Authority Refracted : Personal Principle and Translation in Wace's Roman de Brut
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Authority Refracted: Personal Principle and Translation in Wace's Roman de Brut Dolores Buttry Clarion University The twelfth-century Norman chronicler, Maistre Wace, is perhaps the best illustration of the pitfalls of the medieval system of patronage.I As is well known, Henry II became so dissatisfied with the Roman de Rou that he replaced Wace as "court historian" with "Beneeit" (probably Benoit de Sainte-Maure). Several reasons have been advanced for this fall from grace: Jean-Guy Gouttebrouze relates it to the climate of hostility between ruler and clergy that would culminate in the death of Thomas aBeckett (Gouttebrouze 1991, 289). Other obvious reasons are Wace's insistence on using English sources as well as Norman ones to tell the tale of the Norman Conquest, thus weakening the official Norman version. Wace provides unflattering portraits of some of Henry II's ancestors and presents Robert Curthose as the legitimate NormanlEnglish heir after the death of William Rufus. It is easy to see in the Rou the author's own ~redilections (or prejudices). He is a cleric and descended from nobility, proud of his lineage and emphasizing the importance of blood ties. The Rou is not an appropriate vehicle, however, to illustrate the politics of translation, for the simple reason that the largest part of it seems to be a compilation of history by Wace from sources unknown to us and from oral traditions. Wace's major sources, Dudo of SaintQuentin 's De Gestis et Moribus Primorum Ducum Normannorum, and Guillaume de Jumieges' Gesta Normannorum Ducum, only provide him with early Norman history: Dudo treats only of the first three dukes, and Guillaume's history concludes before 1066; a few paragraphs about the Norman Conquest and the death of William I were hastily added . It is difficult to tell what Wace is "translating" for the major part of his work (i.e., the part treating William the Conqueror and his sons), and much of 86 THE POLITICS OF TRANSLATION his information is not contained in any other source that has survived. Wace's Roman de Brut, on the other hand, is a reasonably faithful translation of the Historia Regum Britanniae. In addition to the Vulgate version, which faithfully represents the tradition of the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace made use of the First Variant Version, an anonymous text that scholars situate sometime between 1138 and 1150 and that is stylistically different from Geoffrey's Historia. In general the work is more moralistic, containing more frequent allusions to the Bible and to classical sources, and more laconic, omitting unpleasant details. Although it is shorter than Geoffrey's version, the First Variant Version contains details that occur in Wace's work but not in the Vulgate. Pierre Gallais therefore concluded that the author of the First Variant Version used Wace as a source (Gallais 1966). In contrast, David Rollo, Robert A. Caldwell, and Neil Wright (the editor of the First Variant Version) are all in agreement that it was Wace who followed the Variant faithfully. Rollo asserts, "Wace used the 'First Variant' as his base text" (Rollo 1998, 135, n. 5); Caldwell tells us that Wace "clearly used the Vulgate as well as the Variant, though probably not until he got to book VIII of the Latin text" (Caldwell 1956, 680). Wright agrees, saying that the Brut "represents a conflation (effected not without skill) of the Variant and vulgate texts" (Wright 1988, Iviiilix ). The politics of translation can be clearly observed in Wace 's Brut; as Caldwell notes, "Wace did not translate his primary source so much as he adapted it, used it as a point of departure, paraphrasing, expanding, and elaborating on it as seemed best to him" (Caldwell 1956, 678). In this essay I would like to present examples of Wace's extensive amplifications and comment on the personal opinions that are visible in these passages. Wace's Brut, finished in 1155, scarcely twenty years after Geoffrey wrote his Latin history, was the first vernacular rendition of Arthurian material and enjoyed great popularity. While Geoffrey was writing for other clerics, Wace was writing for the Norman court. Jean Blacker-Knight, in her article "Transformations of a Theme: Depoliticization of the Arthurian World in the Roman de Brut" (BlackerKnight 1988), observes the disappearance of the political message from the Brut.3 It is clear, as Blacker-Knight claims, that Geoffrey had a sermon for his fellow Britons; he includes several long, chastising addresses to his countrymen at various intervals in...


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Subject Headings

  • Translating and interpreting--Europe--History--To 1500.
  • Translating and interpreting--Europe--History--16th century.
  • Civilization, Medieval.
  • Renaissance.
  • Literature, Medieval--Translations--History and criticism.
  • European literature--Renaissance, 1450-1600--Translations--History and criticism.
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