week 10: the story of Havelok

week 10: the story of Havelok

Number of replies: 15

I'd like to ask you to compare the versions and see how the narrative is reorganized in the historical and the romance context respectively; where the emphasis is placed, how the sujet changes. In the online session we will talk further about the uses of romance narrative / motivic patterns in historical writing.

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Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Liana Marie Ellegate -
Reading the various versions of the stories and seeing how various modifications were made to change the subject was interesting. Of the modifications, two in particular I would like to note in this forum would be Havelok’s origins story (namely how he came to be with Grim) and how it is revealed that Havelok is destined to be king. Regarding Havelok’s origins, each version of the tale seems to have a slightly different take. The Middle English romance details the brutal murder of Havelok’s sisters, attemted murder of Havelok himself, and the role of fate and sacrifice in Grim disobeying orders and saving Havelok’s life. In Gaimar's version we see Grim’s similar role as a savior and the tragedy that takes place at sea during their attempt to flee. In yet another version, Grim is the one directly trusted by Havelok’s father with his care. The changes in these details give us a different idea of the tragedy of Havelok’s early life. The Middle English romance to me seems the most tragic, thus setting the story up for a classic plot progression of Havelok’s adventures in pursuing his rightful (God-given) place as king.

When it comes to Havelok’s ‘mark of the king’ (his flame birthmark/flaming mouth during sleep), the Middle English Romance version varies most significantly from the other versions of the tale. In the other versions, they more or less maintain that the flames coming from Havelok’s mouth during sleep denote his right to be king, and this is supported by a dream-vision had by his wife the night she discovers the flames. In the Middle English version, the tale is changed to have a more overtly religious connotation. Instead of a dream, after seeing the flames, Goldeboru hears a divine voice telling her that her husband is destined to rule. This emphasis on the divine (which is further promoted throughout the Middle English version much more than in the other versions) pushes the idea of a king needing the divine right to rule. The religious set up in this version of the tale also highlights key characteristics that are common to romance narratives (loyalty, honour, etc.).

There is a lot more to discuss, but to avoid this post running too long I’ll cut it off here and look forward to exploring more of the similarities/differences and their impact on the subject during the Zoom meeting!
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Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Jáchym Hájek -
I think Liana summed the major differences very well - especially Havelok's youth is to me the most strinking difference, as Gaimar's version paid it virtually no attention at all. Anotehr thing I'd note is the ME emphasis on what being a good or bad king means. In Gaimar, Edelsi and Gunter are mostly guilty with being traitors and taking the land for themselve's, but the ME version makes them way more vile, cruel and dishonest, while Athelwold and Birkabeyn are shown to be kind and honest - almost to a fault, assuming that their retairners would be the same. Overall, the ME version seems to focus way more on characterisation through deeds and/or speech - as with Godard slitting Havelk's sisters' throats or making Grim drown him and then betraying Grim as well.
The narrative style also caught my attention, as the ME narrator not only seems to have a much more personal relationship with the story, - it is concerning England, after all - also calling on God when talking about his country. But also at one point basically gives the whole story away, saying that England will be Havelok's, but first he has to suffer. Gaimar's version tried to keep its readers in the dark both about Havelok's origins, and about the ending, much more.
In reply to Jáchym Hájek

Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Helena Znojemská -

An aggregate reply: thanks for tracing the differences and for Liana's "generic" analysis, seeing more of a narrative arc in the Middle English version. Would Gaimar's omission of Havelok's childhood be in any way connected with this, i.e. Gaimar's writing "history" as opposed to "romance"?
In that context, did the emphasis on kingship in ME Havelok (and its absence in Gaimar) surprise you? Would we expect it to be the other way round?

