Monday, 5 September 2011



* Medieval English Romances were basically French in origin. The romances were written in simple diction and melodious versification, and they were largely woven around the available ‘matters’. Ultimately they became so popular and expressed the romantic temper of the age that they ceased to be foreign and became fully native.

* Features – The story is usually long, with many intricacies of plot; above all the emphasis is on incident; martial exploits play a large part and are often made ridiculous (for the modern reader) by heaping battle on battle, exploit on exploit, so that the hero becomes a superman; the element of the supernatural is often introduced, again sometimes with ridiculous effect; characters are often of a type, though in the best examples characterization is excellent; the style is often simple and direct but with a lack of artistic finish, though again the best examples must be absolved from such strictures. The spirited approach makes the best good adventure stories. In spite of the exaggerations, extravagances, and ridiculous elements of the worst, the best of the romances provide a rich treasure-house of wonderful tales.
                -- Albert.

v            1) The Matter of France:

* The Matter of France deals basically with the exploits of Charlemagne and twelve peers. It starts with the celebrated heroism of Ronald in his last fight against the Saracens at Ronceval.

* Other romances of this group are Rauf Coilyear, Sir Ferumbras, The Sowdone of Babylon, The siege of Milan, Ronald and Otincls etc.

* Scholars agree that the ‘Matter of France’ romances show little literary value composed as they are along a rigid unvarying conventional pattern with the heroes borrowed from France.

v            2) The Matter of Rome:

* The Matter of Rome deals with largely the tales from Greek and
Roman sources (from Homer, Virgil, Ovid etc.) and the two great cycles of these romances deal with the deeds of Alexander, and the Siege of Troy, with which the Britons thought they have some connection.

* Other romances of this group are – The Siege of Thebes, The adventures of Aeneas, The Destruction of Troy etc.

* Regarding the Alexander Sage, it has a very little of historical Alexander, and much of romantic wonder fiction and magic come from Arabian legends.

v            3) The matter of England:

* The romances of this cycle are purely based on English history and they are already current and very much popular and recited by native bards and Minstrels.

* ”Most of the romances of English Subjects seem to hare dependent mainly on oral transmission. The Eng. Writers of romance seem to have been dependent on French Originals; only when the come across the French varies of the English Tales would they write them down ….”  (Wilson)

* Remarkable romances of this group are – king Horn, Havelock the Dane, Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton.

v            Havelock the Dane:

* It is based on Scandinavian legend.

* It narrates the story of Havelock a young Danish Prince. He is kept out of his royal right by his wicked guardian. His guardian plots to murder him by he escapes by an old fisherman Griem. He escapes to England where he serves at the kitchen of Goldborough the Princess of England who is also menaced by her wicket uncle. Finally Havelock wins back the two kingdoms and puts both the cruel guardians to death.

v            King Horn:

* It is based on the Scandinavian legend.

* The hero, king Horn, was captured in his childhood by the
Sasacens. He then is set adrift in a sail less am oars less boat. He landed safety on Westerness. It course of time a love relationship starts with a princess named Rymenhild. King discovers their secret and Horn is chased-after obtaining a promise from Rymenhild to wait seven years for him. After seven years Horn returns in the guise of a poor pilgrim and finally gets married with her.

v            4) The matter of Britain:

* ’The matter of Britain’ mainly deals with king Arthur and Knights of the Round Table. All these romances are from Celtic sources and deal with the matters of ancient Britain and Wales.

* The romances of this group are loosely connected with one another by the central personality king Arthur. So they are basically belonged to Arthurian Romances.

v            Evolution of Arthurian Cycle:

a) Nennius in his ‘Historia Britanria’ (800 A.D.) represents Arthur as a historical figure – as a military leader who defeated the Saxons in the battle of Mount Badon and retained the independence of his territory Wales.

b) Next at the hands of early Wales poets he turned into a mythological figure – became a kind of demi-god, with heroic deeds and a band of followers almost as wonderful as himself.

c) St. Gildas in ‘Chronicle’ also refers Arthur and his achievements.

d) William of Monmouth is the first author who makes Arthur as the Romantic Arthur, the incarnate spirit of chivalry. Here Arthur is described as a mighty king protected by supernatural power.

f) Wace in his ‘Roman de Brut’ records the adventures and achievements of the Knights of the Round Table. He speaks of Arthur as still a living force –‘the Hope of Britain’.

g) Layman in his ‘Brut’ presents the story of the Round Table and narrates the passing way of the mighty monarch.

h) Walter Map a Chaplin to Henry II by introducing the story of Holy-Grail infuses in the Arthurian legends the spiritual light.

Of the Arthurian romances ‘Arthur and Merlin’ Sir Gawain and Green knight’ ‘Ywain and Gawain’ Sir Orfeo, Sir Tristrem, Sir Launfal, Sir Libeas, Sir Thopas Sir Launcelot deserve mention.

v            5) Miscellaneous Romances:

·               We get a class of miscellaneous romances on various themes and of equally varying quality. ‘Amis and Amiloun’ is a touching love story.
·                Floris and Blauchefleur’ is about the all absorbing passion of two lovers – a king’s son (Floris) and a captive maid (Blauchefleur) who overcome difficulties and desperate perils, and in the end they are united.

·               To Albert-“It would take a volume to comment in detail upon the romances. The variety of their metre and style is very great; but in general terms we may say that the prevailing subject is of a martial and amatory nature; there is the additional interest of the supernatural, which enters freely into the story; and one of the most attractive features the modern reader of this type of literature is the frequent glimpses obtained into the habits of the times”.

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