Further reading

Brewer, Derek, ed. Studies in Medieval English Romances: Some New Approaches. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1988. Jewers, Caroline. Chivalric Fiction and the History of the Novel. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. McDonald, Nicola. Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2004. Putter, Ad, and Jane Gilbert, eds. The Spirit of Medieval English Popular Romance. Harlow, U.K.: Pearson Education, 2000.

Louise Sylvester roman de brut (geste des bretons) Wace (1155) This poem by the Anglo-Norman poet Wace consists of 14,866 lines in rhymed octosyllabic couplets written in vernacular French. Probably begun in 1150, it was completed in 1155, when it was dedicated to Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122— 1204). It is also sometimes known by the alternative title, Geste des Bretons (Song of the Britons), and as its author's most popular work, it survives in 22 manuscripts. Most likely its intended audience was an Anglo-Norman one, curious about the history and legends of the British territories. The Roman de Brut itself is largely an adaptation of the Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) of Geoffrey of Monmouth (1135-38), and in it, Wace gives particular emphasis to the Arthurian literature derived from Geoffrey's prose narrative. As Wace was a scholarly and unusually critical poet, his decision to amplify his source's recounting of King Arthur's legendary court contributed significantly to the development of the matière de Bretagne, or "matters of Britain," as a subject for poetry in succeeding generations of authors and romances. Wace's compositional mode of detailed matter-of-factness also proved to be influential. The Roman de Brut is also significant in the development of the Arthurian legends. It contains the first mention of Arthur's Round Table and is the first source to name Arthur's sword Excalibur. Apart from its role in introducing Arthur to French vernacular literature, the poem's other important contribution is to credit Arthur and his court with a highly developed code of chivalry. Wace describes the splendor and refinement of Arthur's realm, likening him to charlemagne, who presided over a golden age in British history.

The Roman de Brut begins with the founding of Britain by the Trojan warrior Brutus, a companion of the Trojan hero Aeneas. The story then follows the chronology of factual and legendary circumstances of British history, and for the most part Wace adheres to the chain of events sketched by his predecessors. He also recalls the lives of both mythical and historical figures such as the following: Corineus (companion of Brutus and founder of Cornwall), "Old King Cole" (Coel Hen, a Welsh king who ruled during the Roman withdrawal, ca. 350-420 C.E.), Cymbeline (king of Britain, thought to have reigned during the first century C.E.), Leir (a pre-Christian warrior king who became William Shakespeare's "Lear"), Cassibelanus (or Cassivellaunus, historical king of the Britons who led the defense against Julius Caesar's second invasion in 54 B.C.E.), Caradocus (titular king of the Britons in the absence of Emperor Magnus Maximus, who had left to campaign in Gaul), Aurelius Ambrosius (victorious war leader against the Saxons and supposed builder of Stonehenge and uncle of King Arthur), Uther Pendragon (supposed father of King Arthur), and Cadwallader (last Welsh king to wear the crown of Britain and the leader of the Celtic resistance against the Saxons). In each portrait, Wace imbues the story with a sense of vitality and drama. For example, in Corineus's story, beyond describing the legendary founding of Cornwall, Wace gives special attention to a fatal wrestling match between Corineus and the giant Gogmagog. Similarly, in almost every case where Wace differs significantly from his sources, he does so either to dwell on details capable of contributing to the emotional intensity of his tale or to dwell on those in which he evidently took a special interest. Among the latter are such details as the derivation of place-names, the description of nautical practices, and all manner of entertainment, especially music.

More important, however, it was Wace's skill in interpreting the meaning of events as rooted deeply in their human participants that gives his writing its special quality. For instance, early in the poem he reminds the audience that Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain succeeded because of a dispute between Cassibelanus and his nephews. Later, Wace's exploration of the complex motives and responses of those characters inhabiting King Arthur's Britain is particularly seen. Far more than in Geoffrey's recounting of Arthur's downfall, Wace locates the source of decay in Arthur's idealized world within the moral turpitude of Arthur's nephew Mordred and his corruption of Guinevere. Apart from its many other innovations, it was this capacity to infuse the deeds of these figures with plausible motives that earned Wace's Roman de Brut a place as a transitional text between the fragmentary retellings of British legends and the highly developed Arthurian romances of succeeding centuries.

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