In reply to Helena Znojemská

Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Valeriia Kliuieva -
On the one hand, it probably would make sense, since ME version is romanticised to a great extend, and the notions of the Havelok´s childhood in this version (especially the cruelty he lived through, his sisters being murdered etc), here with the cruelty of Godrich towards Goldeboru (aka Argentille, and in the Gaimar´s version those scenes of mistreat up until putting her in prison are also absent) give an excuse to the very detailed scenes of punishment for both of the "evil" kings, which one can read as restoring of the balance and certainly as something they deserved. On the other hand, I would say (but only after comparing different versions), with such a beginning it is a very different story from what we have got in Gaimar´s version. Altering childhood of Havelok, where I would say it was mainly the age of Havelok when being mistreated, has a quite interesting effect on my perception of the story.
I wouldn´t say that the emphasis on kingship surprises me, I tried to take it the way it is. The Gaimar´s version reminds more of the legends which the protagonist being the strongest but the most naive and unaware of the situation, whereas the ME version is very dramatised and such a story puts more pressure on the protagonist, I would even say it is too "stuffed" and at some point I started to draw parallels between it and Juliana´s story.
I also agree on everything noted earlier and just want to add a little to that.
The two major points in Liana´s comment were also of a great interest to me, I want to note the difference between the Gaimar´s description of the magical fire, which narrowed to Havelok (aka Cuaran) probably didn´t know about it himself, and his first night with his wife is him falling with his face down on the bed and falling asleep, and she only finds out later, and he completely ignores her question and never goes back to the topic. And after that she has the profecy dream.
In the other version, she has the dream first and then sees the magical flame (also ignored by Cuaran).
In both, the flame is meant to be a sort of Checkov´s gun, only meant to be revealed at the very end (or at least it feels like it).
And ME version has an immediate divine explanation to it, comforting Goldeboru, and there is also a dream.
Dream is symbolic, but it is also altered, as well as the signs pointing on the Havelok´s origin and his right to claim the thrown (which in the ME version literally the cross on his body).
In reply to Valeriia Kliuieva

Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Helena Znojemská -
I'm especially intrigued by your comment concerning the "dramatized telling" of the ME version, which you seemed to view as suppressing the patterning (Gaimar's traditional plot). We will look at that in the online session.
We will also discuss your other suggestion - that about the ME text's affinities with hagiography. It's a very perceptive remark.
Concerning the flame and the dream I'm afraid you confused the chronology in Gaimar.
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Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Hana Hájková -
I agree with many points mentioned, mostly with the comment about Havelok's childhood in the ME version. This addition brings compassion and has a certain effect on the readers. It connects the story with emotions, retaliation, and it's more emotions-oriented let's say. Also, the violence, blood, torturing, and its vivid descriptions make the ME version even more like a fantastic-story-telling-style. In contrast to the Gaimar version which is shorter and gives us mostly the facts and outcomes...it's more straightforward and goes right to important facts and events...which makes it a little bit unclear maybe. I read the ME version plus the Havlok other versions first so I knew a lot but without all of this background and inf, the Gaimar version seems a little bit rushed and abrupt.

In the ME version, the Havelok's foster parents go from money-wanting killers to kind and supportive foster parents.
The sudden change of behavior is in both versions...when people find out that Havelok is the truthful heir, they "drop" everything and become loyal subjects. But especially in the ME version, the foster parents are somehow peculiar....they want to kill him and get the money and land but then they want to help him even though the young Havelok has no money or land (it goes back to the true-heir-power that is notable in both version)...also, later on when he eats a lot they just send him away...basically throw him away and told him to work it out because he is just too big and hungry for them.
Also, probably a truly irrelevant thing, but I noticed that the ME version talks about food and hunger a lot...it highlights it quite often.

Both versions mention the possible danger of rape...but the ME version talks about it and somehow implies the danger of this possibility quite often.
In reply to Hana Hájková

Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Helena Znojemská -
I'm curious about your perception of Gaimar's account as unclear and confusing. Could you put your finger on where this happens?
I just have to vindicate Havelok's foster parents - they send him away because of the famine, or at least that's what Grim says ;-)
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Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Danila Gudkov -

   As per usual, I would like to point out that Gaimar's version is overall more sensible of two. To begin with,in it Havelock's wife is a much better character, simply because she loves him for who he is as a man and offers him support and wise council, whereas for Goldeboru the most important quality in a man is his noble status and her love for Havelock is based on his impending crowning and his restoration of her status. As mentioned by Hana, in ME version Havelock's caretakers initially all too willing to kill him, with the woman cracking his skull beforehand despite being told to protect him as if he was her husband (which makes me wonder just how dysfunctional  marriages are in ME version). This brings into attention the fact that in ME version social status is much more important for all the characters, except Havelock himself.

   The theme of honor is also more prominent yet complicated in ME version. On the one hand, the villains betray their oaths and kill/abuse their charges. No other noble, in both countries no less, reacts to that despite the fact that they are aware of all wrongdoings and the villains only get their power because of their ill advice. On the other hand, once Havelock is revealed as a righteous ruler he immediately gains loyalty of his subjects. Gaimar's version is more practical in this regard; the noble have no reason to act until after the righteous king returns. Funnily enough, king Arthur, the epitome of chivalry and just ruler, is the unseen antagonist only in Gaimar's version.

