Medieval Romance

5 key features to recognize romance as a literary genre 

  • Definition
  • Etymology
  • Sources
  • Features
  • Classification

Pronunciation

/rəʊˈmæns/

Definition

Romance is a genre, developing from the mid-14th century, which deals with love or heroic adventures both in prose or verse form. The plots are set in distant times and distant places, remote from everyday life. The supernatural element is present in many medieval romances.

Etymology

Medieval romance appears in England in a time period (1066-1485, from Anglo-Saxon rule to Norman Feudalism) in which a massive cultural shift was occurring, two languages affected the Anglo-Saxon tongue: Latin - the language of the clergy and the law - and French - the language of the upper class.

The word romance originates from the French word romanz. It defined works written in languages deriving from Latin. It indicated verse narrative in a vernacular language (from Latin "romanice scribere" to write in a Romance language, a language derived from Latin).

Then the word romanz was applied to works written in a vernacular language in general. Later it evolved to signify works telling stories about love and chivalry.

Sources

Romances were a logical production of medieval times. Romancers put on the page their highest conception of greatness: a king or a knight, like Arthur or Charlemagne. But they created a new Arthur and a new Charlemagne. They took the classical Charlemagne and knights together with their arms and armours and mingled them with superstitions and myths.

The romances caught the popular imagination. The figures of Arthur and his Knights became models. The ideas of chivalry contained in romances began to influence real life.

Features

The plot is usually long and presents many incidents, adventures, battles, exploits. The narrative is quite vague and so is the setting (in time and in place). The characters are scarcely delineated. The heroes are good or bad knights. The female characters are always beautiful and inclined to love. The style is simple and direct, with any trace of wit or of humour.

Classification

Romances may be classified as follows:

  1. The matter of France: romances related to Charlemagne and his 12 knights,
  2. The matter of Rome: romances telling about classical and mythological heroes,
  3. The matter of Britain: romances connected with Arthur and his knights, like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Le Morte Arthur.

LnT suggests:

LnT A fine example of Medieval romance is Le Morte d'Arthur  by Thomas Malory.

LnT A short documentary showing manuscripts containing medieval romances with very valuable summaries of different romances: 

LnT A documentary on how historical facts became legends and a good summary of Le Roman de la Rose:   https://youtu.be/9dPI1hW7mrM

LnT Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, an example of medieval romance.

https://youtu.be/t855W1rFYEo

LnT Mark Twain wrote an interesting short story named A Medieval Romance . The story is about characters obsessed by their own greed. 

https://www.archive.org/download/shortstory38_0907_librivox/shortstory038_medievalromance_gam.mp3

LnT The story of King Arthur and his knights has been seminal also in recent times. A British surreal comedy group called Monty Python created a movie entitled Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They used the most famous episodes from the Arthurian matter capturing the comic aspect. Here is an example of their talent:  https://youtu.be/886hNDgwfM