There have been numerous transformations of the story of Guy of Warwick since the thirteenth century to suit changing tastes or commercial necessity. What has remained constant is the hero’s development from a self-absorbed, worldly person, to a mature individual, to a near saint. Clearly a patchwork composition, with diverse romance motifs following each other in loose sequence, Guy of Warwick has many themes that could easily be eliminated or transposed. This patchwork character, according to some critics, actually contributes to the epic’s popularity.
Inventive poets who worked on versions of Guy of Warwick throughout the centuries put the work through many transformations in response to audience taste. For instance, the battle descriptions, long established in French romance, are modified to harmonize with English tradition. Elizabethans found their greatest interest was in the English history. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, children happily read it as a fairy tale, with Guy’s fantastic accomplishments receiving emphasis.
Perhaps in real life many a war-weary hero must have similarly renounced the world. Some critics believe, however, that the larger-than-life legend of Guy of Warwick was initially the product of monastic imagination at work to suit the religious orientation of the clergy. Many editorial changes can be observed in the second half of the epic poem, which tells of Guy’s spiritual...
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