Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1054
Bevis of Hampton c. Fourteenth century
(Also known as Sir Beves of Hampton and Beuve of Hamtoun.) Medieval English romance.
Among the many Middle English romances still in existence, Bevis of Hampton is one of the best known. Originally a French chanson de geste, or epic poem, it was...
(The entire section contains 53589 words.)
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- Critical Essays
Bevis of Hampton c. Fourteenth century
(Also known as Sir Beves of Hampton and Beuve of Hamtoun.) Medieval English romance.
Among the many Middle English romances still in existence, Bevis of Hampton is one of the best known. Originally a French chanson de geste, or epic poem, it was enlarged and transformed into a celebrated romance by an unknown English poet in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century. Orally composed and transmitted, Bevis comprises 4,620 lines, of which the first 474 are in tail-rhymed, six-line stanzas and the remainder in short rhyming couplets. It combines exotic settings and familiar ones as the action moves from England to Albania, from Arabia to Germany, and its final section is set in London. The tone is generally serious, though there are a number of scenes featuring grim and sometimes indelicate humor. The narrative is complex, building on repetitions and amplifications of traditional epic elements, including battles, betrayals, and imprisonments.
Commentators frequently assert that Bevis of Hampton was undoubtedly one of the most popular of all Medieval romances. Evidence of its popularity lies in the unusually large number of manuscript versions and copies of early printing that have survived. The most famous of these is the Auchinleck manuscript (Edinburgh), usually dated around 1330-1340; though it is the oldest English manuscript, and its lineation is the one most critics use in their citations, scholars do not believe the Auchinleck version is as close to the original as some others. Two fourteenth-century manuscripts are also extant, at Caius College, Cambridge, and the British Museum, but significant portions of the poem are missing from both of these. The complete text of Bevis survives in two fifteenth-century manuscripts, one in University College, Cambridge, and the other in the Royal Library of Naples. One leaf is lost from the Bevis manuscript in the Chetham Library, Manchester, but some scholars believe this version—also from the fifteenth century—is the most authentic. The only modern edition of Bevis is Eugen Kölbing's, prepared for the Early English Text Society and published over the period from 1885 to 1894.
The earliest form of the Bevis saga, Beuve de Hantone (also cited as Beuves de Hanstone), appeared in France during the twelfth century, and from there the story spread throughout Europe and the British Isles. At least six versions of the tale are extant in Italy, where the hero is called Bovo. It was also refashioned for audiences in Germany, Scandinavia, Ireland, and Wales. Scholars generally agree that the English Bevis is based on the Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone, probably composed around 1200. To his original source, the English poet added three important episodes: the hero's clash with a group of Saracen warriors on Christmas Day, his struggle against the dragon of Cologne, and the pitched battle between Bevis and the citizens of London.
Many of the narrative elements in Bevis of Hampton are based on motifs found in folk tales, legends, and other romances, particularly the commonplace fable of the young hero who, driven into exile, wins fame in foreign lands and returns home to reclaim his patrimony and carry on the noble name of his family. Bevis is the son of the earl of Southampton, who late in life marries a woman who despises him. She has him murdered, marries the man who killed him, and sells their son into slavery. Bevis becomes part of the pagan household of the King of Armenia, whose daughter Josian falls deeply in love with him—though Bevis will have nothing to do with her until she converts to Christianity. Over the following years, Bevis engages in a series of perilous adventures, including conflicts with Saracens, giants, lions, and a dragon; he is also imprisoned for an extended period, returns to England to kill his father's murderer and witness his mother's death, and repeatedly endures the treachery of trusted aides and allies. Eventually, after Josian has been forced into two hateful marriages, she and Bevis are wed, and she gives birth to twin boys. In the concluding portion of the poem, Bevis and his sons become involved in a bitter civil dispute in England, narrowly winning a stunning victory over a mob of misguided London citizens.
Twentieth-century commentators have compared Bevis with other Middle English romances, analyzed its structure and principal characters, and evaluated its treatment of political issues. Scholars judge that Bevis is more fully developed in terms of literary form than some other romances of the period—for example, King Horn and Havelok the Dane. Many critics have pointed out that Bevis has some noteworthy parallels with Guy of Warwick, another extremely popular medieval saga, though several of them have also remarked that Guy is much closer than Bevis to the genre known as courtly or chivalric romance. Recently commentators have begun to challenge the traditional opinion that Bevis is a loosely constructed series of disparate episodes. Both Dieter Mehl and Sheila Spector have asserted that it has a unified design and was composed by a self-conscious artist who understood how to link together diverse narrative strands. But whereas Mehl has argued that the poem's dramatic unity stems from the actions of Bevis, Spector has maintained that it is Josian's development as a character that determines the formal order of the poem. Modern critics have generally viewed Bevis as both an epic hero and a defender of Christianity, though they have disagreed about whether he is more of a courtly knight or a popular hero. The only other character who has drawn close attention is Josian. In 1993 Geraldine Barnes evaluated the poem's portrayal of this sorely tried heroine, emphasizing her ingenuity as well as her moral strength, and noting that she continually devises clever strategies—both to gain the love of Bevis and to subvert the plans of villains who threaten her. Barnes has also assessed the significance of political issues in the final section of the romance, as has Susan Crane in her 1986 essay on Bevis. In Crane's estimation, Bevis of Hampton is deeply concerned with the political tensions that marked the late middle ages, when feudalism was in decline and a nationalist ideology was emerging to challenge the old order. This conflict, she has noted, reaches full expression when Bevis and his sons are assailed by the citizens of London acting in defense of the principle of monarchy.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 13
The Romance of Sir Beues of Hamtoun (edited by Eugen Kölbing) 1885-94
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6135
SOURCE: "The Contents of the Romance" in The Romance of Sir Beues of Hamptoun, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1885, pp. xlv-lxvi, vii-xliii.
[In the following excerpt, Kölbing provides a detailed summary of the narrative of Bevis of Hampton, generally following the plot line in the Auchinleck manuscript but drawing upon other texts as well.]
… The story [of Sir Beues of Hamtoun] begins with our hero's father, Guy, Earl of South-Hampton, a most strong and valiant man, who unfortunately does not marry till he is old, exhausted and worn out by his battles and warlike expeditions. Then he makes up his mind to marry the daughter of the King of Scotland, a beautiful young lady, with whom the Emperor of Almaine, named Devoun, had been in love before. Her father refuses Devoun her hand, and gives her to Sir Guy. The result of this marriage is a pretty and bold boy, who receives the name Beves (1. 1-54).
After his birth, the lady feels unhappy at not having got a young and vigorous husband, instead of her old one, and she resolves to procure his death. She sends a messenger to the Emperor of Almaine, requiring him to come over to England on the first of May, go into a forest at the sea-side, and kill her husband, whom she will send there. When he has done this, he shall enjoy her love. The messenger promises to fulfil her wish (1. 55-108).
He gets to Almaine, and finds the Emperor at Rifoun, and gives him the message of his lady. The Emperor is very well pleased, makes the messenger a rich present, and bids him tell his mistress that he is entirely at her disposal. This the man does. On the first of May the Earl's wife pretends to be ill, and says she hopes to be cured by the flesh of a wild boar, which is in the forest at the sea-side (1. 109-192).
Thither her husband rides, armed only with a shield and sword, and accompanied by three attendants. He meets the Emperor, who has a large retinue. After a short conversation the Emperor throws Guy from his horse; but the Earl gets up again, draws his sword, and massacres many of his enemy's troops. But his own three men being killed, Guy kneels to the Emperor, and offers him all his possessions except his wife and son. The other refuses this demand, and strikes off Guy's head, which he sends to the lady, who promises him to become his wife the following day (1. 193-294).
Beves grieves enormously at his father's death, reproaches his mother with the murder, and calls her a whore. She boxes his ear so that he falls down; and in consequence, his fosterer Saber takes Beves away to his own house. Being desired by the lady to murder the boy, Saber does not refuse; but, in order to deceive her, he kills a pig, sprinkles the garments of Beves with its blood, and sends him, in the dress of a poor herd, to the field to tend his sheep. Saber also promises the youth that,. in a fortnight, he will remove him to the court of an earl, and, when his education is finished, will help him to get back his patrimony (1. 295-378).
In the field, Beves hears from his father's palace the sounds of instruments and revelry. He cannot refrain himself, but goes there, staff in hand. As the porter refuses to let him in, and insults him, Beves kills him with one blow on the head, enters the hall, and peremptorily requires the Emperor to give him back his possessions. The Emperor calls him a fool, so Beves hits him three strokes with his club on the head, and he faints away. In spite of the lady's order to seize the boy, the knights let him pass. He repairs to Saber, confesses frankly that he has killed (as he believes) his stepfather, and is earnestly reproached for his imprudence (1. 379-474).
When the lady asks Saber for Beves, he shows her the bloody clothes, but without effect. As she threatens Saber, Beves leaves the secret room where Saber had shut him up, and shows himself fearlessly. His mother has him brought to the shore of the sea, and sold for a large sum to heathen merchants. These sail with Beves to Armenia, and present him to King Ermin, who has a beautiful only daughter, named Josian. Being asked by him for his name and native country, Beves gives Ermin a full reply; but, when the king wants him to turn heathen and to believe in Apolyn, Beves declines that demand positively. Still, the king makes him his chamberlain, and says that, after being knighted, he shall be his ensign-bearer in every battle. The king is very fond of Beves, but nobody at the court dares enter into a contest with him, since he is only fifteen years old (1. 475-584).
On Christmas-day he happens to ride out, accompanied by a number of Saracen knights, one of whom reproaches him for not knowing that it was the festival of the nativity of Christ. Beves has still one trick of Christendom in his mind, that on this day knights are wont to tourney; and he adds, that if he were as strong as his father, he would for God's love gladly undertake to fight against all his companions. The Saracen knights, offended by these words, attack and wound him severely with their swords; but he succeeds in wresting a sword from a heathen, and with that he kills the whole lot of them (1. 585-644).
While Beves retires to his own room to get relief from his wounds, the king, being told what has happened, swears that Beves shall be killed for this deed. But Josian, affirming that he acted only in self-defence, wants her father to allow him to speak for himself, a demand with which he willingly complies. Beves drives away roughly two knights, whom Josian had sent to fetch him; and so she, not at all intimidated by his refusal, makes up her mind to go herself to his room, accompanied by the knights. She does so, and persuades him by her affectionate words to follow her to the king. He, having heard the course of the whole adventure, gives up his wrath, and commands his daughter to do her best to heal Beves. The baths she prepares for him are so effective, that within a very short time he is entirely restored, and as fresh as he was before (1. 645-738).
There was in a neighbouring forest a boar of enormous size, which nobody had been able to kill. One night Beves bethinks himself of this animal, and the next morning he rides out, resolved to kill the boar. Josian sees him and falls in love with him. After a long fight, in the course of which Beves breaks his lance, he at last kills the animal, and cuts off its head (1. 739-836).
On his way to the king, Beves meets with twelve foresters, who intend to kill him. Having left his sword where he slew the boar, he has nothing to defend himself with but a piece of his broken lance.1 With this he kills, not only the steward, but all his men too. This admirable feat is witnessed by Josian, who, in consequence, is utterly tormented by love for Beves. He presents the king with the boar's head (1. 837-908).
Some time afterwards, Brademond, King of Damascus, invades Armenia and demands Josian in marriage; else he will win her in battle and destroy the whole country. Still he is refused. The princess reminds her father of Beves's adventure in the wood, and wants him to knight the youth and make him leader of the Armenian army. The king agrees, and both he and Josian provide Beves with weapons, especially with the sword Morgelai; and finally she gives him the horse Arondel (1. 837-988).
Beves leads his host against the enemy, and himself kills Redefoun, the ensign-bearer of King Brademond. The result of the battle is that the whole host of the latter is destroyed, and the king takes to flight. Two knights of Beves's army, whom Brademond happens to meet on his way, he takes prisoners, but Beves rides after him, and throws him from his horse (1. 989-1040).
Brademond offers to become Beves's liege man; but he declines, refers Brademond to his master, King Ermin; makes him swear to keep the peace with Ermin, and submit to him. When Brademond has done so, Beves lets him go (1. 1041-1068).
Ermin receives the news of his general's victory with the greatest pleasure, and asks Josian to disarm Beves. This she does, and avails herself of this opportunity to tell him that she is deeply in love with him, and that she will die if he does not agree to love her again. When Beves refuses to become her lover, pretending that he is of too low degree to marry a princess, she is angry, and calls him a churl, who is not worthy to be in the company of pretty ladies. Beves is utterly offended, and, after having declared himself to be an earl's son and no churl, he adds, that she shall no more see him, and he retires to the town (1. 1069-1136).
Josian sends her chamberlain Bonefas to Beves, in order to make her peace; but though Beves gives her messenger a precious mantle, he refuses to comply with her wish. So she repairs herself to the apartments of the hero, and wins him by promising to adopt the Christian faith. In confirmation of this atonement he kisses her. Unfortunately the king is wrongly informed by the two knights freed by Beves from Brademond's hands, that he had deflowered his daughter (1. 1137-1218).
The king is very ill-pleased with this intelligence, and, on the advice of these villains, he writes a letter to Brademond about Beves, and orders him to deliver it to the heathen king, without taking with him his sword Morgelay or his horse Arondel, or showing the letter to any one else (1. 1219-1262).
Saber sends out his son Terri, to seek Beves through all accessible foreign countries. In the neighbourhood of Damascus, Beves meets Terni eating his dinner in a meadow, and is invited by him to share his repast, an offer which Beves gladly accepts. After dinner, Terni asks his guest about a child named Beves, and gets the reply that Beves was hanged by the Saracens a few days ago. On hearing this bad news, Terri faints away. When he recovers he wants to read the letter, which he supposes dangerous for the bearer himself, but is refused. Then they separate. Terri tells his father of Beves's death; but Saber, from the Isle of Wight, continues to fight against the Emperor. of Almaine (1. 1263-1344).
Beves pursues his journey towards Damascus, and there meets with a crowd of Saracens, who have just offered a sacrifice to their god Mahoun. Beves kills the priest, and throws the idols into the dirt. Then he addresses King Brademond in a very disrespectful way, and delivers him the letter. Having read it, Brademond orders his men to seize Beves and confine him in a deep dungeon. Here he lies for a long time, miserably fed, and obliged to defend himself against dragons and snakes with a stick, which he found at the prison door (1. 1345-1432).
When Josian asks her father about Beves, he pretends that the hero has returned to England and married the king's daughter there. Suspecting at once that some treason has been committed, when a new lover, King Yvor of Mombraunt, is obtruded on her, Josian does not oppose the marriage, but succeeds in preserving her virginity by a charm. When the appointed time of the marriage approaches, Yvor sends for the Soldan of Babylon and fifteen other vassal kings, to be present at the festivity (1. 1433-1482).
The wedding being solemnized, King Ermin presents his son-in-law with the horse Arondel and the sword Morgelay. But the former gift proves fatal; for, when Yvor mounts the horse, to ride triumphantly to his residence, it throws him so violently that he is near losing his life. From that time Arondel stands in its stable, fettered with iron chains (1. 1483-1534).
Now the story returns to Beves, who has lain for seven years in Brademond's horrible prison. When asleep one night, he is wounded by a flying adder, which he kills with his stick. This wound leaves a scar on his right eyebrow (1. 1535-1574).
