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REVIEWS RICHARD BARBER, ed., Arthurian Literature II. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1982. Pp. viii, 168. $42.50. ROSEMARY MORRIS, The Character of King Arthur in Medieval Literature. Arthurian Studies, No. 4. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1982. Pp. vi, 175. $47.50. The spread of the Arthurian legend in medieval and modern times is documented and illustrated in the two volumes under review. After its obscure beginnings in Welsh legend and early British chronicles through the glorious period of the High Middle Ages down to late-medieval chronicles and Malory, it reemerges, after an eclipse in early modern times, in German scholarship, Japanese short story, and twentieth-century Arthuriana. The pan­ orama is indeed vast, and the particular manifestations of the legend are diverse and interesting enough to excite the curiosity and inspire the study of one of the most fascinating and enduring Occidental traditions: the legend ofKing Arthur. To Rosemary Morris the legend ofArthur is, despite its diversity, fundamentally consistent and coherent. To demonstrate this con­ tention, she reconstructs Arthur's biography from Latin and ver­ nacular chronicles and romances down to about 1500. The bio­ graphical framework accounts for the division ofchapters into stages in Arthur's career, fromantecedents, conception, and birth to death and aftermath. We follow him as warrior and king and as husband and lover; we see him with his knights and alone as a moral and spiritual figure. The framework works well as biography. Morris is adept at unfolding her complex, even contradictory material with 165 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER good order and clarity, a task made possible because "all Arthurian works," whatever their specific purpose, "basically refer to the same world" (p. 6). In the three most important genres, chronicle, verse romance, and prose romance, "We have to do not so much with three Arthurs, as with three views of the same Arthurian world" wherein "the very contrasts in perspective eventually contribute to the enduring solidity of that world" (p. 5). The three views that survive through succeeding generations derive from Geoffrey of Monmouth (chronicle), Chretien de Troyes (verse romance), and the Vulgate Lancelot-Grail Cycle (prose romance). Morris's is a slim book for such a vast subject. It is not a review of scholarship, but it is encyclopedic in scope and critical in intent. As encyclopedia, it is incomplete. German, Occitanian, and Catalan romances are tacitly omitted (the only mention of a Middle High German romance, Ulrich von Zatzikhoven's Lanze/et, treats it as "French-derived" (p. 61)-like Wolfram von Eschenbach, Hart­ mann von Aue, perhaps ]aufre, et a/ii. The organization of the volume is biographical rather than encyclopedic, which often makes it difficult to coordinate the different parts of Arthur's career within one of the three views. The glossing over the lacunae in one or the other tradition suggests an organic whole rather than the piecemeal developments that actually took place. The critical commentary is extensive, but often too brief. The following passage illustrates how intriguing suggestions (in italics) are offered as conclusions whose validity, as assertions, is not vouch­ safed, and whose import may even be unclear! I have little to add to previous studies of Arthur's sword [reference to two articles by Vinaver). We must note, however, that the way in which the French Excalibur shuttles between Arthur and Gawain weakens its indi­ vidualising significance for Arthur and throws its symbolism into confu­ sion. More absurd is VM [=Vulgate Merlin], which, in order to justify Gawain's possession of Excalibur in LP [=Prose Lancelot], makes Arthur gradually lose interest in what, after Boron, ought to be hallowed as the divine instrument of his kingship. In the post-Vulgate, degradation of Gawain justifies Arthur's retention of the sword-which in turnjustifies his lamentations over it at the end, largely invalidated in the Vulgate Mort by 166 REVIEWS the fact that for years it has not been his sword. The post-Vulgate author also eliminates much Vulgate incoherence with its new, parallel hand-in­ the-lake scene. But this invention produces a fresh complication. If Ex­ calibur comes from the Lake...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 165-170
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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