Topic outline

  • General

    "Romance" is a genre that, in popular understanding, provides an expression of the dominant secular social and cultural institutions of the High Middle Ages: the ethos of a warrior class bound by imperatives of chivalric conduct, the concept of "courtly" love and courtoisie in general. This is our modern horizon of expectations for the "romance" genre. But what was the horizon of expectations for the medieval readership? How it evolved? We will explore these questions, probing into the complex origins of "romance" and examining a range of texts, from the early birds through the classics of the genre to late reflections. On the way, we will see how the idea of "romance" becomes solidified enough to work as a template and a subtext for other narrative types: hagiography, history etc., as well as providing a firm and fruitful ground for parodies and ironic treatments of various kinds. Inevitably, we will also touch on the issues of the social horizons of the genre as well as those of gender.

    1) Introduction: themes, approaches, procedure
    2) thematic characteristics of romance; romance in English
        - Ywain and Gawain / Chrétien de Troyes: Yvain (selection)
        - Sir Perceval of Galles
    3) pre- to post-romance: evolution of the genre and late reflections
        - Old English Apollonius of Tyre (selection)
        - John Gower: eighth book of Confessio Amantis (selection)
        - William Shakespeare: Pericles
    4) romance and hagiography
        - The Liflade ant te Passiun of Seinte Juliene (selection)
    5) romance and history
        - the story of Havelok in Geoffrey Gaimar: L´Estoire des Engleis (in English)
    6) subversions of romance
        - Geoffrey Chaucer: "The Merchant's Tale", The Canterbury Tales
    7) Conclusions

    Middle English texts listed in the programme will be provided in the original and in Modern English translation. A range of secondary texts, covering the larger issues connected with romance, will be made available in the Moodle.

    Secondary literature:

    • Derek Pearsall, "The Romancing of the Arthurian Story: Chretien de Troyes" in Arthurian Romance: A Short Introduction, Wiley-Blackwell 2003, 20-39 (selection)
    • John Finlayson, "Definitions of Middle English Romance", The Chaucer Review 15.1 (1980) 44-62, 15.2 (1980) 168-181 (selection)
    • Simon Gaunt, "Romance and Other Genres" in Roberta L. Krueger, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance, CUP 2000, 45-59
    • John Stevens, "The Images of Romance" in Medieval Romance: Themes and Approaches, Hutchinson 1973, 142-167 (selection)
    • Felicity Riddy, "Middle English Romance: Family, Marriage, Intimacy" in Roberta L. Krueger, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance, CUP 2000, 235-252
    • Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, "Virgin Passions: Romance, Raptus, Ritual" in Saints' Lives and Women's Literary Culture, 1150-1300: Virginity and its Authorizations, OUP 2001, 92-122 (selection)
    • Helen Cooper, "When Romance Comes True" in Neil Cartlidge, ed., Boundaries in Medieval Romance, Boydell & Brewer 2008, 13-28
    • Lee Patterson,  "Chaucerian Commerce: Bourgeois Ideology and Poetic Exchange in the Merchant’s and Shipman’s Tales" in Chaucer and the Subject of History, University of Wisconsin Press 1991, 322-349 (selection)


    Students are expected to give one presentation and submit a paper of 1,000 words for a credit. An essay of 5,000 words should be submitted as a graded paper. Active participation is of the essence.
    The seminar will combine Moodle forum with online/class sessions depending on the regulations stipulated by the Faculty authorities.
    To make the discussion of the texts more efficient, questions designed to open the debate will be posted in the forum and students will be asked to post their initial responses. The online/class session will expand on this, allowing all participants to interrogate, compare and combine their individual insights and conclusions. Presentations on secondary literature should be handed in as critical summaries, to be posted in the Moodle.

  • Introductory

  • 1 thematic characteristics of romance; romance in English 1

  • 2 thematic characteristics of romance; romance in English 2

  • 3 pre- to post-romance: issues of definition & evolution of the genre

    In this block of sessions we will explore a new romance mode - the type of narrative taken over from late Greek novel. This will lead to a new exploration of the constituent features of romance.
    We will also see how the narrative is retold before, in and after the period in which the chivalric romance, explored so far, got constituted, and how the idea of "what is romance" evolves in time.

    The first session will be devoted to a text that has been repeatedly labelled as the first romance in English, translated from a Latin original way before the concepts of chivalry and courtoisie started to consolidate: the Old English Apollonius of Tyre.

  • 4 romance and hagiography

  • 5 romance and history

    The various versions of and references to the Havelok story form a fascinating conglomerate. The earliest account is found in Gaimar's L'estoire des Engleis, our core text and the first history to be written in Anglo-Norman verse (around 1140, the verse form being that of the octosyllabic couplet, which became the "default" form of French romance). There it opens the second part of the Estoire, the only extant today, focused on the history of Anglo-Saxon and Norman England. The first part, focused on history of the Britons, had been pushed into obscurity by Wace's Roman de Brut.
    Subsequently, we find the story included in several chronicles and elaborated in an Anglo-Norman and a Middle English romance version (all represented in the additional materials). In addition, there is the local Grimsby and Lincoln tradition. Though the basic plot remains the same in all versions (a pair of dispossessed heirs eventually coming into their own), the individual versions differ in a number of details as well as in the names of most of the characters.

  • 6 subversions of romance