One day he prays to Jesus and to Mary for his deliverance out of the dungeon. His two gaolers are so much offended by his prayer, that one of them comes down to murder him; but, instead, Beves kills his assailant with his fist. The other gaoler, who, intending to help his companion, has likewise descended by a rope, is pierced by Beves with the sword of his fellow-gaoler (I. 1575-1634).
After his gaolers are dead, Beves is entirely deprived of the hope of getting food. Three days having elapsed in this way, his prayer is answered, his fetters break, and the great stone on his body gives way. He gains the surface of the pit about midnight, provides himself with weapons and a horse, and, telling the porter that Beves has escaped from prison, he prevails upon the man to open the town gates. Thus he leaves Damascus in order to reach Armenia; but he unfortunately loses his way and rides back to Damascus, where, meanwhile, the news of Beves's flight has been reported to King Brademond. He, much ill-pleased, tells the fifteen kings, his vassals, and wants them to help him fetch Beves back. The first who gets a sight of Beves is King Grander, who possesses a very precious horse, called Trinchefis (1. 1635-1744).
After a long fight, Beves smites off the head of his adversary, mounts Trinchefis, and continues his flight, constantly followed by King Brademond and his vassals, until he comes to a rocky sea-shore, so that he is obliged either to swim over the sea or to fight with the Saracens. Having recommended himself to God in a prayer, he spurs his horse into the water, and Trinchefis is strong enough to bear him to the opposite shore. Though enfeebled by want of food, Beves continues his journey and comes to a castled town. On its tower he sees a lady, whom he beseeches to give him food sufficient for one meal. Though the lady answers that her lord is a giant, and a hater of all Christians, Beves insists upon his demand. The lady announces this to the giant, who seizes a club, rushes out of the door, and asks the stranger where he stole the horse Trinchefis, which had belonged to his brother Grander. Beves confesses, in scornful words, that he has killed him (1. 1745-1880).
Then they fight. After the giant has killed Trinchefis instead of the rider, Beves gets angry; and the end of the combat is, that he breaks the giant's neckbone. He now gets the dinner which he had formerly asked for in vain; then he orders a horse and leaves the castle. Being strengthened by meat and drink, he ardently wishes to meet Brademond and his army, to fight against them (1. 1881-1958).
He continues his journey to Jerusalem, where he confesses his sins to the Patriarch, who enjoins upon him, that he shall never marry a woman unless she is a pure virgin. Having left Jerusalem, Beves makes up his mind to take the road to Armenia; but, being told by a knight, an old friend of his whom he meets on the way, that king Yvor of Mombraunt has married Josian, he resolves upon going there. Having almost reached this rich and brilliant city, Beves exchanges dresses with a poor palmer, who informs him that the king is out hunting, and the queen in her apartment. At the gate he finds many pilgrims who wait for their share of food, which Josian is in the habit of distributing to poor palmers in the middle of the day, for the love of a knight called Sir Beves. Meanwhile, examining the exterior of the castle, Beves hears Josian in a turret complain of the falseness of her lover. Having returned to the gate, he enters with the rest of the poor, gets plenty of food, and in reply to Josian's question, professes to be an intimate friend of Sir Beves, who has told him of a horse, called Arondel, which he wants to see (1. 1959-2146).
The horse, hearing the name of its master, breaks its chains and rushes into the court of the palace. Beves approaches the horse, mounts it, and by that is recognized by Josian. She entreats him to take her home with him, and assures him that she is a pure virgin. Only on this condition does he comply with her wish (1. 2147-2208).
Bonefas, Josian's chamberlain, advises Beves to meet the king when he returns from hunting; and when he is asked for news, to tell King Yvor that his brother, the king of Dabilent, is in great danger of his life (1. 2209-2250).
Beves follows this advice, and pretends to Yvor that he has visited many countries and met everywhere with peace, except in the realm of Dabilent, the king of which is oppressed by his enemies (1. 2251-2280).
King Yvor, when he hears this, resolves at once to depart for Dabilent, to help his brother; and he leaves behind only an old king, named Garcy, to guard the queen. Bonefas contrives to give Garcy a soporific, which makes him sleep for four-and-twenty hours. During this time Beves, accompanied by Bonefas, carries off Josian; but Garcy, on awaking from his sleep, learns by a magic ring what has happened, and pursues the fugitives, though without success, as Bonefas has shown them a cave, in which they take refuge. Next day, whilst Beves is absent to get some venison to eat, two lions enter the cave and kill Bonefas, who most valiantly defends himself and his horse. Fortunately they cannot hurt Josian, for she is, at the same time, a king's daughter, a queen, and a pure virgin. On coming back from hunting, Beves will not let her hold fast one lion, whilst he fights the other, but he attacks both at the same time. First he kills the male lion (1. 2281-2464).
No sooner has he slain the lioness, than they meet with a most horrible giant, called Ascopart, who says he is sent by Garcy to fetch back the queen and to kill Beves. Beves answers that the giant will do neither (1. 2465-2532).
A fight ensues. Ascopart does not succeed in wounding Beves, and, at length, falls down while aiming a mighty blow at him. Beves is about to kill him, but spares his life at the intercession of Josian. The giant, in consequence, agrees to become Beves's page. All three proceed till they reach the sea, where they find a trading vessel, occupied by Saracens. Ascopart drives them out, and carries Beves, Josian, and Arondel into the ship, which bears them to Cologne. The bishop of this town, called Saber Florentin, who happens to be the uncle of Sir Beves, christens Josian, whilst Ascopart cannot be prevailed upon to enter a great font specially constructed for this purpose (1. 2533-2596).
After Josian's baptism, Beves achieves a most dangerous adventure, by killing a dreadful dragon. Two kings, one of Apulia, the other of Calabria, who had warred against one another during their whole life, were after their deaths transformed as a punishment into dragons; and, in this shape, they continue their fighting, until a holy hermit expels them by his prayers. One of them flies to St. Peter's bridge in Rome, where it will lie to the day of judgment; the other goes through Tuscany, Lombardy, and Provence, to the territory of Cologne. Sir Beves, moved by the groans of a knight, who suffers from the poison of this dragon, determines to attack it, attended by Ascopart, who, however, having heard the dragon's voice at some distance, is cowardly enough to go back. Still Beves proceeds alone to fight with the monster. His lance being broken, he attacks it with his sword, and the fight lasts till night. Then, in order to refresh himself, Beves dives into a well, which he has discovered in the neighbourhood (1. 2597-2802).
The fact that a virgin who lived in that country had bathed in the well, had rendered the water so holy that the dragon dares not come near it. After having drunk a gallon of this water, Beves leaves the well and renews his combat with the dragon, which spits so much poison on him, that his body looks like a leper's, and his coat of mail breaks in pieces. At last he tumbles into the well, where he recovers his strength and his health. After saying a prayer, he resumes the fight once more, and finally succeeds in cutting off the dragon's head. He sticks its tongue on his broken lance, and returns to Cologne, where the bishop and the people, who believed the dragon had killed him, receive him most triumphantly (1. 2803-2910).
Beves makes up his mind to go to England, attended by a hundred valiant knights, whom the bishop equips for him, in order to help Saber against his step-father Devoun. As to Josian, he takes his leave of her, and intrusts her to the care of Ascopart (1. 2911-2950).
Having landed in the neighbourhood of Southampton, Beves sends a knight to the Emperor of Almaine, with orders to say that a French knight, named Gerard, has arrived with a hundred men, and is ready to take his part in the war against Saber. In consequence, the Emperor invites Beves to supper, and gives him a very partial account of Beves's youth and of Saber's enmity against himself; Beves replies that if the Emperor will lend him arms and horses, he is willing to assault Saber (1. 2951-3022).
Beves carries both armour and horses to the Isle of Wight, and after having raised a flag with his arms on it, he lands, and is received by Saber with the utmost joy. Then, he instantly orders a messenger to return to Southampton, and to tell the Emperor that the knight who supped with him bore, not the name Gerard, but was Beves, and claims the lordship over Hamtoun. When the Emperor, who is at table, hears this unexpected news, he throws a knife at Sir Beves's ambassador, but misses him and pierces the body of his own son, a misfortune which gives the messenger a welcome opportunity of sneering at him. Sir Beves, when he learns what has happened, laughs, and is very much pleased (1. 3023-3116)."
We return to Josian. In the neighbourhood of Cologne lives an earl named Miles, who is enamoured of her, and wants her to become his sweetheart. When she refuses him, saying that she relies on Ascopart, he forges a letter to that worthy, which he pretends is from Sir Beves, ordering his immediate presence in a castle on an island. Ascopart, having arrived there, is locked up in the castle, while Earl Miles returns, imagining that there is no further obstacle to his wishes. He tells Josian what he has done, and she sends a letter to Sir Beves, to inform him. Meanwhile she declares to Miles that she will surrender her person only to the man who has married her; and the Earl says that he has made up his mind to marry her against her will (1. 3117-3174).
Next day the wedding takes place. At night Josian is led to the wedding-chamber and the Earl follows her, attended by a lot of knights; but in compliance with her wish he agrees to turn out the guests and to shut the door. Then Josian makes a slip-knot in her girdle,2 passes it round his neck, and strangles him (1. 3175-3224).
The following morning, when the Earl does not rise, Josian is obliged to confess that she has killed him. She is condemned to be burnt in a tun, outside the town. Ascopart, descrying from his castle the preparations for the burning, suspects that something is wrong, breaks the gate of the castle, seizes a fishing-boat, and rows to the opposite shore. There he is overtaken by Sir Beves, whose reproaches of having betrayed him Ascopart easily invalidates. They rescue Josian, and sail with her to the Isle of Wight (1. 3225-3304).
Meanwhile, Beves and Saber collect a great army, and the Emperor, on his part, summons his large host from Almaine, and is assisted by his wife's father, the King of Scotland. In the month of May, the Emperor lands with his army in Wight, and encamps before the castle in which Beves and Saber have collected their forces. Being aware of the approach of the enemy, Saber resolves at once to give them battle. He divides his host into three parts, one of which he leads himself, whilst the other two are led by Beves and Ascopart (1. 3305-3392).
In the middle of the fight, Beves throws his step-father from his horse, and would have beheaded him if his men had not rescued him in time. He calls on Ascopart, and wants him to seize the Emperor. Ascopart first kills the King of Scotland, and then takes hold of the Emperor, and carries both him and his horse to the castle. This decides the battle in favour of Beves and Saber. Beves's step-father dies, being cast into a kettle of molten lead. The countess, beholding the end of her husband, falls down from the top of the castle and breaks her neck. Beves rejoices as much at the decease of his mother as of his step-father. The lords of Hamtonshire render homage to Beves, who is very glad at having been able to take revenge on his father's murderer. Beves then sends for the Bishop of Cologne, who marries Beves and Josian (1. 3393-3482).
Sir Beves begets two children on Josian in the first year of their marriage. By Saber's advice, he proceeds to King Edgar in London, in order to be invested with his hereditary earldom. The king complies at once with his wish, and confers on him, at the same time, the dignity of his marshal (1. 3483-3510).
At Whitsuntide a horse-race is arranged, in which Sir Beves desires to take part, because he trusts in the speed of Arondel. On the appointed day he wins the race, in spite of two knights who started too soon. Beves takes the prize, and with the help of this and of other money he afterwards builds the castle of Arundel (1. 3511-3542).
The king's son, desiring to possess the horse Arondel, wants Beves to make him a present of it, which Beves decidedly refuses to do. During the dinner, which Beves had to attend in his duty as Marshal, the prince enters the stable, but, when he approaches the horse and is about to untie it, Arondel kicks him with its hind foot and kills him with one blow. King Edgar, eager to revenge the death of his only son, wants to have Beves hanged and drawn; but the barons do not agree with this sentence; they decide that the horse only must suffer death. Sir Beves, however, declares that he will rather leave England and make over his estates to Saber, than lose Arondel. This expedient being accepted, Beves departs from Hamton, and tells Josian and Ascopart what has happened. He makes Terri, Saber's son, his page, and all start for Ermony. But Ascopart, knowing which road they were to take, hastens to Mombraunt, with the intention of betraying his master (1. 3543-3594).
Ascopart promises King Yvor to fetch back the queen, and obtains from him a company of forty knights to go with him. In a forest, on the way to Ermony, Josian is seized with the pains of child-birth. Beves and Terri construct a hut, bring Josian into it, and retire for a short time. Scarcely is Josian delivered of two boys, when Ascopart comes with his companions and carries her off (1. 3595-3646).3
Beves, returning with Terri, and finding the two children quite alone, feels very uneasy. They wrap the children in their ermine mantles, and, continuing their journey, deliver one babe to a forester whom they meet on the way, charging him to christen it "Gii"; the other boy they consign to a fisher, who, according to their wish, christens it "Miles." That being done, Beves and his squire proceed on their voyage, until they arrive at a great town where a tournament has been proclaimed: the victor is to get the hand of the daughter and heiress of the King of Aumbeforce. Beves and Terri resolve to take part in the tournay; and their arms, when they ride through the town, excite general admiration (1. 3709-3792).
Beves tilts so brilliantly, that the princess falls in love with him and wants to marry him. When he objects that he has a wife, who has been stolen from him, she proposes that he shall be her lord in a pure manner, and that, if within seven years his real wife should appear, she will accept Terni as her husband. Beves declares his full agreement with these terms (1. 3793-3840).
One night, Saber dreams that Sir Beves was wounded, and that he had undertaken a pilgrimage to St. James's and St. Giles's. This dream he tells his wife; and she expounds it, that Beves has lost either his wife or a child. Saber thereupon equips twelve knights with pilgrims' robes, under which they wear complete armour, and embarks with them. When they overtake Ascopart, who carried off Josian, Saber kills the giant with the first stroke, and his companions knock down the Saracens who attend him.4 Josian being rescued in this way, Saber disguises her as a palmer, and wanders about with her for seven years, in the hope of finding Beves and Terri (1. 3841-3898).
One day they come to a town in which Beves resides. Saber meets with his son Terni, and delivers Josian to her husband, who sends after his children, whilst Terri is married to the heiress of the land. (1. 3899-3962).
King Yvor makes war against King Ermin, and besieges him in his capital. Beves leads an army to Ermony, is reconciled with Ermin, and promises to fight against King Yvor. He vanquishes Yvor and sends him prisoner to King Ermin, who gives him his liberty on his paying a large ransom (1. 3963-4004).
When the old Ermin feels his end approaching, he sends for Guy, one of Beves' twin sons, and places the crown of Ermony on his head. Soon after he dies. Saber, desirous of seeing his wife, returns to England. In the service of King Yvor is a very sly thief, who manages to steal the horse Arondel, which he presents to King Yvor (1. 4005-4038).
This having happened, Saber dreams one night that Beves is in a very bad state and fearfully wounded. His wife, being told this dream, conjectures that Beves may have lost Arondel. When he hears that, Saber sets off without hesitation to see Beves, from whom he learns that his dream has been properly expounded. He at once starts for Mombraunt, and having taken away the horse (which is about to be watered) from a Saracen, he sets off speedily for Ermony, followed by a great number of heathen knights. From these he is rescued by Beves's two sons, who kill all the pursuers of his uncle (1. 4039-4108).
