous alliterative romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

    Find this resource:

Thematic Studies

Specific themes and motifs commonly found across medieval romance have been the subject of various book-length studies, although these works often also treat romances beyond England or cross the medieval/Renaissance divide. The symbolic potential of the forest in romance texts is explored in Saunders 1993. Bliss 2008 provides a valuable analysis of the action of naming in romance. Saunders 2010 has a particularly wide scope and combines a history of Western attitudes to magic and the supernatural, with an analysis of the role played by magic and supernatural in romance in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Wade 2011 takes a different approach to the same theme, grounding its readings in contemporary cultural theory.

Essay Collections

The biennial Romance in Medieval Britain conference generally focuses on romance material outside the Arthurian tradition. The papers collected in Field, et al. 2010 and Weiss, et al. 2001 tend to address the historical development of romance in England. Reflecting the upsurge in interest in issues of identity and politics in romance studies, Hardman 2002, Saunders 2005, and Cartlidge 2008 are loosely organized around such themes. Recent years have also seen the appearance of more tightly knit collections addressing a single theme, notably Field 1999 and Cartlidge 2012.

  • Cartlidge, Neil, ed., Boundaries in Medieval Romance. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes Cooper on romance and history, Meecham-Jones on literary treatments of the Normans in Ireland, and Ashe on the romance hero.

    Find this resource:

  • Cartlidge, Neil, ed. Heroes and Anti-Heroes in Medieval Romance. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A volume that takes a character-based approach rather than a thematic one. Featuring fourteen papers predominantly on individual characters who appear in romance. Alexander the Great, Gawain, and Merlin are included in this study, and there are also papers on heroic or antiheroic types such as Crusaders and Saracens.

    Find this resource:

  • Field, Rosalind, ed. Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes papers on the social background to the Romance of Horn (Weiss), on Chaucer’s relationship with metrical romance (Mason Bradbury), and on the printing of romances by Caxton (Fichte).

    Find this resource:

  • Field, Rosalind, Phillipa Hardman, and Michelle Sweeney, eds. Christianity and Romance in Medieval England. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A well-structured collection on an under-explored theme. Stephen Knight’s contribution on the Celtic background of romance and Helen Phillips’s paper on classical subjects for romance are particularly useful.

    Find this resource:

  • Hardman, Phillipa, ed. The Matter of Identity in Medieval Romance. Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes explorations of the Breton Lays (Hopkins) Sir Isumbras (Purdie) and Bevis of Hampton (Saunders).

    Find this resource:

  • Saunders, Corinne J., ed. Cultural Encounters in the Romance of Medieval England. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ranges across English and Anglo-Norman romance. Field considers the political and social reasons for the particularly pronounced use of the motif of exile-and-return in romances from the Anglo-Norman period. Cooper explores the connections between popular prophetic literature and romance.

    Find this resource:

  • Weiss, Judith, Jennifer Fellows, and Morgan Dickson, eds. Medieval Insular Romance: Translation and Innovation. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes an account of the poetics of translation by Djordjević and a helpful analysis of the Breton lays by Archibald.

    Find this resource:

Journals

There is no major journal dedicated solely to romance studies. The regular proceedings volumes for the biennial Romance in Medieval Britain conferences (see Essay Collections) are perhaps the closest to a state-of-the-field series. However, much of the material appearing in Arthurian studies journals focuses on romances. Arthurian Literature, published yearly, specializes in lengthy papers and occasionally publishes thematic volumes. It covers Arthurian material from all periods and regions, but its emphasis is on medieval England. Arthuriana is a quarterly publication with a similar scope but tends toward medium-length articles and includes book reviews. Other medieval studies journals that also publish frequently on English romance include The Chaucer Review and Medium Ævum.

Manuscripts

Studies of the contexts and audiences of romance narratives have burgeoned since the 1970s. Particular attention has been paid to the manuscript contexts of romance. There have also been studies of individual manuscripts, particularly the Auchinleck manuscript, which is the largest surviving medieval repository of romances in Middle English.

Digitized Manuscripts and Facsimiles

A good number of manuscripts featuring medieval English romances have been made available in facsimile editions or in digital formats. Brewer and Owen 1977 is a facsimile edition of one of the most significant collections of romance, the Lincoln Thornton manuscript. Burnley and Wiggins 2003 is a web-based digitization of the Auchinleck manuscript and the Vernon manuscript is made available as a DVD-ROM in Scase and Kennedy 2012. Unique manuscripts of key romances have also been digitized in recent years. McGillivray 2012 and Malory 2010 provide digital facsimiles of the only surviving manuscript copies of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur. The database of manuscripts provided by Scase 2009 is a flexible tool for examining romances in their manuscript contexts.

