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BEVIS OF HAMPTON Anonymous (1320s) A
Middle English romance, extant in varying forms in six manuscripts, Bevis of Hampton is most closely related to the Anglo-Norman Boeuve de Haumtone. The story, with some variations, runs thus: After his father, Guy of Southampton, is murdered by his mother's lover, Bevis is sold to Saracen merchants, who carry him off to the land of Ermonye in the East. Here, Bevis is raised among the Saracens, establishes himself as a knight through feats of bravery, and has Josian, the king's daughter, fall in love with him. After being imprisoned for seven years, escaping, rescuing Josian from an unwilling arranged marriage, and acquiring a marvellous horse and a giant servant, Bevis and his new wife flee to Cologne, where Josian is baptized. Afterward, Bevis returns to reclaim his patrimony in England before being forced once more into exile in the East. Eventually, after the birth of two sons, a period of separation from Josian, and an eventual reunion, Bevis wins back his English lands once more for one of his sons, marries the other off to the daughter of King Edgar of England, and conquers and converts the kingdom of Mombraunt in the East for himself, where both he and Josian die after many years of happy marriage.
Recent critical approaches to the romance have emphasized its articulation of national and cultural identity. Like many medieval romances, Bevis defines English identity through a contrast with the racial, religious, and cultural other: the Saracens. However, Bevis himself is constructed as a curiously hybridized figure: English and Christian, but raised in the East, married to a Saracen convert, and returning to live in the East rather than England. As such, the romance questions the processes of medieval cultural identity, asking whether Christian knights can remain culturally unaffected by the Saracens with whom they have contact, especially those knights who live for extended periods in the lands of the East.
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