In order to take revenge, Yvor collects an enormous army, which he leads into Ermony. Having arrived there, he proposes to decide the war by a single combat between himself and Beves. This proposition is gladly accepted, and the two combatants betake themselves to a small island, where the fight is to be held. The combat is very long and fierce (1. 4109-4172).
At last, Beves hits his adversary such a blow that his right arm and his shoulder-bone fall on the ground. Beves in vain asks Yvor to be baptized,—the heathen thinking his to be the better faith;—he beheads the king, and all his attendants are killed likewise (1. 4173-4252).
After this victory, Beves is crowned king of the land over which King Yvor had held dominion. But his tranquility is interrupted by the arrival of a messenger, who informs Saber that King Edgar has deprived his son Robant of his estates. When Beves hears this ill news, he determines to accompany Saber to England, and to take with him a great army, his wife, his two sons, and Saber's son, Terri. They arrive in England, and Beves swears to take revenge on King Edgar (1. 4253-4286).
Beves leaves his army at Hamtoun, and, accompanied only by a few knights, repairs to the king at Westminster, and requests the restoration of his estates. Edgar and his barons are inclined to comply with Beves's wish; the steward alone contradicts, observing that Beves was an outlaw and a traitor. Hearing this, Beves gets very angry, leaves the court at once, and rides to London (1. 4287-4322).
The steward repairs to Cheapside, and proclaims to the people that the king commands them to take Beves prisoner as soon as possible. In deference to this proclamation, the citizens shut their gates, barricade the streets, and flock together in order to seize Beves. Beves arms quickly, mounts Arondel, and the first man he meets in the street is the steward, who calls him traitor, and summons him to surrender (1. 4323-4376).
Beves stabs the steward with his lance; but his knights are surrounded and slain by the citizens. He himself succeeds in cutting through the chains which confine him in a narrow lane, and advances to Cheapside, pursued by an immense crowd of people (1. 4377-4436).
Here he defends himself with the utmost bravery, assisted by his valiant steed. In the meanwhile, news is brought to Josian, whom he had left at Putney, that Beves has been slain in London. She relates this fact to her two sons, who resolve at once to revenge his death. They hasten to London-gate, and kill all who oppose them (1. 4437-4496).
Guy comes just in the nick of time to rescue his father from a traitorous Lombard. Miles follows at his heels, and then these three men stand up against all their assailants and gain a brilliant victory over them. At the opening of the night they fetch Josian to London, and hold a splendid festival there (1. 4497-4538).
When King Edgar hears of this dreadful slaughter, he determines to offer his only daughter to Miles with the prospect of becoming King of England after his death. His barons agree to this proposal, and the marriage takes place. Beves, having delivered his earldom of Hamtoun to Saber, repairs with Josian and his son Guy to Ermony, where the latter resumes the reins of government, leaves Terri at Aumbeforce, and then continues his journey to Mombraunt, of which he himself is king. When Josian, being seized with a mortal disease, finds that she will soon die, she sends for her son Guy, and for Terri. At the same time Beves enters his stable and finds Arondel dead. Returning to his dying wife, he folds her in his arms, and they both die together. Guy orders a chapel to be erected and dedicated to St. Lawrence, where the bodies of his father and mother are interred under the high altar. He also founds a monastery, in which the monks are to sing masses for the souls of Beves and of Josian (I. 4539-4620).…
1 According to [the Auchinleck MS.], a steward at the court of King Ermin, out of envy of Beves, sallies out with four-and-twenty knights and ten foresters, in order to kill him. Beves defends himself with the boar's head, until he succeeds in winning the sword Morgelai from the steward.
2 According to [the Auchinleck MS.] she takes a towel instead.
3 Iosian, being allowed to retire for a short time (1. 3646-3670), plucks and eats a herb, which has the power of making one look like a leper. The consequence is, that when Yvor sees her, he is very ill-pleased with the appearance of his wife, and wants Ascopart to take her to a castle in the neighbourhood of Mombraunt, and to guard her there (1..3671-3708). This passage is only in [Auchinleck].
4 According to [the Auchinleck MS.], Saber and his companions find out the castle where Josian is kept; she calls to them for relief. Ascopart, hearing that, goes to meet the strangers, but is killed by them. Josian, being relieved, renders her complexion clean by an ointment.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3341
SOURCE: "The Home of the Beves Saga," Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (PMLA), Vol. XVII, No. 2, 1902, pp. 237-46.
[In the essay reprinted below, Hoyt contends that the Bevis saga is of Anglo-Saxon derivation, not French or German. To support his argument, he calls attention to important parallels between the Bevis story and the tale of King Horn—an early-thirteenth-century English romance of indigenous origin.]
The question of the original home of the Beves saga has often been discussed, but no satisfactory conclusion has been reached. The conjectures regarding it have been various, but as yet unconvincing.
Amaury Duval1 places the scene of the story in France at Antonne, but without giving definite grounds for this supposition. Turnbull2 and Kölbing3 both adopt this view without argument. Pio Rajna4 was the first to suggest a Germanic home for the saga, locating Hanstone (Hamtoun) on the continent near the French border of Germany. The arguments given are unimportant, but this view of the origin has been accepted by Gaston Paris,5 although he takes exception to Rajna's wildest suppositions as to the name Hanstone. Albert Stimming6 has exposed the weakness of Rajna's reasoning, but even he leaves the question still unsettled. Later in his introduction, he gives impartially the arguments in favor of French as well as those in favor of Germanic origin, but does not regard them as sufficient ground for forming an opinion. These comprise the conjectures thus far advanced, and all are weakly supported and inconclusive.
A resemblance between the Beves and the Horn seems to me to furnish at last the key to the complete solution of the problem. If the Beves can be shown to be but a romantically developed form of the Horn saga, its ultimate origin must at once be acknowledged to be the same as that of its more primitive base. Since such a relation can be proved, I present the proposition that the Beves, like its prototype, the Horn, is Anglo-Saxon and insular—not French, nor German.
The Beves romance is obviously a hotch-potch of adventures formed about a simple story. This simple base may be given briefly as follows:—A young man, driven from home, wins power in the service of a foreign king, gains the love of the king's daughter, returns home, and takes revenge on his enemies. This summary will be seen to serve admirably as an outline of the story of King Horn. Upon this relation, which has not been noticed heretofore, I base the proposition just given.7
A closer examination of the two poems shows that this resemblance is not merely that of two "expulsion and return" romances, but that the central story of the Beves parallels the Horn, incident for incident. Naturally, this parallelism is not exact, nor would we have it so. The differences, however, can be explained in accordance with the method of the Beves-writer, who was developing a long romantic story, zealously religious, from the Horn, which is itself simple and almost savage in its roughness.
Even a brief examination of the two romances will make clear the close resemblance in their essential elements, although they have always been regarded as entirely unlike.
The first incident—the expulsion—is the one most changed and developed in the Beves. In the Horn, the hero and his companions are set adrift by the "Saracens," who have conquered his father's land. The Beves, however, uses an entirely different motive—the cruel mother. Beves, after his father's murder, wildly accuses his mother of instigating the crime, and opposes her marriage with the murderer. Her first attempt on Beves's life is frustrated by the faithful old man, Saber, to whom she has given the boy to be put to death. He spares him, and shows the mother his coat dipped in the blood of a goat. Beves is too much enraged, however, to tend sheep quietly for his friend, and, rushing back to court, denounces his mother before them all. This time Saber is powerless to save him, and he is taken to the seashore and sold to some foreign merchants.
In this incident the Horn is absolutely simple, using only the conquest by the Saracens and the subsequent setting adrift of Horn and his noble friends. Such a situation would be obviously unfitted to the highly religious tone of the Beves; Saracens could not be permitted to destroy the hero's land, even in his youth. The author, therefore, in seeking an induction more suited to his purpose, made use of a well-known type of expulsion incidents, which had the additional advantage of giving him an opportunity for a wide romantic development later. This is exactly the treatment we should expect in the case of a late romance, developed from a simple early form. Any feature, not in accord with the author's time, would be changed to fit the later conditions. We seek, then, a similarity of fundamental elements only, and this we find in the retention of the "expulsion" itself, although the method employed is entirely different.
In the second incident—the reception at the foreign court—the two stories are closely parallel. Horn is at once received into favor by Aylmar, king of Westernesse, who is struck by the lad's beauty (1. 161 ff.). The king has him instructed in all arts and makes him his cupbearer (1. 229 ff.). In the Beves, also, the hero, by his beauty, wins immediate favor with King Ermin of Ermonie, to whom the merchants have presented him. Ermin at once appoints him chamberlain (1. 534 f. and 571 ff.8). The slight difference here is due to the difference in age of the two heroes. The numerous incidents of the expulsion in the Beves necessitate a youth of riper years than in the simpler Horn.
In the court, Horn is beloved by all who know him (11. 245 ff.) and especially by Rymenhild, the daughter of the king. As soon as he learns of her love, Horn loves her in return, but seeks knighthood and honor that he may be worthy of her. In the Beves, religion plays a much more important part. Beves is loved by all who know him, as in the Horn, and especially by Josiane, the daughter of King Ermin (11. 578 ff.). Beves, however, unlike Horn, will have nothing to do with Josiane for a long time, and only after her promise to embrace Christianity does he become her lover. The change is characteristic of the religious tone of the whole Beves, the author of which could not allow his Christian hero to love a Saracen, until she had offered to renounce her false faith. The marriage, in the Beves as in the Horn, is not consummated until long after, when vengeance has been taken upon the youth's enemies in his native land. It is noteworthy in this episode that the hero in each case is knighted by the king at his daughter's request, in order to defend the country against foreign foes.
The banishment, which forms the third incident, is also closely paralleled in the motiving. The meetings of the lovers are falsely reported to the king in each case. Beves is betrayed by two knights, whom he had rescued in battle; Horn, by Fikenild, one of his twelve chosen comrades (Horn, 680 ff.; Beves, 1206 ff.). In the Horn, the king straightway banishes the hero, but, in the Beves, the incident is skilfully worked over to give an opportunity for the long episodes of Beves's imprisonment and his return adventures. This is accomplished by means of a sealed letter, which is given him to carry to Damascus. This letter contains instructions for Beves's instant death, but Brandimond, to whom it is delivered, throws him into prison instead. The difference in development is again perfectly characteristic; the author of the Beves, feeling the necessity of changing from the simple banishment of the Horn in order to lengthen his story, drew upon this well-known device of mediaeval fiction,—the Uriah or Bellerophon letter.
The fourth incident in the Horn, which occurs during this banishment, although not found in a corresponding place in the Beves, is nevertheless closely paralleled. Horn journeys to the land of King Thurston, and, by his valor in battle, wins the offer of the kingdom after the king's death, and of the hand of the princess. The corresponding episode in the Beves occurs during the wanderings of Beves and Terri (11. 3759 ff.). They come upon the land of Aumberforce, and in a tournament—a natural change for the romantic author—Beves wins the hand of the Lady of Aumberforce and the promise of the succession after her father's death. Horn refuses King Thurston's offer, but promises to remain and serve him for seven years. Beves likewise refuses to accept Aumberforce and its princess, but is retained by her as her "lord in clene manere" for seven years.
It is to be noticed, also, that the ultimate outcome of the adventure is the same in both cases. Terri, Beves's foster-brother, gains the Lady of Aumberforce when Beves finds Josiane; Athulf, Horn's most intimate and faithful friend, marries Reynild, the daughter of King Thurston, when Horn returns to Rymenhild.
The fifth incident—the first marriage—shows the same close resemblance. During Horn's absence when banished by King Aylmar, Rymenhild is wooed by King Modi of Reynes and at last forced to wed him. Horn, however, returns just in time to prevent the consummation of the marriage. This differs little from Josiane's experience during Beves's imprisonment by Brandimond. She is forced to marry King Yvor, but preserves her virginity by means of a charm. Horn, on his opportune return just alluded to, disguises himself in a palmer's weeds to gain admittance to his love's presence. He is served by her own hands and reveals himself by means of a magic ring she had given him. Beves also returns after the same term of absence—seven years—although his adventures have been very different, as we are prepared to expect by the change in the method of banishment. He, too, gains admittance to his love's presence by adopting a palmer's weeds. Within the castle he is served by his mistress's own hands and reveals himself by his horse Arondel, which is endowed with supernatural powers. The parallel here is carried even into the replies which the assumed palmer makes to his lady's inquiries, granting always the partial rationalizing of the magic ring element by the substitution of the wonderful horse Arondel (cf. Horn, 1007 ff. with Beves, 2041 ff.). The plan of action after the recognition in the two stories is eminently characteristic. Horn straightway kills off most of his enemies; Beves, however, contrives to escape with Josiane in a highly romantic manner, well-calculated to bring in other adventures.
The second marriage forms the last important incident, and is, like the others, closely parallel in the two romances. Beves, before marrying Josiane, must set out from Cologne—where a long series of adventures has landed them—to relieve his foster-father Saber and to avenge himself upon his father's murderer. Horn in Westernesse will, also, neither marry nor rest until he has regained his hereditary kingdom. During Horn's absence, Rymenhild is again persecuted by Fikenild, whom Horn had unwisely spared. Horn a second time returns at the right moment; he assumes a harper's disguise to gain admittance to his enemy's castle, and this time makes his revenge more complete. After thus gaining his love again, Horn lives peacefully upon his own lands, crowning Arnoldin king of Westernesse and wedding Athulf to King Thurston's daughter. In the other story, Josiane, during Beves's absence, is importuned by Miles of Cologne and compelled by force to marry him. In desperation she succeeds in hanging him on the marriage-bed on the wedding evening. For this act she is condemned to be burned, and thus there is an opportunity for a romantic rescue. The Beves is then carried on, page after page, by means of incidents varying in the different versions. The end, however, resembles the ending of the Horn. The conquered territories are distributed among the hero's intimate friends, or relatives, and Beves and Josiane grow old in peace upon their own possessions. The final touch in the Beves is of course the more elaborate. Beves and Josiane die at the same time and are buried together; the Horn simply says "Nu are hi both ded," and commits their souls to God.
In the second marriage episode, it is noteworthy that, in the Horn, the repetition is an exact one—the opportune return, the disguise, and all. This shows a much more primitive stage of development than the Beves, where the story is artistically varied by the incidents of the murder in the bed chamber, the trial, and the rescue.
These parallels account for everything in the central story of the Beves—the story with which the author worked as his original. The omitted parts are non-essential elements. An examination of these plus-incidents shows that, without exception, they are repetitions or romantic commonplaces, and hence cannot be relied upon as giving any definite evidence for the original home of the saga.
Of these plus-incidents, three can be at once dismissed. These are important in the English Beves, but are not found in the Anglo-Norman version, which Stimming has proved to be the source of our English form. These late additions are Beves's fight with fifty Saracens over a question of religious belief (11. 585-738), the dragon fight (11. 2597-2910), and the encounter with the burghers of London (11. 4287-4538).
Another class among the plus-incidents may be set aside also as unimportant in our discussion. There is no method of developing or enlarging a romance better recognized than that of repeating in a modified form one of the original incidents. This appears in the Beves in Josiane's second marriage. This very repetition is seen in the Horn as well. There, however, as I have already noted, it is an exact repetition—the simplest form of development. In the Beves, the repeated incident is carefully developed and this accounts fully for the changes. In the first marriage, Josiane preserves her virginity by means of a charm; in the second, the author gains variety by employing the well-known romantic feature of the murder in the bed chamber.