Studies

The most complete catalogue of surviving manuscripts containing Middle English romance is Guddat-Figge 1976. Evans 1995 is a particularly influential book-length assessment of how attention to manuscript contexts can enhance our understanding of the genre. Brunner 1961 considers the manuscript evidence for the audience of Middle English romance. There are also a good number of case studies that read romances in specific manuscript contexts, such as Edwards 1990 and Finlayson 2006. Key romance manuscripts are explored in Rogers 1991 and in several papers included in Fellows, et al. 1996. Perkins and Wiggins 2012 places literary manuscripts within a wider material context.

  • Brunner, Karl. “Middle English Metrical Romances and their Audience.” In Studies in Medieval Literature in Honour of Professor A. C. Baugh. Edited by MacEdward Leach, 219–227. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the extent to which the manuscript contexts romances are preserved in can provide clues to the social background of their audiences.

    Find this resource:

  • Edwards, A. S. G. “The Contexts of the Vernon Romances.” In Studies in the Vernon Manuscript. Edited by Derek Pearsall, 159–170. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the relationship between romance material in this manuscript and the other generally pious and devotional contents of the codex.

    Find this resource:

  • Evans, Murray J. Rereading Middle English Romance. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of romance that focuses on the cues provided by manuscript layout and on the ways variations in manuscript context can inflect readings of an individual text. Particular attention is paid to Guy of Warwick, Sir Isumbras, Sir Degaré, and Sir Orfeo.

    Find this resource:

  • Finlayson, John. “Reading Romances in Their Manuscript: Lincoln Cathedral Manuscript 91 (“Thornton”).” Anglia: Zeitschrift für englische Philologie 123 (2006): 632–666.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the romances in the London Thornton manuscript, an important miscellany from the 1400s. It argues that the compiler had a firm grasp of different romance types and organized the romances in the codex in a systematic way.

    Find this resource:

  • Guddat-Figge, Gisela. Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Middle English Romances. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1976.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The key reference work for study in this area.

    Find this resource:

  • Fellows, Jennifer, Rosalind Field, Gillian Rogers, and Judith Weiss, eds. Romance Reading on the Book: Essays on Medieval Narrative Presented to Maldwyn Mills. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Features six substantial essays on manuscripts containing romances and on early printed romances. John Thompson’s essay on British Library, Cotton Caligula MS A.ii. is of particular note.

    Find this resource:

  • Perkins, Nicholas, and Alison Wiggins. The Romance of the Middle Ages Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    These essays are aimed at a general readership and treat topics such as print and scribal work. Lavishly illustrated with wide array of images of manuscript and early prints of romance texts. It also considers material artifacts that reference the world of romance, such as ivories and seals. The website created for the exhibition also provides images of many of the items, along with audio recordings of readings from romances.

    Find this resource:

  • Rogers, Gillian. “The Percy Folio Manuscript Revisited.” In Romance in Medieval England. Edited by Maldwyn Mills, Jennifer Fellows, and Carol Meale, 39–64. Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An account of the important early modern manuscript, the Percy Folio. The Percy Folio contains a particularly high number of romances copied from Middle English exemplars, some of them unique to this collection.

    Find this resource:

Performance

Evidence for how romance was performed is scant. Reichl 2009 and Putter 2012 are good introductions to the main sources of evidence for how often and in what manner romances were performed. Baugh 1959 analyzes the use of the oral formulaic technique in surviving romances. Long-held assumptions about transmission through minstrel performance have been challenged in scholarship such as Taylor 1992. Zaerr 2012 considers the evidence for musical accompaniment to romance performances.

  • Baugh, A. C. “Improvisation in the Middle English Romance.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 103 (1959): 418–454.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers the evidence for oral presentation of romances by examining the use of oral formulaic technique in surviving Middle English narratives.

    Find this resource:

  • Putter, Ad. “Middle English Romances and the Oral Tradition.” In Medieval Oral Literature. Edited by Karl Reichl, 335–352. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gives an extensive account of the debates surrounding orality in medieval English studies and argues for a renewed, though rather more nuanced, engagement with the oral dimension of romance transmission.

    Find this resource:

  • Reichl, Karl. “Orality and Performance.” In A Companion to Medieval English Romance. Edited by Cory J. Rushton and Raluca Radulescu, 132–149. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A good overview of the scholarly discussions surrounding how (and how frequently) romances might have been performed orally.

    Find this resource:

  • Taylor, Andrew. “Fragmentation, Corruption, and Minstrel Narrative: The Question of the Middle English Romances.” Yearbook of English Studies 22 (1992): 38–62.

    DOI: 10.2307/3508375Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that references to minstrel recitation in romances could have been enjoyed by the private reader and do not necessarily indicate that a given text was typically part of a minstrel’s repertoire.

