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The story of the medieval Romance on the Iberian Peninsula is a bit more complicated than that we read in traditional histories of Spanish or Catalan literature. Hebrew and Arabic authors also wrote texts that could be classified as romances some years before the Castilian Grail and Amadís. These authors adapted the motifs of Arthurian or chivalric romance, combining them with the literary tropes and conventions familiar to them from Hebrew and Arabic traditions. Others, such as the anonymous author of Cavallero Zifar (Castilian, anonymous, ca. 1300) and Ramon Llull in his ecclesisastical Romance, Blaquerna (Catalan), transform the conventions of romance to suit their own ecclesiastical and spiritual purposes. In this way, if we imagine romance in Iberia less as a stable genre with a canon and more as a set of conventions and tropes that authors recombined in novel ways, we see it as a literary practice that crosses languages and religious groups, but that in some ways shares chivalric and literary values across these differences.
This chapter demonstrates the seriousness and the versatility of the romance genre in the hands of two important late medieval English writers. Examples from the writings of fourteenth-century poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, and fifteenth-century translator and editor, Thomas Malory, reveal romance to be a fictionalizing genre capable of probing serious matters of broad political, social, ethical, or aesthetic concern. The range and versatility of the genre, moreover, offered these writers crucial opportunities for creative and editorial experimentation.
The Tudors’ Welsh ancestry and doubtful claim to the English throne rendered them conscious successors of King Arthur, and the mythology surrounding Arthur and Merlin became central to the construction of Tudor power from 1485 onwards. Accusations and rumours of magic were rife at the court of Henry VIII and played a key role in the downfall of Anne Boleyn as queen, but allegations of magic also swirled around Cardinal Wolsey in Henry’s early reign. However, it was not until the reign of Elizabeth that a Tudor monarch embraced her ‘Arthurian’ identity to the extent of seeking the advice of a latter-day Merlin, a role eagerly fulfilled by John Dee. At the high point of Dee’s influence a magically inspired idea of a British empire briefly influenced official policy under a queen so fascinated by the occult arts that she personally practised alchemy. At the same time, the Italian religious exile (and possible spy) Giordano Bruno saw himself as an ‘occult missionary’, bringing his particular brand of Hermetic magic to England.
Kazuo Ishiguro has suggested that his work of medieval fantasy, The Buried Giant (2015), draws on a “quasi-historical” King Arthur, in contrast to the Arthur of legend. This article reads Ishiguro’s novel against the medieval work that codified the notion of an historical King Arthur, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (c. 1139). Geoffrey’s History offered a largely fictive account of the British past that became the most successful historiographical phenomenon of the English Middle Ages. The Buried Giant offers an interrogation of memory that calls such “useful” constructions of history into question. The novel deploys material deriving from Geoffrey’s work while laying bear its methodology; the two texts speak to each other in ways sometimes complementary, sometimes deconstructive. That Ishiguro’s critique can be applied to Geoffrey’s History points to recurrent strategies of history-making, past and present, whereby violence serves as a mechanism for the creation of historical form.
This chapter contends that forgery should be considered a form of historical writing. It presents evidence to show that, in the Middle Ages, forgeries not only frequently constituted significant parts of archives and other resources for the writing of history, but that forgeries themselves were often the products of historical research on the part of their authors. If forgeries are considered one end of a spectrum of historical writing (rather than the binary opposite of the true historical document) then a nuanced understanding of the relationships between forgeries and genres such as hagiography and the medieval chronicle becomes possible. After discussion of these relationships, the chapter concludes with an examination of the criticism of forgeries during the Middle Ages. Forgeries were often denounced; yet they could also survive denunciation, not because of a lack of critical sense on the part of medieval audiences, but because of the importance of their function as historical writing.
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