What were the Metrical Romances?

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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A metrical romance is otherwise known as romantic poetry. The poem tells a story in verse form and depicts the adventures of romantic poetry. These texts highlighted chivalric periods in history focusing upon civility and manners. Examples of these types of work typically show the heroic deeds of a single knight on a quest to win the favor of a woman and the honor placed upon him by his king.

Historically, the metrical romance dates back to the Middle Ages (500 AD). The texts which exemplify the metrical romance are listed below. This is by no means an exhaustive list--it simply offers the more famously known metrical romances (or romantic poetry).

Sir Beves

Sir Orfeo

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Flores and Blancheflour

Faerie Queen

Sir Degare

Sir Gowther

As a textual example of a metrical romance below is a link to the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight summary.  This link will provide you with the opportunity to examine the summary of a text which exemplifies the genre.


 

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Popular among the nobility and upper crust during the Renaissance, metrical romances are non-rhyming prose poems that tell a story, usually concluding with a happy ending. Metrical romances do not necessarily include a love story, although some tell tales of courtly love. The stories often focus on knights, including their adventures and deeds, and other heroes with exemplary moral characters. Stories that fit this description but do not feature a hero are called metrical tales, not metrical romances. 

Metrical romances were originally written in Old French and later translated into German and English, and they were brought to England by the Normans. Once transported onto English soil, they became very popular. An example is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Many of these works were rediscovered by English writers in the 19th century. For example, Joseph Ritson's Ancient English Metrical Romances, published in 1802, involved the author's laborious transcription of old manuscripts, including Ywain and Gawain and Sir Orpheo. 

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Metrical Romance is another dual term for Chivalric Romance.  (So, as you can see, I have a little different opinion than the educator above.) Whether written in prose or verse form, Metrical Romances were incredibly popular in Medieval Europe.  Wikipedia has a really nice summation when it reveals the " emphasis on heterosexual love and courtly manners distinguishes it from ... other kinds of epic, in which masculine military heroism predominates."  Therefore it is important to stress that a Metrical Romance has more to do with courtly love and chivalry than it does with heroism.

My very favorite of the Metrical Romances is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Although I can't say that courtly love is the "focus" of this Metrical Romance, I would say that the interesting relationship between Sir Gawain and Lady Bertilak absolutely does have to do with both honor, courtly love, and chivalry.  You see, Lady Bertilak tries to tempt Sir Gawain every single night.  It is a pickle for Gawain because medieval courtesy asks that Gawain succumb to this lady (the interim host while Lord Bertilak is away); however, medieval chivalry asks that he honor the Lord of the House (who is not yet at home).  Sir Gawain decided not to make love, but to at least give a kiss.  Sir Gawain then equally kisses Lord Bertliak when he returns.

Of all the things that men may heed
'Tis most of love they sing indeed.

Thus, it is especially fun when Metrical Romance actually conflicts with the chivalric code!

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