    Find this resource:

  • Zaerr, Linda Marie. Performance and the Middle English Romance. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interdisciplinary study by a practitioner of medieval music that brings musicological scholarship to bear on the question of how English romance might have been performed. Of particular note is Zaerr’s argument that some oddities and metrical infelicities in surviving romances may be the result of musical settings that we have since lost.

    Find this resource:

Anglo-Norman Romance

Most of the surviving romances in the Anglo-Norman dialect of French date from between the mid-12th and mid-13th century and predate the great flowering of romance in Middle English. Early romance writing in England owes much to chronicle, romans d’antiquité, and chanson de geste precursors. Wace’s Roman de Brut, an adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittanniae, is a work straddling the boundary between pseudo-history and romance and is often not categorized among the Anglo-Norman romances. Among the earliest texts are the Romance of Horn and the Lai of Haveloc. Though often studied as a separate field, Anglo-Norman romance has close connections with Middle English material in this mode; a number of Anglo-Norman texts, notably Boeve de Hamtone and Gui de Warwic, are sources or likely sources for extant romances in English. The period also sees the emergence of the subgenre usually termed the “Breton lay” in the works attributed to Marie de France.

Texts

Until the 1990s the major Anglo-Norman romances were not as easily accessible as their Middle English counterparts. The editorial and translation work of Judith Weiss has done much to raise their profile. Weiss 2009, the collection of four translations originally published in 1992, has been a particular stimulus to scholarship. Weiss 1999 provides an accessible translation of Wace and the popular stories about Sir Bevis of Hampton and Sir Guy of Warwick followed in Weiss 2008.

  • Weiss, Judith, ed., and trans. Wace’s Roman de Brut: A History of the British. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An edition with facing-page translation. Suitable for undergraduate study.

    Find this resource:

  • Weiss, Judith, trans. Boeve de Haumtone and Gui de Warewic: Two Anglo-Norman Romances. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translations of two Anglo-Norman romances that were particularly widely disseminated in their Middle English versions.

    Find this resource:

  • Weiss, Judith, ed., and trans. The Birth of Romance in England: Four Twelfth-Century Romances in the French of England. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translations of four Anglo-Norman romances originally published in 1992. Features The Romance of Horn, The Folie Tristan, The Lai of Haveloc, and Amis and Amilun. The 2009 edition is substantially updated and enlarged. An appendix has excerpts from the original Anglo-Norman texts.

    Find this resource:

Studies

Study of Anglo-Norman literature over the years has been rather impeded by its awkward position on boundaries between French studies and English studies. Wace’s work represents an exception largely because of its relationship to the well-established field of Arthurian studies. Le Saux 1999 provides a good introduction to the Roman de Brut. On the non-Arthurian romances, Crane 1999 and Weiss 2004 provide good starting points. Much recent work focuses on the social and cultural backdrop to these works: Weiss 1993 considers the probable readerships of these romances, and Field 1991 links them firmly to the Norman settlers’ concerns with identity and territory. Ashe 2007 explores questions of language and historicity, locating insular romance within the wider development of romance in France.

  • Ashe, Laura. Fiction and History in England, 1066–1200. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chapter 3 treats insular romance. Starting from a consideration of the Continental French text, Roman d’Eneas, Ashe suggests that romance developed at the interface of epic and lyric and uses the Romance of Horn to argue that insular conceptions of romance are fundamentally historical.

    Find this resource:

  • Crane, Susan. “Anglo-Norman Cultures in England, 1066–1460.” In The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature. Edited by David Wallace, 35–60. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521444200Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview concerned with placing Anglo-Norman literature within its wider cultural context and unusual in extending its analysis of this linguistic tradition into the second half of the 14th century.

    Find this resource:

  • Field, Rosalind. “Romance as History, History as Romance.” In Romance in Medieval England. Edited by Maldwyn Mills, Jennifer Fellows and Carol Meale, 163–174. Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that Anglo-Norman romance with its focus on insular geography and the insular past reflects the Francophone settlers’ attempts at articulating an identity in the era after the Norman Conquest.

    Find this resource:

  • Le Saux, Françoise. “Wace’s Roman de Brut.” In The Arthur of the English. Edited by W. R. J. Barron, 18–22. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A good starting point for reading on this text, though it places the work in the context of the broader Arthurian tradition rather than the immediate context of Anglo-Norman writing.

    Find this resource:

  • Weiss, Judith. “The Power and the Weakness of Women in Anglo-Norman Romance.” In Women and Literature in Britain 1150–1500. Edited by Carol M. Meale, 7–23. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511582073Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of gender in Anglo-Norman romance. Argues that the relatively empowered depiction of female characters in the surviving corpus represents a response to the tastes and concerns of aristocratic female patrons and audiences.

