Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-x24gv Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-22T19:19:40.629Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

1 - Medieval Romance Mischief

from I - Romance Disruptions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 October 2019

Neil Cartlidge
Affiliation:
Professor in the Department of English Studies at the University of Durham.
Get access

Summary

This chapter is about the discomforts involved in reading medieval romance: the edginess, unpredictability and discord that at least some medieval romance texts seem to cultivate. That might seem like an unpromising line of enquiry. After all, there are many general accounts of romance as a genre that describe it as a cultural product of a deeply reassuring kind, fundamentally patterned and predictable, ideologically conservative, morally normative and unashamedly aimed at the provision of certain kinds of wish-fulfilment fantasy. Perhaps the classic version of this view is the one offered by Northrop Frye, in his influential Anatomy of Criticism. His description of literary romance begins with the assertion that: ‘The romance is the nearest of all literary forms to the wishfulfilmentdream.’ Frye goes on to argue that romance is fundamentally ‘dialectical’, by which he means that as an imaginative mode it typically divides the world into poles of good and evil, with the result that, so far as characterisation goes:

subtlety and complexity are not much favored. Characters tend to be either for or against the quest. If they assist it they are idealized as simply gallant or pure; if they obstruct it they are caricatured as simply villainous or cowardly. Hence every typical character in romance tends to have his moral opposite confronting him, like black and white pieces in a chess game.

These elemental tendencies that Frye perceives in romance suit his larger argument, which is that romance itself is elemental: a primal and persistent mode, a kind of cultural building-block and, in effect, a literary archetype. Indeed, his account of romance is designed to demonstrate the validity of what he calls ‘archetypical’ criticism, and the implication of this distinctly Jungian language is that romance is a structural element in human culture because it is also a structural element in the human mind. Certainly, of all literary genres, romance is perhaps the one most prone to being treated as if were some sort of psychological condition or neurosis: a form of discourse all the more meaningful for expressing all sorts of things that are not entirely under the control of those who write it, or indeed of those who read it.

Type
Chapter
Information
Romance Rewritten
The Evolution of Middle English Romance. A Tribute to Helen Cooper
, pp. 27 - 48
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×