Other important repetitions may be seen in the numerous military expeditions (11. 3303-3458, 3967-4004, 4109-4252). These repeat, with more or less variation, Beves's great battle against Brandimond immediately after being knighted (11. 989-1068). This incident parallels, in its motiving, Horn's fight with the pagan freebooters, in which he proves his right to the knighthood just conferred upon him (Horn, 623-682).
A third class among the plus-incidents may comprise those features which are the direct outgrowth of feudal and chivalric conditions. Such features, unless they are parts absolutely essential to the story, are of course not portions of the simple original, which must have been formed in more primitive times. The sealed letter, the long imprisonment, the escape, and the many adventures of the return may safely be classed in this group. Here, too, we may place Beves's expedition in aid of Saber, and his subsequent journey to London to sue his estates.
Finally, there is a class of episodes which will at once be recognized as commonplaces of romance. The boar-fight, the encounter with the lions and the giant, Josiane's delivery in the forest, her capture by the treacherous page, and her search in minstrel's garments may be grouped here. No one of these is an essential part of the story, and each can be easily explained as a characteristic addition, or a change to fit the style of a more romantic writer.
These four classes include all the plus-incidents of the Beves,9 which therefore have no weight against the proposition that the central story of the Beves is equivalent to the Horn. There is no essential incident in the Beves which is not found in the Horn, and, conversely, the Horn incidents reappear in the Beves, though with many romantic changes and developments. A more exhaustive study than is possible in this article shows that the close resemblance between the Beves outline and the Horn extends often to matters of minute detail.
The contention that the Horn is equivalent to the main story of the Beves, is strengthened by observing that the Horn shows a repetition which reappears in the Beves. This is the second marriage episode, which, in the Horn, is simply repeated, as I have shown. In the Beves, though more highly developed; it follows the outline of the Horn so closely as to be practically a proof of the correctness of the proposition. It is not held, of course, that the Beves is necessarily from the extant text of the Horn, but that it goes back to some form of the Horn saga, and is therefore Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Danish—insular, and not continental. That the original was a developed form of the saga, the repetition of the marriage episode shows, and it may well have borne the name of Horn, although the mere name is of little importance.
The Anglo-Saxon origin thus contended for fits well with what has already been proved regarding the Beves. Stimming has shown that the Anglo-Norman is the oldest extant version, and that this Anglo-Norman form is an insular product. His thesis is strengthened when we prove that the original story was also of insular origin.
The theory of an insular home for the saga explains well the nautical character of the Beves, which is quite unlike the air of the French chansons, and associates the romance rather with English and Germanic material.
It suits, too, the name Hamtoun, which, in the earlier versions, is unquestionably English, despite the efforts of Duval and Rajna to prove it French or German.
Finally, it fits the historical Beves10 mentioned by Elyot,11 Fuller12 and others. This Beves lived in the time of William the Conqueror, and, with a few followers, resisted ineffectually the power of the invaders. Whether this is real history or fiction, our proposition agrees well with it, especially as this Beves lived at first near Southampton, and nothing would be more natural than to group a series of adventures about a local hero.
Because we have seen that the central story of the Beves is equivalent to the Horn, and that its plus-incidents are easily accounted for as the work of a later romantic writer, and because all external evidence strengthens this proposition, we may confidently place the Beves in the rank of the Guy, the Horn, and the Havelock as insular and not continental material.
1Histoire Litteraire de la France, xviii, pp. 750 ff.
2Sir Beves of Hamtoun, pp. xv ff. (1837).
3Sir Beves of Hamtoun (E. E. T. S.), p. xxxiv (1885).
4 I Reali di Francia, pp. 123 ff. (1872).
5Romania, II, 359.
6Der Anglonormannische Boeve de Haumtone, pp. clxxxi ff. (1899).
7 Stimming, in his list of parallels, notices a resemblance in episodes only, not in the whole outline, and draws no conclusions. He says: "Das Liebesverhältnis zwischen Boeve und Josiane berührt sich in mehreren Punkten mit dem zwischen Horn und Rimel. Auch Horn wird von Winkle, gegen dem er sich freundlich bewiesen, verleumderischerweise angeklagt, Rimel beschlafen zu haben, und letztere soll gegen ihrem. Willen gewaltsam verheiratet werden." (p. cxc.)
8 References in the Beves are to the A text of Kölbing's edition.
9 Two episodes—Beves's swimming the sea on Trinchefis (1811-1818), and the island duel (4137-4239)—may, at first thought, be excluded from these classes. When considered in connection with their setting of commonplace romantic material, they show at once that they are elements quite unessential to the main story, and chosen by the author for variety only.
10 This is probably what is alluded to as "a kernel of genuine English tradition" by Prof. George H. McKnight, p. vii of the introduction to his edition of King Horn, just published in the E. E. T. S. series (1901).
11 Sir Thomas Elyot, The Boke named the Governour, H. H. S. Croft's edition, I. 184.
12 Thomas Fuller, Worthies of England, under Souldiers of Hantshire.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 17136
SOURCE: "Character in the 'Matter of England' Romances," The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. X, 1911, pp. 429-609.
[Here, Creek evaluates the relationship between characterization, plot, and setting in four Middle English romances: Havelok the Dane, King Horn, Bevis of Hampton, and Guy of Warwick. In terms of characterization, the critic claims, Bevis is closer to the simpler, more primitive forms of the genre—Havelok and Horn—but with respect to structural development, it is more akin to Guy.]
For the student of medieval life and literature the dramatis personce of the romances—conventional as they are, and conventional as the romancers' treatment of them often is—are of no little interest. Professor Comfort's studies in the chansons de geste1 have shown the importance of a knowledge of the character types of the French epic for an appreciation of the ideals and culture of medieval France. In this paper an attempt will be made to investigate, on a somewhat broader plan,2 the four most important of the "matter of England" romances—King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Bevis of Hamtoun, and Guy of Warwick.3
Character stands in a peculiar relation to the other narrative elements of the metrical romance. It is, of course, never emphasized. Yet when romance after romance has been read, and a host of incidents have been forgotten, characteristic personalities stand out, which, modern English literature proves, have been of abiding interest. The more distinguished names—Gawain, Kay, Lancelot, Tristram, Iseult—were the fruit of a romance-activity which stands in strong contrast with the more popular art of Horn and Havelok. Yet the heroes of this seemingly more primitive group typify, I think, ideals of permanent interest. Appearing, as they do, in situations and relations thoroughly stereotyped, they are perhaps more interesting for that reason, have more of the medieval flavor, gain in representative quality. If they are deficient in subtlety, they are not deficient in a crude strength of character and will, perennially attractive.
For these reasons it will be seen that characterization, to an unusual degree, perhaps, is bound up with plot on the one hand, and with the broad background of medieval life on the other, and it will be necessary, in discussing it, to trespass somewhat upon these other fields.
The well-known tendency of the dramatis personœ of medieval romance to fall into certain conventional relations is well illustrated by a group of characters which appears, with certain variations, in Horn, in Bevis, and in Guy. This group seems to belong naturally to stories of the exile-and-return type, but it is not restricted to them, as it appears very clearly in the Guy. Nor is it essential to the exile-and-return type, since it does not appear, unless faintly, in Havelok. The following table shows the correspondence:
- The father
- The hero
- The old friend
- The young friend
- The foreign king
- The foreign king's daughter
- The defamer
- The second lady
- Two knights
- King of Aumbeforce's daughter
These lists might be paralleled, in part, with another from Havelok, as well as from romances far removed from this group, but as the relations of the dramatis personœ are not so clearly the same in these other cases, I have not thought it worth while to insist on the parallel. However, the possibility of making the table which here appears is not without significance, and a very fundamental resemblance will, I think, appear on closer investigation.4
In respect to the hero's father the resemblance is incomplete. Guy of Warwick is not a story of the exile-and-return type, and Guy's father plays a comparatively unimportant part in the story. In Horn and in Bevis the resemblance is clear. In both cases the father is of very high rank, Murri being King of Suddenne and Guy the Earl of South Hampton, of noble character and approved prowess. Both are slain at the opening of the story, being overpowered by numbers, and their possessions, in both cases, are seized by those who have slain them—in the one case by the Saracens, and in the other by Devoun, Emperor of Almaine. Both leave young heirs who are helpless to protect their dominions. Birkabein, father of Havelok and King of Denmark, occupies an analogous position. He dies leaving his young heir in the power of a traitor, who seizes the kingdom. This situation is repeated in the same poem in the death of Aþelwold, leaving his daughter and the Kingdom of England in the care of a traitor. Thus in each of the three romances of the exile-and-return type there is a king who dies, leaving a young son in the hands of enemies.
The children of these three fathers5 too early dead experience a similar fortune. Horn, sent out in a boat to find a grave in the sea, luckily reaches the coast of Westernesse. Bevis, narrowly escaping death at the hands of his own mother, is sold into slavery and borne across the seas to Armenia. Havelok, after heart-breaking sufferings, likewise crosses the sea in a boat to find a home at Grimsby. Guy had no such experiences in his earlier days, but gained manhood at his own home. It is his later career which brings him into the company of Horn and Bevis, as will appear in the discussion of the other typical characters.
Curiously enough, Horn, Bevis, and Guy each have for teacher a kind, brave man, who remains a steadfast friend. Akelbrus taught Horn the craft of wood and river, as well as harping, carving, and serving the cup (w. 229 ff.). Later he assists in the love affair of Horn and Rymenhild; and finally he is rewarded with a kingdom (vv. 1507 f.). However, the resemblance between Guy and Bevis, here as elsewhere, is much stronger. Saber is the "meister" of Bevis. After keeping Bevis concealed as long as he can, he is obliged to see him banished, but later sends his son to seek the lad; and he himself accompanies Bevis on some of his adventures. Almost the same thing happens in the case of Herhaud.
Gij a forster fader hadde,
þatte him lerd & him radde
Of wodes & riuer & oþer game;
Herhaud of Ardern was his name.
(vv. 169 ff.)
Herhaud, too, is a fellow-soldier of his friend, and himself seeks Guy when lost. Herhaud is also tutor to Guy's son Reinbrun, seeks him through many lands when he is stolen away, and in general stands in the same relation to the son that he did to the father. Like Saber, Herhaud has a warlike son who plays a part in the romance. Like him, too, he is warned in dreams when the hero is in need of assistance. Grim has certain points of contact with these characters, particularly with Saber. Both Grim and Saber are instructed to slay their charges, and both represent that they have done so. Thus in each of these romances there is an old friend who guards the early years of the hero; in three cases he is the tutor; and in the fourth case he stands in the general relation of guide and instructor, teaching, however, not knightly accomplishments, but the meaner duties of labor.
In three of the romances there is a young friend who is the faithful helper of his superior. In the fourth romance, Havelok, there is only the semblance of an equivalent in the three sons of Grim. But A'pulf in Horn, Terri in Bevis, and Tirri in Guy, occupy corresponding positions. In two of the cases the friend is presented with a bride and territory by the hero. Thus Reynild is given to Aþulf, and the daughter of the King of Aumbeforce agrees to become the wife of Terri when she learns that Bevis is beyond her reach. Guy also plays an important, though not similar, part in securing Oisel for Tirri. In the case of Terri and Bevis and of Tirri and Guy the friendship lasts through many battles in which the comrades fight side by side.
The term foreign king refers in Horn and in Bevis to the father of the heroine. The Emperor of Constantinople, in Guy, occupies a somewhat analogous position. Bevis and Horn are welcomed at the courts of the foreign kings. Each is granted honors, but later is the victim of a false friend (two in Bevis), who misrepresents the relations existing between the hero and the king's daughter. This, so far, is true of Guy at Constantinople also. But the Emperor of Constantinople is not misled, while both the King of Westernesse and the King of Armenia trust the informers, and as a consequence the hero in one case is banished (Bevis, vv. 1229 ff.) and in the other is sent on a mission which is intended to result in his death (Guy, vv. 3727 ff.). Thus in the portions of the stories connected respectively with the foreign kings the three romances show strikingly similar characteristics.
The term defamer indicates sufficiently well the characteristic quality of one of the conventional enemies of the hero in these romances. Thus Fikenhild tells Ailmar that Horn
"liþ in bure
By Rymenhild þi doyter."
Similarly, the false knights whom Bevis had preserved in battle said of Bevis to the Emperor that
"þe douyter he haþ now for-lain."
In Guy it is the steward Morgadour who accuses the hero of having dishonored the Emperor's daughter.
"Into his bour wiþ strengþe he yede
& bi þi douhter his wille he dede."
(vv. 3227 f.)
In these cases the resemblance between the villains lies chiefly in the identity of the charges which they make.
It is to be noted that the hero in each case has a love affair with the king's daughter. Clarice, it is true, does not become the wife of Guy; but the account of her relations with him has the characteristics of a romantic story, leading up almost to the marriage altar, when the hero recollects Felice in time. In the other cases the love results in marriage, and both Rymenhild and Josian take the initiative in the wooing. In both cases separation occurs as the result of the treachery of defamers, but the later fortunes of the heroines show wide divergence. However, so far as the general relations go, we again find strong similarity.
The last character of the group, the one I have called the second lady, is of slighter importance, and its presence here may be questioned. I mean by this Reynild in Horn and the King of Aumbeforce's daughter in Bevis, each of whom loves6 the hero, but later becomes the wife of the hero's friend. Oisel, whose name I have placed in brackets in the table, can scarcely be included, except that it is through Guy's victories over Tirri's enemies that she becomes the wife of the hero's friend.
Of course I do not mean to say that the reappearance of this group of characters is sufficient ground for thinking that any one of this group of romances is derived directly or indirectly from any other.7 But it does seem to me that there was a common narrative fund which every one felt at liberty to draw upon, which indeed was common property, since no one knew precisely whence it came. If we wish to know where it existed, it is not too vague to say that it existed in the stories already familiar, in the conventional incidents and characters which were found there, and which were being more and more conventionalized as they appeared again and again. Perhaps some elements were conventionalized out of existence; but one must think, from the state of the romantic literature which has been preserved, that the number of such was small.
It has been noted, no doubt, that in discussing this group of dramatis personœ nothing has actually been said about character. Rather has it not been plot, and are not the dramatis personœ (so viewed) merely the pegs to which the plot is tied? This question must be answered with a modified affirmative. What has been indicated thus far is that when a situation is used for a second or hundredth time in a romance, there is a strong tendency to place the new pegs about where the old ones were. Character, in the stricter sense, is then indicated only by the general relations of dramatis personœ to the plot. This, of course, does not sum up character; and a study of the characters as such will, I believe, add some confirming evidence of the existence of this recurring group.
Stock Dramatis Personœ
Before going on to discuss characters as distinguished from dramatis personœ, it is worth pointing out that there are in the romances, as indeed in fiction of a later date, stock figures who are of little or no value as characters, but who do mean something to the plot. Thus in Horn and in Bevis there is the conventional porter. The only function which he serves is to delay the action by supplying occasion for an altercation at the entrance to the castle. Thus in Horn:
He com to þe gateward,
þat him answerede hard.
Horn bad undo softe,
Mani tyme and ofte.