    Find this resource:

  • Weiss, Judith. “Insular Beginnings: Anglo-Norman Romance.” In A Companion to Romance from Classical to Contemporary. Edited by Corinne Saunders, 26–44. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631232711.2004.00005.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A broad overview suitable for undergraduates. It excludes Wace from its considerations.

    Find this resource:

Marie De France

Considerable uncertainty surrounds the precise identity and biography of Marie, who is usually assumed to have been a Frenchwoman writing in England. The precise number of works that should be attributed to her is also disputed, but the higher estimates make her responsible for the largest body of surviving romance texts by a named author operating in medieval England. The works attributed to her are usually dated to the second half of the 12th century. The evidence that she was working in England comes from the use of English words in her texts and the testimony of her contemporary Denis Piramus. Two of Marie’s works, Lanval and Le Fresne, were later adapted into Middle English versions.

Texts

Marie’s Lais have been ably edited from the sole surviving manuscript by Alfred Ewert in Marie 1995, and Marie 2005 provides an engaging translation by Glyn Burgess and Keith Busby.

Studies

Study of Marie was significantly advanced by the work of Glyn Burgess in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly notable is Burgess 1987. Marie’s importance for Middle English studies is discussed in Spearing 1990. More recent critical trends are reflected in Bloch 2003, which focuses on the question of her authorial persona. Krueger 2003 considers her in the context of other female writers. Kinoshita and McCracken 2012 is a helpful companion guide for students.

Matter of England

“Matter of England” is a category introduced by modern scholars to describe a group of texts dealing with England or English history that focus on the continuity between pre- and post-Conquest England. The category is inspired by the three medieval “Matters” defined by Jean Bodel in the 12th century: the “Matter of France,” the “Matter of Britain,” and the “Matter of Rome/Antiquity.” There is no definitive list of romances that come under this heading, though Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwick, Havelok the Dane, King Horn and Horn Childe, Waldef (which survives only in Anglo-Norman), and Richard Coeur de Lion are usually included. Most texts in this group originate at the earlier end of work produced in Middle English, written in the 13th or early 14th century. Quite a few derive directly or indirectly from earlier Anglo-Norman romances (see Anglo-Norman Romance). It is difficult to generalize about the continuities and differences between the Anglo-Norman romances and these early Middle English narratives; however, Middle English texts appear to be less courtly in tone, reflecting a move away from a tightly knit aristocratic audience toward a wider readership that included the gentry and the urban bourgeoisie.

Texts

Particularly notable individual texts in this group include Bevis of Hampton (in Herzman, et al. 1999) and Guy of Warwick (in Wiggins 2004). Both are adapted from Anglo-Norman exemplars and would appear to have been originally associated with aristocratic circles; however, over time their diffusion in English became wide and, in their later iterations, they are often treated as popular romances (see Popular Romance). The Auchinleck manuscript, digitized by Burnley and Wiggins 2012, is usually dated to around 1330 and preserves several Matter of England texts. It has been a focus of much recent work on this area.

Studies

Matter of England romances have been at the core of studies of early Middle English romances, such as Field 1999, and of the growing volume of work on romance and ideas of regionality and nationality, such as Turville-Petre 1996 and Rouse 2005. Wiggins and Field 2007 and Fellows and Djordjević 2008 provide studies of the complex histories of two of the most widely disseminated texts, Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton. For a critique of scholarly use of the category “Matter of England,” see Field 2008.

  • Barron, W. R. J. English Medieval Romance. London and New York: Longman, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chapter 4 is a particularly influential definition and exploration of the Matter of England. It focuses on King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Guy of Warwick, and Gamelyn.

    Find this resource:

  • Bly Calkin, Siobhain. Saracens and the Making of English Identity: The Auchinleck Manuscript. New York: Routledge, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Influenced by postcolonial theory, this book examines the religious, racial, and national discourses of the texts in the Auchinleck manuscript. Its primary concern is with the texts that depict “Saracens” and includes extended readings of Guy of Warwick, Bevis of Hampton and Richard Coeur de Leon.

    Find this resource:

  • Cannon, Christopher. The Grounds of English Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview and reassessment of early Middle English writing. Romance is key to Cannon’s argument. He suggests that the concept of “English literature” is the product of the rise of the romance. Of particular relevance is chapter 6 “The Spirit of Romance: King Horn, Havelock the Dane, Floris and Blanchflour.”

    Find this resource:

  • Fellows, Jennifer, and Ivana Djordjević, eds. Bevis of Hampton in Literary Tradition. Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interdisciplinary collection that focuses primarily on the figure of Bevis in the English tradition. The first half of the book treats the Anglo-Norman material and the second half treats Middle English. Topics include the process of translation (Djordjević) and concepts of knighthood (Bly Calkin). A helpful guide through the myriad versions of this text is provided by Fellows’s chapter “The Middle English and Renaissance Bevis: A Textual Survey.”

