WiSe 14/15: S-Medieval English Literatures II:Middle English Romance
Andrew James Johnston
Romance is probably the medieval genre whose traditions have best survived into twenty-first century (popular) imagination. Figures such as Sir Perceval or Tristan and Iseult are known to a broad ... read more
Romance is probably the medieval genre whose traditions have best survived into twenty-first century (popular) imagination. Figures such as Sir Perceval or Tristan and Iseult are known to a broad modern audience through different media such as opera and film, and even more so King Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere, eternally locked as they are in their romantic triangle.
For various reasons, most of England's contribution to this body of literature is remarkably late and uneven in quality, especially if compared to the grand products of Old French and Middle High German literature written in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It is only in the second half of the fifteenth century that an English author, Sir Thomas Malory, undertakes to create a version of the Arthurian cycle whose ambition is to rival that of his French models.
But what, from the point of view of more traditional literary criticism, looks like a rather embarrassing feature of Middle English literature can also be seen as peculiar advantage. Precisely because Middle English romance is so diverse, and in some cases even odd, does it give us a remarkable insight into the tastes and habits of thought of a broad segment of the late medieval English reading/listening public and, thus, into the various aesthetic, ideological and cultural uses to which romance could be put.
The texts to be discussed are:
Havelok the DaneSir OrfeoYvain and Gawain
A reader containing the relevant primary texts will be made available to students at the beginning of the semester.