Ne miyte he awynne
þat he come þerinne.
Horn gan to þe þate turne
And þat wiket vnspurne.
þe boye hit scholde abugge;
Horn, þreu him ouer þe brigge,
þat his ribbes him to brake;8
And suþþe com in atte gate."
(vv. 1067 ff.)
In Bevis the account is still more detailed. The hero, seven years of age, after getting the better of the porter in a word encounter, cleaves his head (vv. 394 ff.). The porter, it seems, nearly always stands at the gate to refuse admittance and to suffer for his refusal.9
The suggestion sometimes made that the minstrel is taking revenge for rebuffs suffered by his class is perhaps not altogether without foundation. The aim seems to be to make the porter a ridiculous figure. The humorous intention is sometimes marked.10 Perhaps the porter in Macbeth is distantly akin to the porter of romance.
More intimately connected with the plot, and more important for the revelation of character in others, is the maid of the heroine. The fact that she does not appear in Horn, Havelok, or Bevis is a slight indication of the fact that they are not true romances of chivalry. Rymenhild may have sent a maid for AIelbrus to summon him for the first interview, but, if so, there is no indication of the fact. When Josian desires to communicate with Bevis, she sends a man. The absence of the romantic element in Havelok, of course, almost precludes the possibility of such a character appearing. In Guy there is a hint of this personage. Guy has just made a declaration to Felice, and swoons from the violence of his emotions. Felice bids a maid to lift him, which she does, weeping.
"Bi god of heuen," sche seyd,
"& ich wer as feir a mayd,
& as riche king's douhter were
As ani in kis warld here,
& he of mi loue vnder-nome were
As he is of tine in strong manere,
& he wald me so o lou yerne,
Me benke y no myyt it him nouyt weme."
(vv. 609 ff.)11
But Felice rebukes her for commiserating Guy. One need only glance at the French Horn et Rimel12 to note a marked contrast with the maid of Guy. Here Herselote is the natural messenger of Rimel; she tells in the bower of what is going on in the hall; she receives her mistress's confidences, comforts her when distressed, praises the lover, and is on hand to assist in emergencies. This is the conventional part of the maid. It is to be found repeatedly. Lunete plays the part in Chrétien's Ivain. In William of Palerne, Alexandrine is not only a confidante; she plays almost the part of a fairy in bringing William and Melior together, having power to cause dreams. Iseult's maid is perhaps the most distinguished of all, performing more than one important service for her mistress.13 Playing a part of far greater importance than the porter, the maid of romance has a more developed personality. She is faithful as a matter of course, loyal to lover as well as to mistress, resourceful, self-sacrificing, brave. But she belongs essentially to the chivalrous romance; she has no place in the very different type of romance to which the exile-and-return group belongs.
If the maid is a kind of good fairy in the romances, the steward is almost always a malevolent agency. Unlike the maid, he is well represented in our group. It is he frequently who envies the hero because of the favor bestowed upon him by the king, or because of his superior knightly qualities.
A steward was wiþ King Ermin
þat hadde tiyt to sle þat swin;
To Beues a bar gret envie
For þat he hadde þe meistrie.
(Bevis, vv. 837 ff)
The steward of the King of England also hates the hero. Bevis visits the king:
And alle þe barouns, þat þer were,
On Beues made glade chere,
Boute þe steward of þe halle
He was þe worste frend of alle.
(vv. 4303 ff.)
He later tries to slay Bevis and, like the steward of Armenia, pays for his treachery with his life. In Guy there are several stewards. The most typical, Morgadour, did his best to discredit Guy with the Emperor.
Traytour he was, and full of envy.
He, too, lost his life at the hands of the object of his envy. The steward of Duke Otous (vv. 4753 ff.) is slain by Guy while trying to lead away the wounded Tirri. After the death of Otous, his kinsman Berard becomes the Emperor's steward (v. 6497); persecutes Guy's friend Tirri; shows his lack of honor by wearing two coats of mail in his combat with Guy (st. 187) and by trying to rid himself of his dangerous antagonist by casting him in the sea with the bed on which he is sleeping; but finally he, too, succumbs to the hero's valor (sts. 208 ff.). Again, the steward of Earl Florentin attacks Guy while a guest in his master's castle, and his head is cleaved with an axe (vv. 6899 ff.). Thus in the romances of Bevis and Guy alone the appearance again and again of a treacherous, envious steward is striking. He appears very frequently elsewhere. The chief villain of Generydes, Amalok, is the steward of Auferius, King of India. He adds adultery with the Queen to treason against his lord. In Sir Cleges the steward commits the same offense and suffers the same punishment as did the porter.14 The envious character of "Kay the seneschal," while not quite so offensive as that of most stewards, is perhaps due to the association of his position.15 The typical steward, however, is treacherous as well as envious;16 not a coward (for cowards are rare in medieval romance), yet with the manners, the sneakingness, so often associated with cowardice.17
Other lay figures are palmer, merchant, beggar. The palmer or beggar is frequently the hero disguised. But he may be merely the bearer of news. A palmer tells Guy of the war between the Emperor of Almaine and Duke Segyn (vv. 1803 ff.). It is from a palmer that Horn hears of the wedding preparations when he lands in Westernesse with his Irish force (vv. 1027 ff.). No doubt the palmer was a natural bearer of news. Thus the false news which Bevis, disguised as a palmer, tells Yvor, is instantly accepted and acted upon. Bevis asks a palmer where to find King Yvor and his Queen, Josian, when he approaches Mombraunt (vv. 2049 ff.). 18 Beggars are necessary to show the hospitality of lord or lady and to furnish an opportunity for the disguised hero to slip in with the crowd. The number thirteen, so frequently mentioned, springs from the custom of inviting thirteen beggars to appear at wedding and other feasts in honor of Christ and the Apostles. Thus Guy is one of thirteen beggars fed by Felice when he finally returns home after his long pilgrimage (sts. 278 ff.). In Ponthus and Sidone the mother of Ponthus is discovered by him among the thirteen beggars at the feast celebrating the regaining of his kingdom (pp. 119 f.). In Horn et Rimel it is a beggar instead of a palmer whom Horn meets on his return to his beloved. Merchants, too, may be messengers. Guy learns from Greek merchants of the war between the Emperor of Constantinople and the Sultan (vv. 2801 ff.). Merchants are also used for taking away children. Bevis is sold to merchants (vv. 505 ff.), and Reinbrun is stolen by merchants who pass through the country (Guy, C. vv. 8680 ff.).19 A large number of subordinate dramatis personœ of various sorts is naturally characteristic of the roman d'aventure, in which the social life is more complicated than in the chanson de geste.20
Typical Characters and Medieval Life
Looking again at this list of dramatis personœ, not this time as elements of the story, but as figures typical of medieval life, one sees at least four stand out as significant: (1) the king; (2) the knight; (3) the lady; (4) the vassal. These are not entirely exclusive of each other, as the knight may be king, and the vassal is, of course, usually a knight. However, the characteristic king is usually the father of the hero, or some lord under whom the hero takes service; the hero is nearly always an ideal knight; the hero's beloved is invariably represented as an ideal lady; and it is usually in a friend of the hero that faithful service to one's lord is best exemplified. So, for practical purposes, there is little or no confusion, and some light may be thrown, too, on the phase or phases of society for which the romances were produced, and also perhaps on the society in which they have enacted their subsequent history.
From the tremendous host of kings in medieval literature two great figures stand out—Charlemagne and Arthur—the one, at his best, the king of the chanson de geste, and the other, at his best, the king of chivalric romance; the one leading his hosts against the enemies of his country and fighting at their head; the other, for the most part at least, loosely controlling a band of knights errant, who are incessantly engaged in adventures for the sake of honor or for the sake of the "fair lady." In the so-called romance of Germanic origin, there is, of course, nothing to approach the splendor of either of these figures. But in these romances the kings are certainly more nearly related to Charlemagne than to Arthur. They are kings of national war. Murri, father of Horn, was such a man, although the primitive conditions which seem to underlie the story would make him little more than a tribal chief. With two knights he awaits the onset of the Saracens, and loses his life defending his territories. Nothing is said in the way of characterization, save that he was "gode king" (v. 33), as were also Ailmar of Westernesse (v. 219) and þurston of Ireland (v. 782).21 Aþelwold, the father of Goldborough, was also a bold warrior.
He was þe beste kniht at nede
þat euere mihte riden on stede,
Or wepne wagge, or foic vt lede;
Of kniht ne hauede he neuere drede,
þat he ne sprong forth so sparke of glede,
And lete him knawe of hise hand-dede.
(vv. 87 ff.)
In Horn Childe King Haþeolf is a bold warrior, fighting against the enemies of his country—the Danes and the Irish. In Guy Aþelstan is represented as leading the English forces in their struggle with the Danes. In other words, the kings in this group of romances are fighters, usually defending their country against invaders. The king who, like Arthur and Alexander, conquers the world, belongs to a different type of romance.
Of exceptional interest is the account of King Aþelwold in Havelok, because there is nothing precisely comparable to it elsewhere in the romances. Here is a king who is not merely a leader of warriors, but a lawgiver and a strong executive. We certainly have a picture of an ideal king as seen by the eyes of the middle and lower classes, by those who desired, not glory, but comfort and peace.22 He loved God and holy church; he hated robbers and hanged outlaws. Chapmen might go through England with their wares fearlessly.
þanne was Engelond at ayse.
Moreover, he was friendly to the fatherless (vv. 75 ff.) and
Hauede he neure so god brede,
Ne on his bord non so god shrede,
þat he ne wolde þorwith fede
Poure þat on fote yede"
(vv. 98 ff.).
Here, surely, if anywhere, we get the ideal king of merchant and laborer.23
The heroes are more likely to be individualized than other characters. Nevertheless, the greater part of their traits are thoroughly typical. The ideal knight of this group is one of great personal beauty and strength, who hates infidels, enjoys battle, is a faithful lover of one woman. He is often rude, sometimes cruel, always pure. He stands opposed to the chivalrous, gentle, often immoral knight typified in Lancelot.
In these romances little is said, for the most part, regarding the personal appearance of the dramatis personœ. This is not so likely to be the case with the hero. Thus of Horn the author says at the beginning:
Fairer ne miste none beo born
Ne no rein vpon birine,
Ne sunne vpon bischine:
Fairer nis non ban he was.
He was briyt so be glas,
He was whit so be flur,
Rose red was his colur.
In none kinge riche
Nas non his iliche.
(vv. 10 ff.)24
His physical beauty continues to receive attention. He is the "faireste" (v. 173); Ailmar admires his "fairnesse" (v. 213); Aþulf says "he is fairere by one rib þan eny man þat libbe" (vv. 315 ff.); when he visits Rymenhild the bower is lighted "of his feire siyte" (v. 385);25 Berild has never seen so fair a knight come to Ireland (v. 778); King burston speaks of his "fairhede" (v. 798); and at the close the author says:
Her endeþ þe tale of horn,
þat fair was & noyt vnom.
(vv. 1525 f.)
Havelok likewise is very beautiful (v. 2133) and well-shaped (v. 1647). Bevis was a "feire child," and King Ermin said of him:
"Be Mahoun, þat sit an hiy,
A fairer child neuer i ne siy,
Neiþer a lengþe ne on brade,
Ne non, so faire limes hadde!"
(vv. 535 ff.)
In Guy, too, not much is said of the personal appearance of the hero, not nearly so much as in Horn. There is nothing especially distinctive about the traces of description one finds, as they are the commonplaces.
The hero's strength and valor are of great prominence in all romances, but there are certain variations of greater interest than are found in descriptions of personal appearance. In Horn the hero's strength is frequently the object of direct praise from the dramatis personœ. The Admirad says to him, "þu art gret & strong" (v. 93), and adds that if he lived, in time he "scholde slen us alle" (v. 100); Ailmar says the strength of his hand shall become famous (vv. 215 ff.). The author of Havelok also takes great delight in his hero's physical prowess, and speaks directly to the audience:
For þanne he weren alle samen
At Lincolne, at þe gamen,
And þe erles men woren alle þore,
Was Hauelok bi þe shuldren more
þan þe meste þat þer kan:
In armes him noman ne nam
þat he doune sone ne caste;
Hauelok stod ouer hem als a mast.
Als he was heie, so he was strong,
He was boþe stark and long;
In Engelond was non hise per
Of strengþe þat euere kam him nere.
(vv. 979 ff.)
Again and again this brute strength is brought out. Havelok eats more than Grim and his five children (vv. 793 f.); at Lincoln he upsets "sixtene laddes gode" and carries "wel a cart lode" of fish; his strength is admired by Ubbe, who thinks he should be a knight (v. 1650); he slays three men with one blow of a "doretre" (v. 1806); he puts the stone at the first throw so far that all competitors depart (vv. 1052 ff.). There is on the part of the author a certain simplicity of delight in the overwhelming strength of his hero that is almost unique. In the rapid succession of incidents in Bevis there is little time for commenting on the hero. However, there is a word at the beginning of his fighting career.
Be þat he was fiftene þer olde,
Kniyt ne swain þar nas so bolde,
þat him dorste ayenes ride
Ne wiþ wreþþe him abide.
(vv. 581 ff.)
In Guy we have gone so far toward the romance of chivalry that the emphasis, so far as direct description goes, is on something else than strength, which is left to be inferred from many a deed of valor.26
On the other hand, the mental character and accomplishments of the hero are emphasized in Guy, especially on the knightly side, and in Havelok on the homely side, while in Bevis and in Horn they are neglected. Indeed, scarcely anything is said of Horn's mental or moral characteristics. He was "of wit þe beste" (v. 174), "wel kene" (v. 91). His teachableness and good nature are indicated.
Horn in his herte layte
Al þat he him tayte.
In þe curt & ute
& elles al abute
Luuede men horn child.
(vv. 243 ff.)
In Havelok again there is the unique quality which was noted in the account of the physical characteristics, but even more marked. The author probably had in mind that Havelok would make a good king like Aþelwold, but he has made him seem more like a strong, rather slow-witted, but happy peasant. His life at Winchester, which is described most fully, makes him seem to be a powerful, mild-tempered boy.
Of alle men was he mest meke,
Lauhwinde ay, and bliþe of speke;
Euere he was glad, and bliþe,
His sorwe he couþe ful wel miþe.
It net was non so litel knaue, …
For to leyken, ne forto plawe,
þat he ne wolde with him pleye:
þe children that yeden in þe weie
Of him he deden al her wille,
And with him leykeden here fille.
(vv. 945 ff.)
Not only is his kindness shown by his playing with the children; it is shown in the care he later takes of his foster brothers and sisters and in the mercy offered to Godrich. He is as observant of law as Aþelwold. Only after due trial may Godard and Godrich be executed.
Thus does the author intend for us to see him—strong, cheerful, merciful, fearless, law-abiding. It may be questioned whether he intended that Havelok should so appear, but he surely was lacking in initiative. It is Goldborough who arouses in him the ambition, or at least stirs it to the acting point, to regain his kingdom. It is Ubbe who collects the friends of Havelok in Denmark. Havelok would have been a happy peasant. He is a true member of the lowly classes—strong in body and in mind, whole-hearted, loving peace better than war, but fearless when called upon to fight, rather than a fiery king, full of aggressive ambition, or a luxurious, generous monarch such as the nobility admired.
