Romance and Chivalry in English Medieval Literature
The Anglo-Norman kings of England did not like being considered the vassals of the Kings of France The Norman kings of England had to create a mythology justifying their political independence from France. The theme of translatio imperii "proved" political legitimacy translated/transferred (translatio imperii) from the ‘Ancients’ not only to the French, but also to England. They devised the story of the "first" British king, Brutus, who supposedly founded the kingdom of "Britain" ("Brut" in Anglo-Norman French).
Translatio Studii Et Imperii
Refers to the the transfer/ translation (translatio) of culture/knowledge (studium) and of political power/legitimacy (imperium) from one civilization to another. Studium: sort of WRITTEN knowledge that constitutes literary "Authority" (auctoritas) Imperii: political power and political legitimacy. The Norman kings of England had to create a mythology justifying their political independence from France.
Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the King's of Britain (1136) was presented as a scholarly work in Latin. This History begins with Brutus, down to the Anglo-Norman Kings. A certain war-lord named "Arthur" helped to organize British resistance after the fall of the Roman Empire Arthur's descendants (the English kings) can claim not to owe allegiance to the French. The story of Arthur's Round Table: a fellowship of Knights modeled on Charlemagne's traditional group of warrior followers, the twelve "peers."
Middle English Poetry: Overview
The circumstances of writers in the English vernacular changed after the Norman Conquest.
Collapse of written standard established in Anglo-Saxon England and exclusion of English writings. English poetry and prose flourished towards margins of society. Accelerating decline of French in the England of Edward III: readers and listeners now increasingly turning to English. Continuous increase in literacy; consequent development towards what is almost mass production of manuscript copies. Audience and market for English poetry grew in numbers and importance.
Middle English Poetry
Brut, illustrates clearly the relative marginality of English in the cosmopolitan ‘Channel Kingdom’ of the Normans and Angevins. Here Arthur appears for the 1st time English: his accounts occupy more than ¼ of Lagamon’s 16.000 lines The "round table" is the invention of the AngloNorman poet Wace Wace’s poem the Roman de Brut ("Romance of Brutus“); "romance" originally did not refer to any idea of "romantic" love; Wace dedicated his "romance" to Eleanor of Aquitaine
Can be broadly categorized as dealing with three types of historical material:
The ‘matter’ of Rome (classical legends) The ‘matter’ of France (often tales of Charlemagne and his nights) The ‘matter’ of Britain (Arthurian stories/tales dealing with knightly heroes)
Typically, a romance tells the story of one quest undertaken by one knight The setting is a timeless fairy-tale world; there is no "rise and fall" of Arthur's empire Many of these romances concern the role of love (courtly or otherwise) in human existence Frequently, the knight has some difficulty in working out an appropriate balance between love and chivalry
Arthurian Romance Origins
Chrétien first had the idea of making Lancelot and Guenevere into courtly lovers; Their story is recounted in a romance Chrétien wrote at the request of the Countess Marie of Champagne Their love is a positive, ennobling force: their love was not regarded as immoral, adulterous; Far from being a traitor to his king, the Lancelot of Chrétien's romance rescues Guenevere and restores her to her husband
Malory's Morte D'Arthure
Based upon these 13th century French prose romances Incorporates their essentially negative view of Lancelot and Guenevere's love The original meaning of "courtly love" still shows: the love of Lancelot and Guenevere is the ennobling force, and the sin that prevents him from becoming a "heavenly" knight Reaction to the theme of courtly love invented and developed in the "woman-influenced" Provençal, French and Anglo-Norman literature of the 12th century.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Represents another transformation of the courtly love motif. Preserves the structure typical of French verse romance Revives an Old English verse form: alliteration Represents a negative reaction to "courtly love" similar to French prose romances: a rejection of sensual earthly love in favor of a spiritual love.
Romance & Courtly Love vs. Church
This love affair caught imagination of late12th & early-13th century public: the Church took notice:
Tended to ignore the vernacular romances as "popular culture“ Attacked them as vain, frivolous and "untrue" Regarded them as potential didactic tools, which should be used to teach moral "truths" Disapproved of romance's emphasis on love stories: "bad" examples The "Vulgate Cycle" linked the Arthurian kingdom to Christian salvation history: shift in theme (Quest of the Holy Grail).