In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Arthurian Romance

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks and Anthologies
  • Manuscripts, Codicology, and Editing

Medieval Studies Arthurian Romance
Norris J. Lacy
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0188


Arthurian romance grew out of chronicles purporting to record the history of King Arthur, his knights, and their martial or amatory adventures. A good number of early works, especially in Welsh and Latin between the 6th and 12th century, alluded to Arthur in lists, enigmatic texts, chronicles, and various fictional creations. However, Arthurian romance as it is generally understood developed first in France, beginning with Chrétien de Troyes’s verse romances in the late 12th century, and soon spread from there to most of the literatures of western Europe. By its subject matter, it may well constitute the largest body of secular material in the West. Curiously, in very early medieval literature, there was a tendency to remove the king to the periphery of texts, focusing instead on a single knight or a group of them associated with Arthur’s court. At nearly the same time, beginning in the 13th century, authors singly or collaboratively produced vast romance cycles, generally in prose, which could unite the biography of Arthur and his knights with the story of Merlin, the illicit love of Lancelot and Guenevere, the quest for the Holy Grail, and in some instances, the Tristan material. Such syntheses began with the French Vulgate (or Lancelot-Grail) Cycle (1215–1235) and led eventually to Malory’s Morte Darthur at the close of the Middle Ages. Considered in this bibliography are medieval romances in Welsh, French, German, English, Norse, Dutch, Hispanic, Italian, and Latin.

General Overviews

A number of volumes, some more technical than others, present elements of the Arthurian legend to students, general readers, and scholars in other fields. (This section includes “Companions” and “Introductions” to romances or Arthurian subjects in general. Those that treat a single author or work are listed in the sections devoted to particular languages.) Pearsall 2003 is a concise and informative survey, with emphasis on English romance. Stevens 1974 may provide the broadest introduction to themes and approaches, whereas Fulton 2009 and Archibald and Putter 2009 offer series of essays on diverse Arthurian subjects, contributed by major specialists in the field. Kelly 1993 is a superb introduction to French romance and has much valuable information for those working with other literatures. The most detailed overviews are Lupack 2005 and Lacy and Ashe 1997. A number of studies, such as Green 2002 and the collection of essays edited by Krueger 2000, deal with medieval romance in general, thus including but not limited to Arthurian material.

  • Archibald, Elizabeth, and Ad Putter, eds. The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521860598

    Surveys Arthurian origins and the presentation of Arthur from the 12th century to the early 21st century in Part 1. Part 2 treats selected themes, from Arthurian ideals and ethics to imperialism, religion, and love and adultery.

  • Fulton, Helen, ed. A Companion to Arthurian Literature. Chichester, UK: Blackwell, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444305821

    An extensive collaborative volume dealing with Arthurian origins and texts from the earliest Latin and Welsh works to literary, cinematic, and other developments of the Arthurian legend to the early 21st century.

  • Green, D. H. The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact and Fiction, 1150–1220. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511485787

    A valuable study of the formation of romance (Arthurian and other) to 1220, concentrating on the development of fictionality.

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

    Highly recommended; one of the best sources of its kind. References are to French romances, but the volume is valuable to those interested in Arthurian literature in any language. Chapters deal with the emergence of romance, patrons, audiences, sources, the “art of romance invention” (pp. 87–93), editing, genre adaptation, style, social and moral ideals, and more.

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

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521553423

    Deals with Arthurian and non-Arthurian romance, with sections devoted to origins and contexts, to issues for discussion (e.g., chivalry, courtly love, and questions of gender), and to romance in German, Italian, English, and Spanish literatures in addition to an emphasis on French works.

  • Lacy, Norris J., and Geoffrey Ashe, with Debra Mancoff. The Arthurian Handbook. 2d ed. New York: Garland, 1997.

    The Handbook treats Arthurian origins, chronicles, and medieval romances, as well as modern Arthuriana in literature, visual arts, and film. An appended glossary, some eighty pages in length, identifies and discusses numerous characters, authors, places, themes, and motifs.

  • Lupack, Alan. The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    An important volume treating all aspects of the Arthurian legend, medieval and modern. The volume is organized according to subjects and themes, causing some overlapping or repetition of material; the thorough index enables users to locate any material that may be scattered in the volume.

  • Pearsall, Derek. Arthurian Romance: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470775998

    An engaging and informative presentation of the subject. Focuses primarily on English romance but includes a good deal of material on other literatures and some on manuscripts and visual arts.

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

    A diverse and important contribution to romance in general, with several chapters specifically on Arthurian romance; see especially W. R. J. Barron, “Arthurian Romance,” pp. 65–74.

  • Stevens, John. Medieval Romance: Themes and Approaches. New York: Norton, 1974.

    Intended as an introductory book, this clear and accessible book, though not exclusively Arthurian, consists of eleven chapters treating such subjects as love, chivalry, the marvelous, religion, and characters in romance.

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