This chapter examines the rhyme scheme of a tantalising but little studied Middle English romance, Amis and Amiloun. The poem is composed in twelve-line stanzas, rhymed AAB AAB CCB DDB, with a metrical scheme of four, four and three stresses corresponding to the rhyme. This chapter argues that view, the AAB rhyme scheme of the Middle English poem operates on both a semantic and a semiotic axis. Semantically, it designates the names of the three main characters; semiotically, it represents the relationship among those characters: two men paired (AA) but one of them also linked with the woman. This chapter also examines genre and history, and their importance for the text.
Western culture has always treated the eating of human flesh as taboo. Reluctant or not, cannibals evoke fear, loathing or, at best, horrified pity. No fourteenth-century English cook is known to have prepared for consumption the flesh of a real Turk, yet the Turk's Head, a sweet-and- sour meat pie shaped and decorated to resemble the outlandish features of a stereotyped Saracen, was a familiar late medieval dish. Richard Coeur de Lion, a romance whose medieval popularity is well attested, arrests modern readers with the spectacle of its man-eating king. Duped into mistaking a cooked Saracen for pork, the ailing Richard devours a dish of boiled flesh, faster than his steward can carve, and gnaws on the bones.
In the debate concerning precisely what constitutes a medieval ‘romance’, the Siege of Melayne occupies a special position. This poem participates in the conventions both of romance and of hagiography. The focus of such cross-generic readings is usually the character of Archbishop Turpin who has ‘as much of the saint as of the soldier in his nature’. This chapter explicates the religious content of the Siege of Melayne, exploring how hagiographic, devotional, and eucharistic themes are used to depict a Christian community characterised by strength in the face of adversity, and wholeness in the face of efforts to fragment the community. The body of Turpin, the image of the crucified Christ, and the Host each represent the Corpus Christi, the body of Christ which stands for the community of Christian souls.
The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that popular romance not only merits and rewards serious critical attention, but that we ignore it to the detriment of our understanding of the complex and conflicted world of medieval England. As an introduction, this chapter offers a short polemical essay that confronts head-on the paradox that informs and ultimately circumscribes all of our thinking about Middle English popular romance. It is divided into two sections that tackle in turn what is at stake in our appreciation and enjoyment of these inescapably popular narratives: romance's status as a socially and aesthetically degenerate form of fiction and its capacity to generate textual pleasure.
This collection and the romances it investigates are crucial to our understanding of the aesthetics of medieval narrative and to the ideologies of gender and sexuality, race, religion, political formations, social class, ethics, morality and national identity with which those narratives emerge.
The lump-child and its parents in The King of Tars
The central figure of the Middle English popular romance known as The King of Tars (hereafter KT) — a formless lump of flesh born instead of a child — defines a certain view of popular literature. The birth is an outrageously sensationalist event; the ideological message conveyed by its subsequent transformation into a human being through baptism is simplistic, vulgar and racist. This chapter concentrates on the treatment of the lump in order to show how its treatment throws into relief the different configurations of paternity and maternity, of gender roles and of religious politics put forward in a range of re-tellings.
The fourteenth-century popular romance Guy of Warwick engages contemporary socio-political concerns in critical and transformative ways. Guy's fantastic reworking of England's past through its titular hero both recognises England's historic culpabilities in its interactions with other countries and transforms these culpabilities into redeeming alternative possibilities for remembering the past and for performing the future. This chapter argues that at the centre of each of Guy's two cycles, the hero finds himself on a formative adventure in a fantastically imagined East; Guy devotes so much narrative attention to the East because the romance responds to and reimagines the West's conflicts with the East during the Crusades. Guy simultaneously asserts Latin dominance in both Christian and Muslim settings and rejects the most egregious moral error of the Crusades—the sack of Constantinople—by creating an alternative outcome in which the hero chooses not to seize control of the Byzantine Empire.
The fourteenth-century alliterative narrative The Siege of Jerusalemhas recently begun to generate the kind of interest associated with more canonical Middle English works. Scholarly studies have emerged to fill the lacunae of response and readings, and a new edition is forthcoming. This chapter argues that this new attention to Jerusalem is well deserved and long overdue, inhibited more by scholarly distaste for the poem's perceived relentless and violent anti-Judaism, than by any intrinsic lack of literary or cultural value. The argument concerning the poem is predicated on a recuperative reading in another sense of the word. It suggests that the virulent anti-Judaism from which scholars recoil is neither as unambiguous nor singular as is commonly claimed.
According to Sir Degrevant, an early fifteenth-century romance with a lively plot and remarkable density of description, what women want is a handsome, valiant, wealthy and noble lover, triumph over fierce paternal opposition, a splendid wardrobe, and a fabulous room of their own. Degrevant is written in the sixteen-line tail-rhyme stanza often characteristic of popular romances, and, although it has no identifiable main source or close analogues, it also incorporates a number of conventional thematic and verbal formulas. It argues that the term landowning class tends to occlude women's social and cultural activities. In the getting and maintaining of wealth and power, a particularly demanding task in the political and economic upheavals of the fifteenth century, the making of marriages was a way of brokering alliances and providing for the orderly transfer of wealth.
The romance of Sir Percyvell of Gales was probably composed in the north of England early in the fourteenth century but obviously enjoyed widespread popularity in medieval England. This chapter notes that the Percyvell-poet is a master of the proairetic code: he is clear about where the story is going, and makes sure that we are clear about it too. In the fourteenth century, however, Percyvell owed most of its popularity not to being read, but to being told and re-told, possibly from memory. The discussion of the poet's reshaping of his source is in two sections. The first deals with the Percyvell-poet's ‘unscrambling’ of Chretien's plot, and considers how this affects the mood of the story. The second deals with the poet's happy ending and asks what makes it, in all senses of the word, fulfilling.