Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
For Layamon, the history of the British people begins—on the authority of Geoffrey of Monmouth—with the fall of Troy. The flight of Aeneas and his father and son to the Italian peninsula, where he establishes a Roman kingdom, is recalled from The Aeneid. Layamon then follows medieval Celtic tradition in telling of a great-grandson of Aeneas who, exiled from Italy, goes to Greece to unite and free the scattered Trojan people, whom he takes to the British Isles. He names them, in fact, after himself, for his name is Brutus—the “Brut” of the title. Landing in Britain, Brutus and his people find the island populated by giants, whom they defeat and slay.
The remaining 16,095 lines of Brut is an episodic succession of chronicles of the descendants of Brutus, some told in more detail than others. The nearly eighty kings from Brutus to Julius Caesar’s invasion in 55 b.c.e. cannot be substantiated historically, but many of them are well remembered in later treatments of prehistoric British legend. For example, Gorboduc, remembered tragically for dividing his kingdom among his sons and watching it disintegrate in civil war is celebrated in the pre-Shakespearean tragedy that bears his name. The Leir (Lear) of Shakespeare’s tragedy is also described in some detail in Brut.
By the time Caesar’s arrival brings Layamon’s account into historical view, the poet is nearly one-quarter...
(The entire section is 1626 words.)
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