But Guy is a hero a chivalry—not of the Lancelot type, nor of the Galahad type, although approaching the latter in the religious devotion of his later years. He stands somewhere between Horn and Bevis, on the one hand, and Lancelot and Galahad on the other. He has the knightly education which Horn had. He knows the craft
Of wode, of Ryuer, of all game.
(C. v. 171)
He is generous. He gives rich gifts to parsons and poor knights,
And to other oft Oeue he wolde
Palfrey or stede, siluer and golde,
Euery man after his good dede
Of Guy vnderfangeth his mede.
(C. vv. 181 ff.)
Moreover he became ill from loving too well, and fought long years merely for the sake of a woman. Guy stands in fairly strong contrast with the heroes of King Horn, of Bevis, and of Havelok, and approaches the heroes of another type of romance.27
Somewhat less need be said about the heroine in these romances. The part played by Goldborough is so small that she may be dismissed almost with a word. She is seen as a great lady, resenting her forced marriage to one apparently far beneath her in rank, and later urging her husband to regain his crown—a figure of strength, described as "swibe fayr" (v. 111), the "faireste woman on liue" (v. 281), as bright (v. 2131), as chaste (v. 288), and
Of alle þewes was she wis.
þat gode weren, and of pris.
(vv. 282 f.)
The absence of a love element prevents the development of her character. She is queen rather than woman.
The character of Rymenhild, on the other hand, is that of a woman, individual in some respects, yet typical of a class, of which Josian, in Bevis of Hamtoun, is a member. Her individuality may be said to lie largely in the very prominence of certain typical characteristics. Her appearance is passed almost without comment. She is "Rymenhild þe briyte" (vv. 382, 390) or "Rymenhild þe yonge" (v. 566). It is decidedly by her actions that she is interesting. It is a primitive, undisciplined nature. In love and in hate she is uncontrolled. She loved Horn "þat ney heo gan wexe wild" (v. 252). There is no reserve in her wooing. When Aþulf enters her bower she at once takes him in her arms. When she finds she has been deceived by Aþelbrus she is as unrestrained in her rage.
"Schame mote, þu fonge
& on hiye rode anhonge …
Wiþ muchel schame mote þu deie."
(vv. 327 ff.)
When Horn refuses to plight his troth to Rymenhild, she swoons. She is all in tears over her dream of the net (v. 654). When she thinks Horn lost forever, she is ready to slay herself.
Heo feol on hir bedde,
þer heo knif huddle
To sle wiþ king loþe
& hure selue boþe,
In þat vike niyte,
If horn come ne miyte
To herte knif heo sette,
Ac horn anone hire kepte,
(vv. 1195 ff.)
She is as faithful as passionate. When she knows that she is about to be forced into a hateful marriage, she sends a messenger to seek Horn (vv. 933 ff.). She watches the sea for her absent lover (vv. 975 ff.). Even to the last she has Aþulf on the tower with his eyes searching the great expanse of water. Altogether she is a wilful, passionate creature of uncontrolled impulses, yet constant in love. The author does not think her worthy of direct description. Yet he has created a striking figure.28
As stated, Josian belongs to the same type. The account of her beauty is made somewhat more striking by the use of a figure of speech.
So fair yhe was & briyt of mod,
Ase snow opon þe rede blod.
(vv. 521 f.)
She was also "hende" and "wel itau??t," although she knew nothing of Christian law (vv. 525 f.). Like Rymenhild she loves passionately, and it is her persistence and her willingness to change her faith which win her lover. Perhaps it is the same persistent courage which gives her the strength to slay her undesired husband. A strong woman, equal to emergencies, faithful to lover and husband—less attractive than Rymenhild, but by no means unworthy—is the heroine of Bevis of Hamtoun.29
But in Felice we have a lady of the romance of chivalry. Fifteen lines at the outset and more elsewhere are devoted to her beauty, although the author remarks that it is so great that he cannot describe it (v. 60).30 Her accomplishments are equally remarkable.
All the vii artis she kouthe well,
Noon better that euere man herde tell.
His maisters were thider come
Out of Tholouse all and some;
White and hoore all they were,
Bisy they were that mayden to lere.
(c. vv. 81 ff.)31
In love she is as reserved and cruel as Rymenhild is unrestrained and generous, promising her lover favor repeatedly, only to withdraw it, until he has become the most famous knight in the world. After that her conduct shows a marked change. She seems a very mild and dutiful wife. When Guy becomes a pilgrim, she feeds the poor and prays for her absent lord, so that there is no better woman in the world (st. 279). As with Guy, there is in her traces of the ascetic ideal. The best woman, as well as the best man, is one withdrawn from the common life.
Here again we find the Guy far removed from the other romances. Josian and Rymenhild are passionate, primitive creatures, willing to do all and suffer all for their lovers. Felice is a woman more cultivated, more self-contained, more selfish, more of a "lady," and her later piety and devotion but emphasize the fact that she is a member of a class. Yet she in turn is far removed from the Guinevere type, and farther still from the heroine of so many of the later French romances—a married woman who devotes her life to intrigues with a lover.32
While the type which I have called the vassal shows less variety, it is extremely interesting. In Aþulf, in Grim, in Saber, in Herhaud, as well as in other characters, one sees the relation of lord and follower at its best. Aþulf, appearing only for an instant now and then in the story of Horn, leaves a vivid impression. There is never a hint of self-seeking. Not for an instant will he take advantage of Aþelbrus's deception, when Rymenhild, thinking him Horn, declares her love. During Horn's long absence, he remains in Westernesse to guard the mistress for her lover. Herhaud, Grim, and Saber, likewise, are always willing to sacrifice all for their respective lords. Here is a glimpse of the more beautiful side of chivalry. However, it needs no emphasis here, as it is one of the most evident of the attractive features common to the whole range of medieval romance.33
There are in the romances, as in all narratives, figures which flash for an instant before us, then pass away; perhaps to return, and appear and disappear as before; perhaps to be seen no more. Some of these we have already noted as stock figures. Others do not seem to be of that character. Whatever they are, it is interesting to know who they are, what value they have for the stories in which they are introduced, and what interest the author has succeeded in attaching to them. Most are beyond the pale of characterization. Some of them are merely speaking persons, who appear unexpectedly, tell their stories, and disappear. In Horn there are two of these—Aþulf s father, who greets Horn and his companions when they land in Denmark, and tells them what has been going on in their absence (vv. 1301 ff.), and Arnoldin, who appears to tell Horn where Rymenhild has been taken by Fikenhild (vv. 1443 ff.). Again, there may be characters who are never named. Of this class are nine of the twelve companions of Horn—ornamental figures, who are dropped without remark. Other characters may be talked about and never actually get on the stage. Reynild is the sole member of this class in Horn. Others still may merely add a touch of pathos, as does Horn's mother. Lastly may be mentioned Harild and Berild who, after performing one or two insignificant acts, perish almost without rippling the surface of the narrative.
Thus Horn, considering the brevity of the story, has a fairly full background of dramatis personœ. If the English version represents the earlier form of the story, it is worth while to notice, in passing, how the minor characters appear in such a developed, sophisticated romance as Horn et Rimel. A number of the parts so insignificant have become really important. Lemburc, who plays the part of Reynild, and her brothers, Egfer and Guffer, appear repeatedly in a series of highly elaborated incidents. The account of Horn's father, told in epic fashion by the son in the body of the romance, is fairly full. A considerable addition to the stock of characters is made to fill up the enlarged stage. Herselote has already been mentioned. A nurse is introduced by means of whom Rimel discovers that she is making love to another than Horn. Rimel has attendants, unnamed, ready to amuse the one who might disturb a tête-à-tête. In the Irish part of the story, Gudburc and Sudburc, mother and sister of Lemburc, and Eglaf, the chess-player and athlete, are additions. Even the Irish kings are named.34 The divergence is extremely interesting, for this elaborate treatment of so many minor dramatis personae marks as well as anything else the long distance which must have been traveled by one or both of these romances from the source common to both.
In Horn the lesser characters seem to spring, for the most part, from a natural development of the plot. This, I think, is less true of Havelok, Guy, and Bevis. There may be, however, other sources of interest. In Havelok the two sisters of the hero are essentially pathetic characters. Grim's wife, after playing an important part in the realistic scene in Grim's "cleue," is never referred to again. Her brutality to the unknown boy, like that of Grim, leaves a blot on the family, if not on the story.
Vp she stirte, and nouht ne sat,
And caste, þe knaue so harde adoune,
þat he crakede þer his croune
Ageyn a gret ston, þer it lay.
(vv. 566 ff.)
Grim's children and Ubbe play conventional parts. Bernard Brun is an innkeeper with a name. His chief part is a repetition of the story of the fight between Havelok and the sixty lads, which might very well have been dispensed with. The cook, Bertram, is merely a friendly helper. The Earl of Chester and the Earl of Lincoln furnish historical background, and the former, in addition, becomes husband of Gunnild, Grim's daughter. It is interesting to note that every one of these persons has a name, from Leue, the wife of Grim, to Bernard Brun, the innkeeper, and Bertram, the cook. Most of the minor characters, too, it will be noted, are of humble rank, and are an item in the popular character of the story. The prominence given to the family of Grim is probably due to the fact that the romance celebrates a particular place. If the minor dramatis personae of Havelok are less intimately connected with plot than those of Horn, they show greater realism and broader range.
In Bevis and Guy the greater part of the minor characters are principals in the incidents in which they appear. In these romances the story is a succession of adventures, each with its little plot. In Bevis these are usually brief and very slightly elaborated, three or four dramatis personae being sufficient for each incident. Many persons appear, only to be slain by the hero. Most of these are too colorless to be characterized. In general, it may be said that there is an absence of pathetic and ornamental figures. There is a fairly large number—including two messengers, two porters, two stewards, a palmer, and a giant—bearing no names. There is a concentration upon incidents. One figure, Ascopard, stands out somewhat, being intended, it seems, to produce a comic effect.35
Much of what was said about Bevis at the beginning of the preceding paragraph applies to Guy as well. The latter romance is much longer than the former; the incidents are told with greater detail; but there is the same succession of lifeless figures, among whom the hero displays his prowess. There is, moreover, no comic person to be placed beside Ascopard. The reference to the various ladies surrounding Felice is another element associating it with the courtly type of romance. There is, too, the account of the gathering of people at Warwick at Pentecost—
There were Erles, barons, and knyghtes,
And many a man of grete myghtes;
Ladies and maydens of grete renown,
The grettest desired ther to bee bown
(C. vv. 189 ff.)—
swhich furnishes a courtly setting. With the twelve companions of Horn may be compared the twenty sons of good barons who were dubbed knights with Guy. The list of dramatis personae is very great. Limiting the number to those introduced as individuals, there are almost a hundred, of whom about seventy are named.36 In Bevis there are forty, of whom about twenty-five are named. In Havelok there are twenty-two, all named; in Horn twenty, of whom fifteen are named.
Dialogue and Soliloquy
Dialogue plays an interesting and important part in displaying character, and the manner of the dialogue goes far toward being the manner of the romance.
In Horn the vigorous dialogue serves to advance the narrative rather than to portray character. It is significant, too, that real soliloquy, to reveal intention or mood, is absent. In Havelok, on the contrary, in which dramatic situation is not emphasized, dialogue is of comparatively slight importance, while numerous soliloquies reveal mood and purpose.37 In Bevis there is gain in dialogue with the author's superior sense of situation. However, it is a matter of plot primarily, although, with its brevity and passion, it is valuable for character too.38 The seven soliloquies are brief and of slight importance. Both dialogue and soliloquy are of great importance in Guy. Dialogue is sustained, and emotions are presented fully.39 The soliloquies are long and important. The one which shows Guy struck with remorse for his sins is both moving and true (sts. 21 f.). In dialogue and soliloquy Guy shows the characteristics of the chivalric romance.
Interest in Mental States
In reading this section much that has already been said should be kept in mind. The discussion of the individual characters, of dialogue, and of soliloquy includes much which might be treated here. But to avoid needless repetition, the attempt will be made to view the material already familiar from another angle, something being added to make the outlook sufficiently broad. The term "interest in mental states" is employed here loosely. The manner in which emotion is manifested by the dramatis personae, the degree to which the author delights in analyzing mental states, even the extent of the emotional appeal to the auditor, and the way in which it is produced, will come under review.
King Horn, which is the most ballad-like of all genuine English romances,40 has, like the ballad, emotional value apart from any overt interest on the part of the author in character or mental states. The dialogue has frequently this emotional appeal. But of real interest in states of mind as such there is none. In the most dramatic scenes the auditor may be left without a hint of the emotions of the dramatis personae (e. g., the banishment of Horn, vv. 705 ff.).41 In Havelok the situation is almost reversed. There is a certain amount of interest in mental states as such, but none of the ballad-like appeal to feelings by poignant situations such as we found in Horn. The author takes pleasure in reminding the hearers that Godrich is deceived and plotting his own ruin when he plans to marry Goldborough and Havelok.
For he wende, pat Hauelok wore
Sum cherles sone, and no more;
Ne shulde he hauen of Engellond
Onlepi forw in his hond
With hire, þat was þer-of, þe eyr,
pat bope was god and swipe fair.
He wende, pat Hauelok wer a þral,
þer-þoru he wende hauen al
In Engelond, pat hire riht was.
(vv. 1091 ff.)
We are told in some detail how the characters thought over situations. Thus Apelwold considers at length what best to do to protect his daughter's interests after his death. Havelok considers carefully before returning to Grimsby with his bride. In fact there is a good deal of downright thinking going on. To Bevis what was said about Horn in large measure applies. The situations in themselves are often moving, but the author does not dwell on the emotions of his characters, nor does he seem to insist on the emotional appeal to the reader. He is in too much of a hurry to get on. However, the dialogue is often characteristic enough to reveal the feelings of the characters. But the reader is left in doubt as to Bevis's feelings for Josian up to the time when she became a Christian. In the love affair it is only the heroine's feelings which are revealed. Scarcely anything is made of the loss of wife and children, when Ascopard carries Josian away and the two boys are left in the care of strangers. Whatever emotional appeal there is springs entirely from the imaginative sympathy of the audience with the situation. It need scarcely be said that there is far greater interest in emotional states of mind in Guy. So far as the hero's love and repentance are concerned, this was made clear in discussing the soliloquies. One may note, also, the accounts of the reunion of comrades after long separation (vv. 1749 ff.; sts. 142 ff.); the story of Guy's parting from father and mother (vv. 1217 ff.); the story of Oisel and Tirri; the story of Jonas. There is not so much analysis as in many French romances, but there is a decided interest in emotional states, a too-marked insistence on them often, which sets Guy far apart from Horn, Havelok, and Bevis.42
When one looks at the actual manner of manifesting emotion in the romances, he is at once in the midst of stock material. However, I believe that differences in the treatment of this stock material will appear. The expression of grief is most important. Wringing of the hands is, of course, a commonplace, and is not limited by age or sex.
þe children hi broyte to stronde
Wringende here honde.
(Horn, vv. 111 ff.)
When Rymenhild found her messenger drowned,
Hire fingres he gan wringe.
(ibid., v. 980)
Likewise of the child Bevis:
yeme a wep, is hondes wrong.