    Find this resource:

  • Field, Rosalind. “Romance in England, 1066–1400.” In The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature. Edited by David Wallace, 152–176. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521444200Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A good general overview, the second half of which focuses on early Middle English romances. Field places particular stress on the relationship of these texts to their Anglo-Norman precursors.

    Find this resource:

  • Field, Rosalind. “The Curious History of the Matter of England.” In Boundaries in Medieval Romance. Edited by Neil Cartlidge, 29–42. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the history of the term “Matter of England” in modern scholarship and critiques its use. Field argues that the term’s utility is compromised by its fluidity, its ideological weight and lack of any medieval analogue.

    Find this resource:

  • Rouse, Robert Allen. The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rouse argues for the continuing and pronounced interest in the idea of pre-Conquest England in the centuries after the Norman Conquest. He focuses, in particular, on the Matter of England romances and on a range of related sources. This study defines the Matter of England as romances set in Anglo-Saxon England (i.e., Athelston, Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwick, King Horn, and Horn Childe).

    Find this resource:

  • Turville-Petre, Thorlac, England the Nation: Language, Literature and National Identity, 1290–1340. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198122791.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An influential account ranging across a variety of early medieval texts, but particularly focused on the context of the Auchinleck manuscript and its romances.

    Find this resource:

  • Wiggins, Alison, and Rosalind Field, eds. Guy of Warwick: Icon and Ancestor. Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interdisciplinary essay collection that aims to give an overview of the forms and fortunes of this hugely popular text. Guy of Warwick of was transmitted and translated across Europe and maintained its popularity well into the modern period. The majority of chapters deal with the medieval versions and their transmission.

    Find this resource:

Charlemagne Romances

There were quite a few Charlemagne romances (romances that deal with the Matter of France) that became popular in England. These romances owe much of their popularity to their engagement with the contemporary contexts of the Crusades, with Charlemagne being read as the defender of Christendom against non-Christian threats. Middle English texts in this tradition are generally translations from French and most date from the 14th or 15th centuries. The Middle English texts in this tradition are generally divided into three broad groupings. The first is the Firumbras Group, which features romances that derive from the popular French chanson de geste, Fierabras and includes Sir Firumbras and The Sowdon of Babylon. The second grouping is the Otuel Group, which includes Otuel and Roland and The Siege of Milan. The final grouping comprises miscellaneous material such as The Tale of Ralph Collier.

Texts

The lack of recent editions of many of the Middle English Charlemagne romances has played a part in their neglect. They were edited as a group of over twelve volumes of the Early English Text Society series in the 1880s by Sidney J. Herrtage. A more recent edition of two of these works is offered in O’Sullivan 1971. The most accessible edition is Lupack 1990.

Studies

Scholarship on the Middle English Charlemagne romances has been limited, and most critics have found little poetic merit in them. Recent interest in the politics of nationality and crusading has prompted a number of articles exploring how these themes are articulated in the Charlemagne texts: Hardman 1999 analyzes manuscript evidence while Warm 1999 and Ailes and Hardman 2008 consider the English adaptors’ engagement with national identities. Smyser 1967 and Cowen 1996 provide good overviews. Ailes 2003 considers the romances derived from Fierabras.

  • Ailes, Marianne, “La réception de Fierabras en Angleterre.” In Le Rayonnement de Fierabras dans la littérature européenne. Edited by Marc Le Person, 177–189. Lyon, France: Université Jean Moulin, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Helpful overview of the English Firumbras romances.

    Find this resource:

  • Ailes, Marianne, and Phillipa Hardman. “How English are the English Charlemagne Romances?” In Boundaries in Medieval Romance. Edited by Neil Cartlidge, 43–55. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes the divergences between the French originals and the Middle English translations to suggest that the English versions deemphasize the “Frenchness” of these texts.

    Find this resource:

  • Cowen, Janet M. “The Middle English Charlemagne Romances.” In Roland and Charlemagne in Europe: Essays on the Reception and Transformation of a Legend. Edited by Karen Pratt, 148–168. London: King’s College London Center for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A good starting point that provides a general overview along with plot summaries.

    Find this resource:

  • Hardman, Phillipa. “The Sege of Melayne: A Fifteenth-Century Reading.” In Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance. Edited by Rosalind Field, 71–86. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on the poem’s manuscript context and teases out the implications of its being collected with predominantly devotional works.

    Find this resource:

  • Smyser, H. M. “Charlemagne Legends.” In A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500: Vol. 1, Romances. Edited by J. Burke Severs and Albert E. Hartung, 80–100. New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An authoritative overview with plot summaries.

