Readers accustomed to the tightly constructed plots of modern novels and narrative poems may find the plethora of action, the wandering story line, the frequent digressions, and the disregard for verisimilitude that characterize Bevis of Hampton strange, and even disturbing. The hero of this thirteenth century metrical narrative is able to slay men and monsters alike with virtual impunity; a one-man army, he appears invincible against forces considerably larger and often better armed. He engages frequently in adventures that can only be classified as fantastic. His unswerving devotion to his beloved Josyan and to his Christian faith survive every test. There seems to be nothing he cannot accomplish to rectify the wrongs done to him and to his family.
Such are the elements of the medieval romance, and Bevis of Hampton is typical of the genre. Its appearance in numerous manuscript versions and in a number of languages, as well as its presence among the first printed texts in England in the late fifteenth century, attest to its popularity among audiences for over three centuries. The poem is one of the most important of those that celebrate Britain in describing the exploits of heroes such as King Horn, Guy of Warwick, and King Arthur and the knights of his Round Table. While most versions treat Bevis as an English hero, some scholars have noted parallels between his story and that of a number of Continental figures; it may be that earlier...
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