(Bevis, v. 298)
Swooning is even more common. Rymenhild falls (presumably in a faint) three times: on Horn's refusal of her love "adun he feol iswoye" (v. 428); at Horn's departure for Ireland she "feol to grunde" (v. 740); and again she "feol iswoye" when Horn approached Fikenhild's castle singing (v. 1479). Swooning does not occur in Havelok, and in Bevis occurs but twice—curiously enough a man being the victim in each case. Thus Terri, when he was told that Guy was dead,
fel, þar doun and swouy,
His her, his cloþes he al to-drouy.
(vv. 1309 f.)
And Bevis, when he finds his two newborn children, but no mother,
fel þar doun and swouy.
Lovers were of course expected to faint, and Guy is a perfect lover. At the end of a confession of love,
Adoune he felle swoune with that.
Later in the story, what with bleeding wounds and sorrow for his slain friends, "adoun he fel aswon." Herhaud swoons from the shock of surprise and joy in meeting Guy (v. 1762), and again he "fel in swowe vpon his bedde"43 because of anxiety for Guy, who was absent on a dangerous mission (v. 3999). Oisel faints over her wounded lover (v. 4896), and again when she sees him in bonds (v. 5903). Both Guy and Felice swoon when he announces his intention to become a pilgrim (st. 32, v. 11). Tirri swoons when he learns that the unknown pilgrim who had slain his enemy Berard is in truth his old comrade Guy (st. 226, v. 3). Lastly, Felice swoons when she comes to the hermitage where her husband lies dead.
Weeping is too common an occurrence for anything like a full list here. While more often it is the manifestation of a woman's grief, it is not at all regarded as unworthy of heroes. In Horn there are the following examples:
Heo sat on be sunne
Wib tires al birunne.
(vv. 653 ff.)
Alf weop wit ibe
& al bat him isiye.
(vv. 755 ff.)
Horn iherd with his ires
A spak with bidere teres.
(vv. 887 ff.)
Ne miste heo adribe
bat heo (Rymenhild) ne weop wib iye.
(vv. 1035 f.)
be bride wepey sore.
She was "sore wepinge & berne" when Horn entered the hall where the wedding feast was being prepared; she wept "teres of blode" when imprisoned by Fikenhild (v. 1406). Abulf, watching for Horn, says "for sorebe nu y wepe" (v. 1104). In Havelok there are only two or three examples. The lords whom Abelwold summoned when he was at the point of death
Greten, and gouleden, and gouen hem ille.
Havelok and his sisters, shut up in a castle, wept for hunger and cold (v. 416). Likewise, there is little weeping in Bevis. When the boy hero learned of his father's death, "berne a wep" (v. 298). Josian weeps right sorely (vv. 1111, 1190) and Bevis hears her weeping and crying in the castle of Yvor (v. 2101). Guy, true lover that he is, weeps as well as faints from the violence of his passion (vv. 247, 261, 568). He weeps too over his fallen comrades (v. 1554). The kissing of men is associated with weeping sometimes, either for joy or for sorrow. Once when Herhaud and his fellows rescue Guy pursued by Saracens,
be most hepe wepen for blis;
??ai kisten Gij alle for blis.
(vv. 4072 f.)
When Guy and Tirri part,
To gider bai kisten to,
At her departing bai wepen bo.
(vv. 7111 f.)
And at another parting they
kist hem wib eiye wepeing.
Weeping with both eyes seems intended to imply violent weeping (v. 4455, sts. 138, 226, 294).
The more violent tearing of hair and clothes is also a convention of romances. There are no cases in Horn or in Havelok. In Bevis there is the instance quoted above when Terni swooned and, apparently at the same time,
His her, his clobes he al todrouy.
In Guy the expression is common. Of Guy in
love it is said
His clothes he rende, his heer he drough.
The Sultan, enraged at his defeat, rends his clothes (Caius v. 3692). Earl Jonas, when Guy meets him, is rending his clothes and tearing his hair (st. 46).
Other ways of expressing grief may be mentioned. "Hise heorte began to childe" (Horn, v. 1148) has numerous parallels.44 In Bevis there is
be childes herte was wel colde.
be kinges herte wex wel cold.
Less conventional is the account of Josian's woe when she thinks Bevis is leaving her:
Hire pouyte, pe tour wolde on hir falle.
Guy complains that, because of love, he cannot sit nor stand, rest nor sleep, eat nor drink (vv. 315 ff.). There is also in Guy an abundance of making "mone" and sighing "sore."
The expression of joy is also unrestrained. Kissing is often a token of joy.
Hi custe hem mid ywisse
& makeden muchel blisse.
(Horn, vv. 1209 f.)
When Terri discovered his father Saber in the palmer, he took him in his armes
& gonne cleppen and to kisse
And made meche ioie & blisse.
(vv. 3944 f.)
Almost the identical lines occur at another place (w. 3057 f.). In Guy the meeting of old friends is accompanied by kissing.
To kissen Herhaud bai hem do,
Wel gret ioie bai maden to.
(vv. 6655 f.)46
Swooning or falling down for joy is restricted to Guy. Herhaud's swooning (v. 1762) has been mentioned. When Oisel, forcibly held by Otous, saw Guy unexpectedly,
For blisse sche fel aswon adoun.
She swoons again when she meets Tirri:
For ioie sche swoned omong hem.
Unrestrained expression of emotion on the part of dramatis personce is a characteristic pretty general in metrical romance.47 In the group here studied, Havelok, which is the least romantic, is least emotional, and Guy, which is most romantic, is most emotional. The means of expressing feeling are thoroughly conventional, as the brief review here made clearly shows.48Horn, Bevis, and Guy represent types of literature which originally stood far apart. Yet we find them side by side on English soil, drawing from the same stock of literary material. The sentimentalism of Guy brings with it a freer use of the extreme forms of expressing emotion.49 In Bevis, where sentiment plays a small part, we find these stock expressions here and there; almost unexpectedly. In Horn, which is more truly romance, the expression of joy, less unrestrained than in Guy, is more appropriate than in Bevis. But the strong resemblance of these metrical stories is due, largely at least, to the recasting at the hands of Englishmen who did not distinguish types; who were familiar with stock romantic material, the well-known poses, rhyme phrases, etc., and in translating threw them in where convenient.50
In the English romances the expressions representing emotion are for the most part stock material, English material indeed, although no doubt French romance assisted in its creation. Perhaps there was a tendency in this respect to confuse types of narrative—that is, in the use of these stock emotional expressions—which brings the English romances nearer together than their sources.
The Human Relations
It is perfectly clear, even to him who reads running, that the medieval romances by no means deal in anything like a complete way with the various relations which make up human life. The name romance perhaps cuts out a certain portion of these; but modern romance has looked upon and cultivated great areas of life which medieval romance never dreamed about. To determine a little more clearly what are the human limits of the metrical romances, particularly the four now under examination, is the purpose of this section.
Love, as in all romance, is, next to war, the greatest interest. This means, of course, the love of the sexes. Other forms of love—of parent and child, of brother and sister, of brother and brother—are almost crowded out. War, of course, means comradeship, and the love of comrades for each other—sometimes of follower for lord—plays its expected part. But affections other than the love of man and woman, of warrior and warrior, are of insignificant interest.
In these four romances there are two types of love represented, the passionate and the chivalrous. The latter is, of course, the type at once associated with medieval romance—with Lancelot and with Tristram. In greater refinement it is represented by the love stories of Dante and Pertrach. It is the love of Arthur's court and of the court of love, of Chretien at the beginning and Malory at the end of a literary period. This type of love is represented in Guy, imperfectly perhaps, yet not unattractively. The passionate type is represented in Horn and Bevis.
Curiously enough, in the passionate type it is the woman who woos. This is a situation appearing in William of Palerne, in Amis and Amiloun,51 as well as in Horn and in Bevis. There seems to be a greater popularity in the kind of love here represented. It is attractive by its simplicity, its frankness, its faithfulness, its healthy, unspoiled, primitive human nature. Sometimes there seems to be a certain disregard of the legal bond of marriage. Apparently Rymenhild cared little for it (vv. 531 ff.); we are not sure that Josian did (vv. 1093 ff.). William of Palerne's love for Melior had, at first, no legal sanction. Yet there is always the faithfulness which we associate with the marriage tie. It is the unmoral attitude of the ballads.
This passionate type of love is characteristic of the chanson de geste (cf. Gautier, I, p. 207). It is the lady who makes the advances, sometimes in a disgustingly bold manner.52 Frequently it is a Saracen girl who shows this frank, sometimes brutal passion, which may not scruple at parricide to attain its end.53 However, the general traits of female character seem much the same in Christian as in Saracen.54 Prejudice against Saracen women who become Christians is not a trait of the chansons de geste.55 Orable, the wife of' Guillaume de Orange, is perhaps the most attractive of the heroines of the chansons de geste. This typical woman was never a person common in real life; but she probably does represent an earlier stage when women were of less importance socially, and when distinctively feminine traits were not held in the esteem which was felt by the society implied by the roman d'aventure.
In Guy it is the man who woos. The lady is unsusceptible, disdainful even. The hero must remain afar off, must wait for many years; and when he wins his love he is scarcely permitted to enjoy it. There is a strong undercurrent of asceticism. The love of woman leads to strife; many men have been and will be "to gronde y-brouyt" by women (vv. 1503 ff.); it is after renunciation that the noblest character is developed both in Guy and in Felice (st. 279). Even pure and chivalrous love is unworthy in the presence of religious asceticism.
It is well to bear in mind that there was an ideal of love in medieval literature, and life, too, perhaps, which insisted that the perfect relation was between a married woman and an unmarried man. At its best this ideal is beautiful, if unpractical and ultimately immoral. It sprang from a desire to preserve the first bright glow of young love before desire had darkened it. To do this meant to love the unattainable and unapproachable—a married woman. This of course is the love of Dante for Beatrice. It is the love which dictated the rules of the court of love. But in many of the French romances, as well as in their English analogues, we see the ideal breaking down, and another taking its place. The beloved is still a married woman, but not quite unapproachable, not quite unattainable. Here of course stand Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristram and Iseult, human and attractive, but sinners who must suffer. Later still come the romances in which illicit love is represented not as sin, perhaps not involving evil consequences, or, if so, only accidentally as any pure love might. Under a slight varnish there is often all the grossness of fabliau. Yet the author will say that these were perfect lovers.56 It is interesting to note that these grosser romances had no vogue in English. No doubt they were repugnant to medieval English moral standards, at least of the public which read the English romances, low as they often are. Contemporary with these immoral romances, with their ideal of courtly, illicit love, were romances in which love seems so primitive as in Horn and Bevis, and so pure as in Guy. The English were using the less fashionable of contemporary literary material.
More important is war—involving the emotions of hatred and envy, as well as hope of glory and joy of victory. Here we are concerned primarily with the human side—with the emotions concerned. These are implied rather than expressed. In Horn and in Bevis there is the opposition of Christian and Saracen; in Havelok, of the loyal and the traitorous; in Guy of Warwick, of national and foreign. In addition, we find in our romances hostility because of the appearance of an undesired suitor for the heroine's hand, or because some one has been dispossessed of his property, or because some one has been worsted in a tournament. On the whole it may be said that these hostile relations are dwelt upon only sufficiently to bring about the fascinating scenes when lances break and swords clash. To see more clearly how the human elements enter into war it will be sufficient to discuss vengeance, cruelty, and the emotions of the fight.
The emotions of the fight are anger and fear. In Horn and Havelok these scarcely appear. In the fight with his father's slayer
Horn him gan agrise,
& his blod arise
(vv. 868 ff.)
And Godard when captured "rorede als a bole" (Hav. v. 2438). In Bevis, however, there are numerous expressions to indicate the state of mind of combatants, especially of the hero. These are chiefly about physical sufferings. He is injured
pat he miyte sofre namore.
(Bevis, v. 630)
When he got to his chamber, he
leide him deueling on be grounde
To kolen is hertte in Oat stounde.
(vv. 649 f.)
He became weary in his fight with the boar (v. 799). In the fight with the dragon "lim pouyte his herte to-brast" (v. 1792), and in his fight with the London crowd he was "wo be-gon" because of his wounds. In Guy combatants suffer for water (sts. 113, 120). When wounded, Amoraunt's "hert was full of ire and care" (v. 8541). Colbrond, when wounded, "was sore aschame" (st. 262). Guy in the same fight was sore dismayed and sore aghast when his sword broke. These are but a few of the cases in Bevis and Guy in which something is said about the emotions and physical sufferings of combatants. The simpler romances of Horn and Havelok have less fighting and therefore less material of this kind. Perhaps the most striking feature to be observed is the absence of fear.
Vengeance has an important part to play in many romances—and in three of this group, Horn, Havelok, Bevis. But the feeling of bitterness from which deeds of vengeance spring is almost absent. It is true that vengeance is secured. The Saracen enemies of Horn are slain; Godard and Godrich pay for their treachery with their lives; and the mother and stepfather of Bevis likewise perish. But of real hatred there is none except in the case of Bevis. Even in his case there is nothing to compare with the vengeance of Elizabethan drama. It is in the background of the story.
Of cruelty there is probably no more than medieval life would justify, In Horn there is mutual slaughter of Saracens and Christians, non-combatants as well as combatants (vv. 63 ff., 1377 ff.). But mortal enmity between Christians and infidels is merely part of the setting of much of medieval literature.57 Even the Saracens did not have the cruelty to slay Horn and his companions outright. Fikenhild, after his death at Horn's hands, was drawn,58 but that was the customary fate of traitors. The same remark applies to the tortures undergone by Godrich and Godard. They are condemned by their peers, and no one might do Godrich shame before trial (Havelok, vv. 1762 ff.). But there is no shrinking from legal cruelty. When Godard had been sentenced and shriven,
Sket came a ladde with a knif,
And bigan riht at þe to
For to ritte, and for to flo
So it were grim or gore.
(vv. 2493 ff.)
With like severity Godrich was bound to a stake and burned (vv. 2831 ff.). The cruelty of Bevis is of a much fiercer quality. When Bevis was told that his half-brother59 had been unintentionally slain by his father he
louy and hadde gode game.
When his stepfather was captured, he had him put to death by being thrown into a kettle of lead, and when his mother, beholding her husband thus perish, falls from the castle and breaks her neck,
Alse glad he was of hire,
Of his damme, ase of is stepsire.
(vv. 3463 f.)
Such brutality as this is entirely absent from Guy. Here is another instance of the distance by which this romance is removed from the others, particularly from Bevis, which in structure it so much resembles.
As has been said, not much is made of the family relations. The relation of husband and wife seems to be an exception, as it is a source of interest in Havelok, Bevis, and Guy. Yet not very much is made of it. In Bevis it is only the wife who seems much affected by the long separation. In Guy there is the tacit approval of the departure of the husband at a time when he is aware that he is to be a father. Scarcely anything is made of the relationship of mother and son. The meeting of Horn and Godhild, furnishing such a splendid chance for pathos, is barely mentioned (v. 1383).60 In Bevis the mother's attitude is entirely unnatural. The mother of Havelok is not mentioned; and the mother of Guy is neglected after the beginning of the romance. The relation of father and son is of greater importance. It is necessary that the hero's father should be a man of rank and might as an assurance of the hero's qualifications. The death of the father may introduce the motive of quest for vengeance (Homn, Bevis); the hero may take pride in his father (Bevis, w. 613 ff.). But scarcely anything is made of filial affection.61 Much less is made of fraternal affection. As a rule the hero of romance is an only child, at least of both father and mother; so Guy, Horn, Bevis. The sisters of Havelok perish too early to play a significant part. It is true of romance literature in general that the fraternal relation is unimportant.62 The relation of subject and lord is, as has already been indicated, one of importance. But when the most is made of all this, one need only think of Chaucer to realize that the appeal of these early metrical romances is to a limited range of emotion.