    Find this resource:

  • Warm, Robert, “Identity, Narrative, and Participation: Defining a Context for the Middle English Charlemagne Romances.” In Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance. Edited by Rosalind Field, 71–86. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Emphasizes the international perspective adopted by this material.

    Find this resource:

Popular Romance

Despite its ambiguity, the term “popular romance” has proved influential and in scholarly use tends to denote those romances whose aesthetic quality is unexceptional. The term is usually used in opposition to the category of “courtly romance,” though relatively few Middle English romances have been considered in any sense “courtly.” The term can also be employed as a catch-all term for texts that do not fall within established categories, such as the various “matters.” Much of the time, it seems to denote romances that have been decidedly unpopular with modern critics. There is a certain degree of overlap between texts usually assigned to this category and other subgroupings of romance such as Arthurian Romance and the Middle English Breton Lays.

Texts

Many of texts usually considered popular romances have been edited as part of anthologies. Kooper 2006 collects some of the most neglected texts. Mills 1992 gives a particularly representative set. Shuffelton 2008 gives a sense of the sorts of miscellaneous manuscript compilations in which these texts often survive.

Studies

Much criticism focuses on social and political contexts for these texts. Hudson 1984 draws on manuscript evidence to explore the audiences for these romances. Many studies have associated popular romance with middle-class or gentry audiences, though Simon 1991 analyzes Octavian to argue that some of the popular romances may, in fact, have been intended for an aristocratic audience. More “literary” approaches have also been attempted. Hudson 1989 represents an early attempt at rehabilitating these texts, while McDonald 2004 deploys cultural theory to make a case for their literary value. Putter and Gilbert 2000 and Radulescu and Rushton 2009 also present arguments for the literary quality of these works.

Breton Lays

The Breton lays represent the most clearly defined subgenre of romance, with many of the text explicitly naming themselves as such. The works traditionally ascribed to Marie de France pioneered the form, and two of the Middle English lays can be considered adaptations of her work: Thomas Chestre’s Sir Launfal and the anonymous Lay le Freine (see under Marie de France). By far the most studied of the Middle English Breton lays are Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale, Sir Orfeo, and Sir Launfal.

Texts

Many of the Middle English Breton lays have been edited in anthologies. The fullest single collection is Laskaya and Salisbury 1995, which edits all but the Franklin’s Tale, which appears in Chaucer 1987. Laskaya and Salisbury 1995 gives Sir Orfeo in the Auchinleck manuscript’s version of the work, but the variant versions in two other manuscripts are available in Bliss 1954.

Studies

The question of how to define the Middle English Breton lays has been a recurring concern of scholarship in this field. Archibald 2000 provides a good overview of the main issues. Bullock-Davies 1973 and Finlayson 1984–1985 stress the importance of formal characteristics, while Harrington 1988 places the accent on thematic concerns. The full extent of “Breton” influence on the lays has been questioned. As Hume 1972 notes Chaucer calls his Franklin’s Tale a Breton lay, but the work has no obvious Celtic-language source, deriving most of its story from Boccaccio. There are numerous studies of specific lays including sophisticated work on Sir Orfeo in Pearsall 1996 and Cartlidge 2004. Spearing 1993 uses gender studies and psychoanalytic frameworks in approaching Sir Launfal.

Chaucer’s Romances

The conventional wisdom is that Geoffrey Chaucer held the romance genre in low regard. Chaucer-the-pilgrim’s offering, Sir Thopas, in The Canterbury Tales is ridiculed by his fellow pilgrims and is usually read as a biting satire on the formal and thematic conventions of the romance genre. However, four other tales in the collection can readily be described as being in the romance mode: The Franklin’s Tale, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, The Squire’s Tale and The Knight’s Tale. The Franklin’s Tale self-identifies as a Breton lay (see Breton Lays), and the central role of magic in the plot is also a feature of The Wife of Bath’s Tale and The Squire’s Tale. The plot of The Wife of Bath’s Tale has much in common with the Middle English “Gawain romances”: The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle and The Marriage of Sir Gawain (see under Arthurian Romances). The Knight’s narrative has many of the characteristics of romance despite the tragic dimension of the tale’s conclusion.

Texts

Chaucer’s romances have not been edited as a single group, but all are available in the standard edition of his collected works: Chaucer 1987.

Studies

Studies such as Pearsall 2013 and Burrow 2003 suggest that the romances form a coherent grouping within The Canterbury Tales. Feminist criticism has found the romances particularly interesting, and notable studies that feature or focus on the romances include Crane 1994, and Weisl 1995. A good recent overview is Saunders 2004.