   The Narrator is much more passionate in ME version, although he tends to go overboard with his curses and ignores the common sense when that happens. On the other hand Gaimar is impersonal in his narrative. Gaimar's version of the story also puts less emphasis on the destiny and lacks Havelock's development  as a character whereas in ME version Havelock truly suffers before he regains the throne.

In reply to Danila Gudkov

Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Helena Znojemská -
You seem to agree with the others on the ME version's emphasis on Havelok (the way you put it, it almost sounds like a bildungsroman), underscored by the narrator's involved telling.
On the other hand you see little of this care devoted to working out the other characters (so that they act inconsistently or are not convincing in their role - Goldeboruh) and motivation in the plot (the initially successful, unresisted traitors) - would that be an effect of "highligting the familiar pattern", the same impulse that emphasizes the destiny?
I'd like to return to this idea of character development in the online session.
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Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Michaela Válková -
Havelok seems to me to be the most confusing set of stories which we have read so far. They contain a lot of adventures, characters, mistaken identities and, perhaps most confusingly, altered names. The versions of the text also differ from each other very significantly.

Many of the differences have already been mentioned. I particularly agree with Hana and her point about Havelok’s childhood.

Gaimar’s version seems to be structured as a chronicle, especially at the beginning. It contains a lot of characters whose lives appear to be detailed as if in a chronicle entry. This pattern gets slightly broken when Havelok (Cuheran at this point) does not know what to do with his wife – in modern terms, it seemed to me to serve as almost a comic relief moment, thought it might also serve to emphasise some personality trait of Havelok’s, though I am not sure which one. The ME version, on the other hand, seems to be more brutal (as was already mentioned). In terms of structure, there are two story arcs – the English and the Danish one – to me, they seem to be more distinctly described than in Gaimar’s version.
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Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Dominika Kecsöová -
It seems that the events depicted in various versions of Havelok remain more or less the same, and what changes is their order and the amount of detail the narrator provides. For example, Gaimar´s version begins in England (and is mostly, so to speak, from English perspective), while the lay begins in Denmark with the history of Havelok´s father. The English version then lays out “origin-stories” both of Havelok and Goldeboru and highlights the fact that they were both unjustly disinherited. When it comes to romance elements, I would say that there is once again the idea of “genetic knight” or “genetic king” (nature over nurture) that we noticed in Ywain: since Havelok´s lineage is so noble, he is described as strong, beautiful, and courteous (even though he grew up as a fisherman´s son). The stories reveal a good deal of anxiety about usurpation and heritage, they are practically entirely about the re-instatement of the original lineage. In most cases, Havelok proves his identity in three ways: physically, by being naturally strong and a knightly character, supernaturally, by the light emanating from his mouth (and possibly also the birthmark) and, so to speak, “genetically”, since he is the only one capable of blowing his father´s horn.

Gaimar´s version itself contains plenty of romance elements: not only the supernatural markings of the king, the horn-blowing, and Havelok´s perfection, but also the romantic love between Havelok and Argentille. On the other hand, there are no ridiculous oaths to be misused (like marrying Argentille/Goldeboru to the “highest” man in kingdom) and the version seems to be more “political” (and certainly lacks the overblown description of battles).
The ME version is less straight-forward and goes more in depth in many scenes (like the afore-mentioned history of Havelok and Goldeboru). The one marked difference, however, is the dream scene: in the other versions, Argentille has a metaphoric dream, that is also a prophecy about Havelok´s future; in the ME Havelok, the dream morphs into an angel´s voice, clearly stating Havelok´s past and prophesying his future.
In reply to Dominika Kecsöová

Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Helena Znojemská -
An aggregate response to Michaela and Dominika:
Thanks, Dominika for a fine systematization of the varying perspectives of the individual versions. From what you write it would seem that the Lai is predominantly Havelok's story, Gaimar installs an English perspective (is it sustained, though? Michaela seems to think otherwise) while ME makes it a story of both Havelok and Goldeboru as two dispossessed heirs brought low and coming into their own again (again, there are dissenting voices, see Danila). Nature over nurture is especially present in the Anglo-Norman versions, whereas it's a bit more complicated in the ME one (the nature takes some time to start shining through the nurture).
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Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Adéla Zeimannová -
I have to agree with what has already been said by others, the two most notable differences seem to be the origin (childhood) stories and the recognition scenes. In general, the ME version seems much more dramatized, the emphasis on honour is much more visible, Havelok is destined to restore his rightful inheritance of the kingdom, portrayed through his “special” characteristics (strength, honesty/nobility, fire/cross mark). The narrator also incites pity from the audience with scenes like dying kings, or suffering dying children, adding to its tragedy.
There are many romance-like motifs that the others have noted in the ME (honour - oaths, heritage, love, manners, test of integrity, etc.), however, a little unusual in a romance narrative seems the author’s emphasis on Havelok’s character as vulnerable. He is shown to be a destitute child, vulnerable in the scene where his sisters get killed, etc., none of the usual noble, aristocratic identity = invincibility, social supremacy. Havelok seems to be the hero of the people, living the life of a commoner till his identity is revealed. Another a bit unusual part of the story is that it is not Havelok personally who executes revenge on the traitors.
The traitors are condemned not only by the characters themselves, but also by the author who enjoys a quite vocal commentary not only on the traitors but on all events (“Curse anyone who cares; he was false!” “He was worse than Satan and deserved hanging,” “No wonder she was afraid.” “These men had been raised well! etc.)
Gaimar’s version generally seems more fact-driven, rather than adventure driven. We are given less details, it is much more straight-forward. I would agree with Michaela that most of it appears as a chronicle entry.
In reply to Adéla Zeimannová

Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Helena Znojemská -
Thanks for this alternative view of the nature/nurture issue - this inevitably raises the question, what is it that the story actually explores, what does it do?
I like the fact-driven / adventure driven contrast. Could you explain at greater length during the online session?
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Re: week 10: the story of Havelok

by Kateřina Mudrová -
I agree that, overall, the main storyline remains almost the same in all three texts, but each author chose to introduce slight alternation, slightly shifting the main focus of the story. In Gaimar, the introduction does not introduce Havelok as the main protagonist but it is only following the injustice to Argentille, when it is “necessary that God helps” that his identity begins to be revealed. The gradual revelation of his identity and claim to the thrones of Denmark and England is slow and gradual and seems to play the central part of the story, as special attention is given to the dream and its interpretation, Grim and his wives’ decision as what to reveal, and new tests are added to prove Havelok’s identity. The final events seem only as a natural outcome of the preceding events and formal conclusion of the story. As it is suggested that Havelok’s right to the thrones is God given, it is never suggested that his pursuit could fail.
Manning’s text, as the shortest of the three, follows the basic storyline, but choosing to again slightly alter the circumstances of Grim’s and Havelok’s escape from Denmark. Some of the minor characters, such as Havelok’s sister’s, have been omitted and the focus on Havelok’s extraordinary strength etc. is diminished. It seems that in this particular case, the greatest attention is put on the flame (the importance of which is suggested already in the opening lines) and the dream, which seemed to be the central and most detailed part of the story.
As has been mentioned before, the ME text chooses to depart from the previous two most significantly. The flame and the dream are no longer the central points of the story, what distinguishes Havelok the most as a person of royal lineage is his extraordinary strength and striking resemblance to his late father. As the text is intended to be performed rather than read, it employs various dramatized elements which aim to connect with and capture the attention of the listening audience; direct speech and various exclamation, such as well as comments upon what the appropriate reaction would be (Curse anyone who cares, he was false). The language of the English Havelok is more expressive, the characters (we are given names of many which were nameless in the prev. versions, such as Havelok’s step brothers) and scenes more detailed and graphic.
There also seems to be a much clearer distinction between good or evil (Aethelwold was the best king who ever lived, and so was Havelok, the two traitor’s, Godard and Godrich are essentially the embodiment of pure evil (worse than Satan), all of the combat and battle scenes seem to happen on significantly larger scale (Havelok doesn’t combat six men but sixty, the final battle is not won by the queen’s trick, but by the strength and skill of Havelok’s men). A significant attention is put on how the traitor’s were punished and the righteous one’s rewarded, which can probably be linked back to the dramatic/audience focused quality of the text.
The ME version chooses to alter the dream scene, both changing the story into a more easily interpretable one and replacing Haveloc’s/ a hermit’s council with an angelic revelation. The ME version overall contains more religious scenes and references, and as Liana has mentioned the notion of the crucial role of the divine will within the story is quite prominent, but I’m not entirely sure whether it is because the author wanted to draw more attention to its importance, or whether its simply an extension.