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Between epic and romance: the Matter of England and the Chansons de Geste

Byrne, A. ORCID: (2022) Between epic and romance: the Matter of England and the Chansons de Geste. In: Flood, V. and Leitch, M. G. (eds.) Cultural Translations in Medieval Romance. Studies in Medieval Romance. D. S. Brewer, Cambridge, pp. 192-208. ISBN 9781843846208

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'Epic' and 'romance' are often placed in a teleological relationship by scholars of medieval literature: the one early, the other late, the first superceded by the second. However, work on French texts from the last decades has complicated this approach. Scholars like Sarah Kay, have emphasized the chronological simultaneity of chanson de geste and romance in France – after all, the chansons de geste continue to be copied and composed throughout the ‘age of romance’. Such scholars typically see the relationship of French romance and chanson de geste as dialogic, with the each mode drawing on the motifs, values and structures of the other. This paper draws out some of the implications of this insight for writing from England, in both Anglo-Norman and Middle English. This paper will explore 'epic' elements in romance texts associated with the 'Matter of England'. Texts like Horn Childe and John Lydgate’s Guy of Warwick are usually categorised as romance, but they fit uneasily within that tradition. Attending to the epic affiliations of such works highlights the potential significance of certain themes within each text – communality, religious warfare, geography – and of neglected passages, such as the battle scenes. It also highlights a paradox that we see again and again in Middle English writing: that in attempting to articulate an authentically insular vision of the past and of present identity, writers turned again and again to French literary templates.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies (GCMS)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:102647
Publisher:D. S. Brewer

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