Arthurian Romances

Arthurian romance is, unsurprisingly, a particularly large field within medieval English romance studies. Shorter Middle English romances tend to follow the fortunes of an individual knight over the course of a single quest, while longer texts deal with multiple characters and cover a broader expanse of Arthurian history. Middle English Arthurian romance has a good deal in common with French treatments of the legend and several texts are translations from French originals. However, the English Arthurian tradition also displays some distinctive characteristics; for instance, the figure of Gawain looms particularly large in English texts. Gawain’s centrality is most evident in the group of popular 14th- and 15th-century verse texts generally dubbed the “Gawain romances.” These texts have particularly close associations with northern England and with Scotland. Their concerns are varied, often centering on courtly behavior or on territorial disputes. Some have a folkloric flavor, presenting formulaic challenges and encounters with magical beings. By far the most famous text focusing on Gawain is the late-14th-century alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Texts

Many of the most important Middle English Arthurian romances are available in print and online as part of the TEAMS series of Middle English texts. Among the most accomplished Middle English Arthurian romances are the Stanzaic Morte Arthur and the Alliterative Morte Arthur. Both are in Benson and Foster 1994. A particularly popular narrative, if the relatively large number of surviving manuscript copies is anything to go by, is Lybeaus Desconus, which is edited in Salisbury and Weldon 2013. Flowers Braswell 1995 presents two of the most engaging texts: Sir Perceval of Galles and Ywain and Gawain. These are highly distinctive adaptations of works by the Continental French author Chrétien de Troyes. A particularly extensive collection focusing on the figure of Gawain is Hahn 1995.

Studies

Good overviews and introductory studies of Middle English Arthurian romance are not difficult to come by. Lupack and Lupack 1995 presents a wide range of information in an accessible and student-friendly format. Pearsall 2003 provides an engaging general account, and Fulton 2009 offers an up-to-date and well-organized guide aimed at undergraduates. Barron 2001 is more suited to advanced study, while Ingham 2001 offers a provocative reading that draws heavily on contemporary cultural theory. Useful studies that focus on specific groups of texts within this field include Chism 2002 and Robson 2006.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of four works usually attributed to the same anonymous poet surviving in British Library MS, Cotton Nero A.x., is now generally acknowledged as the finest of the Middle English Arthurian romances. Yet it is, in some ways, one of the least “canonical” texts in the Middle English canon. The fact that it survives in only a single manuscript suggests that it was not all that widely circulated; and its influence on subsequent medieval literature appears to have been minimal to nonexistent. It was not until Sir Frederick Madden edited the text in 1839 that it found a wider audience, and it only became firmly established in undergraduate courses during the mid-20th century. The poet’s virtuoso command of language and his complex plotting and keen awareness of the norms and potentialities of the romance form have been much praised by modern scholars and readers. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the only Middle English romance, apart from Malory’s Morte Darthur and Chaucer’s romances, to have found a wide readership outside the world of academia—modern translations such as that of the poet Simon Armitage have been well received.

Editions

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has been edited and translated numerous times. The classic edition is still Tolkien and Gordon 1967, but the challenges presented by the poet’s dialect make Barron 1998, with its facing-page prose translation, a more student-friendly option. Andrew and Waldron 2007 has all four texts by the Gawain poet. High-quality digital images of the sole manuscript witness to the poem, including the illustrations that accompany it, have been made freely available online in McGillivray 2012.

Studies

The critical literature on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is voluminous and remarkably so, given that this work was did not become a staple of undergraduate degree courses until the mid-20th century. Many the book-length studies treat the four texts typically attributed to the Gawain poet, though early and influential studies such as Benson 1965 and Burrow 1965 focus on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight alone. Spearing 1970 places emphasis on the self-conscious artistry of the poet, and Putter 1995 suggests that the text is more readily comparable to French courtly romances than to popular romances in the English tradition. Bennett 1979 gives an overview of the historical and literary context in which the Gawain poet was working. Putter 1996 and Brewer and Gibson 1997 are the most accessible introductory volumes to the Gawain poet’s works and are particularly suitable for undergraduates.

Malory’s Morte Darthur

Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur draws on both the English and French Arthurian traditions to produce a sprawling version of the entire Arthurian legend. Much of his material is adapted from earlier sources such as the French Vulgate cycle, the English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthur. His “Tale of Sir Gareth” appears to be an original work. Malory’s influence on subsequent English impressions of the Arthurian legend was considerable. His was the only Arthurian text to reach print at an early stage and was available more or less continuously in a way other medieval English romances were not. Until 1934 it was only known from Caxton’s printed edition; however, the discovery of the Winchester manuscript that year significantly re-orientated perceptions of the text, demonstrating the extent to which Caxton may have altered Malory’s original work.

