Layamon’s Brut, which John Strong Perry Tatlock describes as “the nearest thing we have to a traditional racial Epic,” is the first major literary work in Middle English, and the first version in English of the stories of King Arthur and of King Lear. Assessing Layamon’s achievement is difficult because his Brut is a much expanded translation of Wace’s Roman de Brut (c. 1155), itself an Anglo-Norman translation and expansion of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae(c. 1136; History of the Kings of Britain, variant version before 1155; vulgate version 1718). Consequently, it is necessary first to briefly describe these earlier versions and the influence they are known to have exerted.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in Latin in the early twelfth century, constructed a pseudohistory of the British (as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon) kings of England, beginning with the legendary Brutus (a grandson of Aeneas), continuing through the celebrated reign of King Arthur, and ending with the last British kings in the seventh century. The primary effect of Geoffrey’s History of the Kings of Britain was to stimulate international interest in the legends of Arthur, which previously had been well known only to the Welsh and Breton peoples. Geoffrey’s History of the Kings of Britain and the Prophetiae Merlini (before 1135; The Prophecies of Merlin, 1966) were translated in places as far away as Iceland. Centuries later, in Elizabethan times, Geoffrey’s History of the Kings of Britain would be rediscovered by the Tudor kings, who wished to stress their ancient Welsh claims to the throne. As part of this new...
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Bryan, Elizabeth J. Collaborative Meaning in Medieval Scribal Culture: The Otho Layamon. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. Before print technology, every book was unique. Two manuscripts of the “same” text could present that text very differently, depending on scribes, compilers, translators, annotators, and decorators. The author questions whether it is appropriate to read such books, including Layamon, as products of a single author and finds cultural attitudes that valued communal aspects of manuscript texts: for example, a view of the physical book as connecting all who held it. Bibliographical references, index.
Donahue, Dennis. Lawman’s “Brut,” an Early Arthurian Poem: A Study of Middle English Formulaic Composition. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991. Examines the formulas and themes in the Brut, arguing that Layamon made artistic use of formulas, themes, and imagery in revising his Anglo-Norman source and creating darker portraits of Vortiger, Uther, and, especially, King Arthur. Notes and Queries comments that “undergraduates will certainly find the initial chapter on the development of the Parry/Lord theory most useful; the material presented in the appendices and analysed in the second chapter remains as valuable as it was fifteen years ago; and above all, it draws attention to the complexity of...
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