Editions

The existence of two differing versions of the text in the form of the Winchester manuscript and Caxton’s printed edition means editing the Morte presents considerable difficulties. Malory 1990 and Malory 2013, the editions edited and revised by Vinaver and Field, collate material from the two sources. Cooper’s edition, Malory 1998, draws on the Winchester text alone. Malory 2010, the ongoing Malory Project, uses its digital format to enable more ready comparison between the two texts.

  • Malory, Thomas. The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. 3d ed. 3 vols. Edited by Eugène Vinaver. Revised by P. J. C. Field. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The standard scholarly edition for many decades. The three-volume set is increasingly difficult to obtain, although a single volume version with much more limited notes also exists.

    Find this resource:

  • Malory, Thomas. Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript. Edited by Helen Cooper. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An accessible text aimed at undergraduate and general readers. The text in the Winchester manuscript has been somewhat abridged.

    Find this resource:

  • Malory, Thomas. The Malory Project. 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Launched in 2010, this is an electronic edition of Malory’s Morte Darthur with digital facsimiles of the Winchester manuscript and the copy of Caxton’s first edition, which is now in the John Rylands Library in Manchester. So far the Roman War episode has been published, and the site hosts a full and up-to-date bibliography. A good resource for advanced students dealing with textual issues. Maintained by Takako Kato and designed by Nick Hayward.

    Find this resource:

  • Malory, Thomas, Le Morte Darthur. 2 vols. Edited by P. J. C. Field. Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first volume is a composite text of Malory that aims to produce a new authoritative edition of the Morte. The second volume consists primarily of commentary.

    Find this resource:

Studies

Malorian studies is a large field and one that has gained in depth and sophistication over the years. Lynch 1997 is representative example of the ways in which late-20th- and early-21st- century scholarship has brought historical and theoretical perspectives to bear on the Morte. Takamiya and Brewer 1981 is a seminal collection of essays, while Archibald and Edwards 1996 still remains the best starting point for students. Norris 2008 addresses the complex question of the nature and range of Malory’s source material. Whetter 2008 provides a provocative argument against identifying Malory’s work as “romance.”

Romance in Print

Apart from Malory’s Morte Darthur, romance from the end of the 15th century has suffered relative neglect. Many Middle English verse romances appear in print before 1500, and several appear in English for the first time. It is in this period that prose finally becomes a viable medium for romance in English.

Texts

The obscurity of many of the early printed romances means that no consensus exists on what constitute the most significant works in this medium. Many of Caxton’s prose romances combine both chronicle and romance sources, and their classification as “romance” is particularly debatable. A work for which no such categorization issues exist that first appears in English in print early on is Caxton 1957, Paris and Vienne. The Foure Sonnes of Aymon, edited in Caxton 1884–1885, is another work that had not appeared in English previously. Surviving early prints have also been digitized and several provided with transcriptions as part of the Early English Books Online (EEBO) database.

Studies

This is a small but expanding field. Cooper 1997 has done a good deal to highlight the interest of the prose romances printed by Caxton. Cooper argues that their emphasis on violence, discord, and unhappy endings represents a shift in expectations associated with the genre. Adams 1998 suggests that the transition from manuscript compilation to printed edition significantly altered perceptions of the Middle English romance. The prose romances other than Malory’s Morte have also received new attention in recent years. Leitch 2012 discusses the historical engagement of these romances and places them against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses. An overview of the early prints is provided in Meale 1992.

  • Adams, Tracy. “Printing and the Transformation of the Middle English Romance.” Neophilologus 82 (1998): 291–310.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1004263309901Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the transition to print brought about a shift in the perceptions of romance. Adams suggests that romance had gained prestige from its association with saints’ lives or religious works in manuscript compilations, whereas cheap, standalone prints made the genre more subject to criticism for its supposed frivolity.

    Find this resource:

  • Cooper, Helen. “Counter Romance: Civil Strife and Father-Killing in the Prose Romances.” In The Long Fifteenth Century: Essays for Douglas Grey. Edited by Helen Cooper and Sally Mapstone, 141–162. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Highlights the disillusioned and pessimistic tone of late medieval prose romances and explores their preoccupation with treachery, violence, and disorder.

    Find this resource:

  • Leitch, Megan G. “Thinking Twice about Treason in Caxton’s Prose Romances: Proper Chivalric Conduct and the English Printing Press.” Medium Ævum 81 (2012): 41–69.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores Caxton’s prints of Godeffroy of Boloyne, Charles the Grete, and The Four Sonnes of Aymon. The depiction of treason within the romances is particularly scrutinized.

    Find this resource:

  • Meale, Carol M. “Caxton, de Worde, and the Publication of Romance in Late Medieval England.” The Library 14 (1992): 83–98.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides a full list of the romances that survive in earlier manuscripts and which appeared in print before the death of Wynkyn de Worde in 1534 or 1535.

    Find this resource:

back to top

Article

Up

Down