In order to see clearly what each of these romances has contributed to medieval character-writing, it is necessary to consider them separately, summarizing, for the most part, the conclusions already stated.
—In this romance the characterization seems to harmonize perfectly with the rough, uncouth background of life and nature. Horn is a fighter first and a lover second. Indeed, as a lover, while faithful, he is not ardent. His long sojourn in Ireland does not seem sufficiently motivated if he is greatly in love. He does not absolutely refuse the Irish princess. He hesitates to accept Rymenhild's love when offered. His caution and self-command are almost too great. He is more anxious to receive knighthood and to become a warrior than to be the accepted lover of the royal princess. Yet he is a simple, manly, engaging figure. Rymenhild is equally simple, but her simplicity is that of primitive passion. Passionate love and passionate anger seem to bound her emotional range. The minor characters are barely sketched. Perhaps there is a touch of character contrast in the presentation of Fikenhild and Abulf, both Horn's companions and subjects, both bound to him by ties of friendship, both receiving knighthood at his hands, but Fikenhild is throughout the type of the unfaithful as AIulf is the type of the faithful vassal. Other characters are merely conventional figures—the porter, the palmer, Arnoldin, King Modi.
In presenting character, emotion, states of mind, use has been made of dialogue and action. A little is said of personal appearance, there is a hint here and there as to the feelings of the dramatis personœ, but these are comparatively unimportant. The dialogue reveals the progress of the love affair. The abundant action, of course, often reveals mood and attitude. Elsewhere all is left to the imagination of reader or hearer—the intention, the state of mind, even the character. The simplicity of character and emotion is emphasized by the sketchy presentation.
Of the human relations involved, only one is treated elaborately—namely, love. This is a human, popular, primitive passion, careless of fashion, free from coquetry, faithful, but without adoration. The woman woos, the man somewhat passively accepts the offered love. The love of comrades, manifested in Horn and Abulf, while not developed, furnishes an additional interest, opposing the "envy" of Fikephild, that scarcely understood hatred of the hero which apparently arouses very little resentment on the part of the one who suffers from it. The Saracens, however, arouse fiercer passions, although these are barely suggested. The darker passions remain unelaborated.
—In Havelok the atmosphere has changed. Not knights, but the folk fill the stage. Havelok is a good servant, can put the stone beyond the farthest, and can break heads with a door-tree. He is good-natured, cautious, simple. There is no hint of passionate love or keen thirst for glory. Grim is a sturdy, loyal fisherman. The more vivid minor characters are fishermen (Grim's children), a cook, an innkeeper. Goldborough is scarcely the sketch of a queenly figure. Akelwold, a character of some importance, is an ideal king from the point of view of the peaceful, law-abiding middle class. Godrich and Godard, almost indistinguishable, are typical traitors. There is greater interest in states of mind than in Horn. There is greater individuality of character. This, seems to be due to a changed point of view, as if the writer were not a minstrel seeing life through the spectacles of a courtly nobility, or even a crude, rough nobility, but some one—a priest, perhaps—who sees life with the eyes of the laborers or tradespeople of provincial England.
Here the author has more to say about his characters—Akelwold, Havelok, Godard, and others. The soliloquies reveal both character and intention. With less dramatic situation, the dialogue is comparatively unimportant. Action, of course, is important for revealing character, especially as purpose and mood, out of which action arises, are made clear. On the other hand, there is far less passion than in Horn, since the situations are so much less vivid and emotionally significant. Character apparently is more consciously in the mind of the author, and is emphasized by the more obvious means—soliloquy, general narrative, and direct statement—but the emotions springing from dramatic situation are neglected.
The field of human relations is again comparatively narrow. Love is almost absent. The relation of subject and king is perhaps most important, exemplified by Grim, Ubbe, and Grim's children, and, negatively, by Godard and Godrich. There is a national outlook absent from Horn, not present to an equal degree in Bevis and Guy. The relation of parent and child is intimately connected with the deaths of Akelwold and Birkabein. There is a glimpse, too, of the relation of servant and master. However, there is not the dramatic tension of strong passions which makes human relations of great significance for the story. The interest centers largely in the interaction of the hero and his environment—his conduct when famine reduces Grim to poverty, his conduct as the cook's servant, his success in the game of putting the stone, or of breaking heads. The chief emotion of the poem is the sense of triumph felt by the audience as it sympathetically followed the progress of the hero.
—In Bevis, as in Horn, character has little interest for the author. He does not stop to describe character, and seldom to indicate mental states. Yet the main dramatis personœ are not unimpressive. We seen somehow to be again in the presence of fierce, primitive people and emotions. Bevis is a fighter, who joys in battle more than in love. He is fierce and even cruel—a stern, irresistible, brutal warrior, whose claim to admiration is unmeasured valor. Josian loves as Rymenhild loved—violently. She does not shrink from inflicting death on a persecutor. Other characters have an equal fierceness, without the redeeming faithfulness. Bevis's mother, the Emperor of Almaine, Ascopard, and most of the Saracens are people to inspire terror. There is not much said of states of mind, but so far as they are not purely conventional romantic material, due to the translator, they have the same fierceness and primitive, quality that mark the entire romance.
Character is presented by means of situation and dialogue. Not much is made of soliloquy. Scarcely anything is said in the way of direct characterization, and not much in regard to emotions. However, the dialogue is sharp and characteristic, and the situations swiftly succeeding one another have a cumulative effect, especially in connection with the impression made by the hero. It may be noted that there is a slightly humorous character in Ascopard.
What was said about human relations in Horn may almost be repeated here. There is the unrestrained love of the heroine, faithful and heroic; and there is, too, the lukewarmness of the hero. There is the development of the friendship of fellows-in-arms. There is the same background of Saracens versus Christians, as a basis for hatred and war. There is, however, greater fierceness and cruelty than in Horn. We are moving in the atmosphere of unrefined knighthood, of untempered fanaticism, and unbridled brutality, relieved somewhat by faithful love in wife and comrade.
Guy of Warwick.
—Guy is a long step from Bevis. Here chivalry has softened warrior and war. Guy is an irresistible warrior like Bevis, but he is an adoring lover, and becomes a devoted palmer, doing penance for his sins. His character is less simple; he feels the conflict of love and religion; he suffers as well as triumphs. Felice is no Rymenhild, who invites her favorite to her bower that she may throw herself into his arms; she is to be won only after years of ardent seeking and repeated rebuffs. The stage is full of dramatis personœ. There is the maiden who plays the foil to Felice. Father and mother of Guy appear, playing natural, human parts. In addition, there is almost a host of dramatis personœ who are the conventional knights and kings and giants of romance. A greater elaboration distinguishes the character-material of Guy from that of Bevis, Horn, and Havelok.
Likewise more care and more time are devoted to the exposition of character and mental states. There are long soliloquies. Dialogue is sustained. There are definite statements from the author in regard to states of mind. At least one character—the maiden of Felice—is introduced to make feeling and attitude vivid by contrast. The action is very often significant of character. In the attention to character this romance is allied to Havelok.
But Guy differs very widely from Havelok in the field of human life from which character and emotion spring. Love is again of great interest—the love of knight for lady—an adoring, chivalrous love. This love conflicts with the relation of man and the church, or of man and God, and succumbs to the exalted desire for penitential sacrifice. Thus there is an elevation above the normal emotions of Horn, Bevis and Havelok. There is here, again, the same or greater emphasis on love of comrades. There is a new touch of filial affection. There is a current of patriotism found in Havelok, but not in Horn and Bevis. Thus there is in Guy a broadening and heightening of character and feeling.
What remains to be said is merely this. In these four romances there are striking differences and striking resemblances in the treatment of character and emotion. The differences seem to indicate great variation of type. Horn is the representative of an undeveloped, unsophisticated, warlike society, and might well be at base a material version of a popular tale which had absorbed romantic motives. Havelok is written for and about provincial, lowly or middle class Englishmen. Bevis is essentially a chanson de geste. Guy is a chanson de geste made over into a romance of chivalry. Yet in the very structure of three of these metrical stories is the exile-and-return motive, with the dramatis personœ which it implies. Corresponding dramatis personœ appear in Guy, but belong less closely to the main structure of the romance. Nevertheless, this resemblance of the four romances in respect to dramatis personœ and the structure which they imply should not be made too much of in searching for the conditions from which the tales originally sprang. If they once were very similar, they became dissimilar. At least Bevis and Guy were worked over if not created by Frenchmen and developed into metrical tales of widely different type. But in the English dress in which we are examining them there is no evidence that the English redactors felt very keenly the distinction of types. Stock romantic material is found throughout, especially in Horn, in Bevis, and in Guy. There are the same stock dramatis personœ; there are the same stereotyped ways of expressing emotion; there are the same stereotyped phrases in the mouths of dramatis personœ, and in the mouths of the authors talking about the dramatis personœ. At least the stereotyped phrases are in a large measure the property of English romance, and the freedom with which they are employed everywhere seems to indicate that they were regarded as appropriate for any kind of story, that there was no distinction made between romantic and epic tale. What in France was intended for diverse audiences came in England into the hands of one set of minstrels reciting to one popular and undiscriminating audience, which welcomed a hodgepodge of narrative material that must have been very foreign to their natural interests. I must modify this statement by saying that in Havelok we seem to have a truly popular hero, not entirely created in the image of crude or chivalrous knighthood. But he is the exception that proves the rule. It is certainly not in the dramatis personœ of English metrical romances that we are to look for a clear image of medieval English life.
1 "The Character Types in the Old French Chansons de Geste," Pub. Mod. Lang. Asso., vol. xxi, pp. 279 ff.; "The Heroic Ideal in the French Epic," Quarterly Review, April, 1908.
2 Many suggestions as to method have been obtained from the studies in narrative of Professor W. M. Hart, especially Ballad and Epic, Harvard Studies and Notes, vol. xi, Boston, 1907.
3 References are made to the following editions: King Horn, ed. by Joseph Hall, Oxford, 1901; Havelok the Dane, ed. by W. W. Skeat, Oxford, 1902; Bevis of Hamtoun, ed. by E. Kölbing, E. E. Text Soc., Ex. Ser. xlvi, xlviii, lxv, London, 1885-1894; Guy of Warwick, Auchinleck and Caius Mss., ed. by J. Zupitza, E.E.T.S. Ex. Ser. xlii, xlix, lix, London, 1883-1891.
4 Leo Jordan, Über Boeve de Hanstone, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für rom. Phil. (xiv, Halle, 1908), pp. 41 f.; gives a list of dramatis personœ in French exile stories which is not quite the same as the one above. However, it is interesting as showing that practically this same group of characters appears in a number of chansons de geste. Among the English romances, Generydes furnishes the list of dramatis personœ most nearly parallel.
5 Not counting Akelwold, the father of a heroine.
6 In King Horn it is not actually stated that Reynild loves Horn, though marriage is suggested to Horn by her father. However, in Horn et Rimel and Horn Childe, the love of Lembure and Acula (corresponding to Reynild) is a prominent feature.
7 Nevertheless, cf. P. C. Hoyt, "The Home of the Beves Saga," P.M.L.A., 1902, pp. 237 ff., who thinks the resemblance between Bevis and Horn sufficient to indicate that the former is derived from the latter.
8 In Horn Childe the porter's shoulder bone was broken (HCh vv. 958 ff.).
9 In John de Reeue (Percy Folio, vol. II), vv. 719 ff., is a similar dispute between hero and porter, with the result that John
"hitt the porter vpon the crowne,
With that stroke hee ffel downe,
fforsooth as I you tell."
In Sir Cleges the hero gains admission to the king by agreeing to give the porter one-third of the gift he shall receive, and asks that the gift be twelve strokes, of which the porter gets his share in due time (vv. 247 ff.). Cf. Kölbing's note to Bevis, A 1. 419. Also see Hall's note to Horn, vv. 1067, 8; Tristram, vv. 619 ff.; Gautier, Chivalry, Eng. transl. by Henry Frith, London, 1891, pp. 369 ff.; C. Boje, Über den Altfranzoösischen Roman von Beuve de Hamtone, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für rom. Phil., xix, Halle, 1909, pp. 71 f. The porter sometimes plays a different part; cf. Gawayn and the Grene Knyght, vv. 91 ff., and Floris and Blancheflor, vv. 749 ff.
10 As in Sir Cleges; cf. note preceding.
11 Cf. Generydes, vv. 4630 ff., where the maid takes the part of the knight against the reproaches of her mistress.
12 Edited by Brede and Stengel, Das Anglo-Normannische Lied vom Wackern Ritter Horn, Ausgaben und Abhandlungen, vol. viii.
13 From these instances it is evident that the maid plays in medieval romantic literature the same part which maid or attendant so often plays in the later dramatic literature.
14 Referred to above, p. 436.
15 For Kay at his worst, cf. the French romance Ider, in which he is guilty of the use of poison. See, too, G. Paris, in Hist. Litt., XXXI, p. 160, apropos of Kay in the Escanor of Girard d'Amiens: "II parait avoir pris surtout le type du senechal dans les romans de Chrétien oii, comme ici, sa mauvaise langue est le plus grave de ses defauts."
16 Cf. Arthur and Merlin, vv. 80 ff.; Squire of Low Degree, vv. 283 ff., etc.; Sir Triamore, vv. 61 ff., etc.; Merline, vv. 47 ff.; Amis and Amiloun, vv. 205 ff.; Sir Degrevant, vv. 1633 ff.; also 'ffalsesteward" in "Sir Aldingar" (Child, No. 59).
17 Of course there are good stewards now and then, as is the case with Guy's father. However, the association of steward with self-seeking and an ugly disposition seems widespread. In this connection it is interesting to compare No. LXII of the Fables of Marie de France (ed. by Warnke, Bibliotheca Normannica, vol. VI), "De Aquila et Accipitre et Columbis".
18 For cases in French medieval narrative where there is an exchange of clothing with a palmer, cf. Boje, p. 70.
19 Cf. Prologue to "Man of Law's Tale" (Cant. Tales, B, vv. 127 ff.), where merchants are apostrophized:
Ye seken lond and see for yowre wynnynges;
As wise folk ye knowen al thestaat
Of regnes; ye been fadres of tidynges
And tales, bothe of pees and of debaat,
I were right now of tales desolaat,
Nere that a marchant—goon is many a yeere—
Me taughte a tale, which that ye shal heere.
20 Two giants, brothers, whom the hero meets at different times and slays, seem a convention; cf. in Bevis Grander and his brother (vv. 1721 ff.; 1859 ff.); Eglamore, w. 300 ff., 513 ff.; Daurel (Hist. Litt., XXX, p. 137).
21 This suggests the "s waes g d cyning" of Beowulf, although the term "good" is perhaps even more conventional in the romances.
22 The very enumeration of the classes who loved him is suggestive.
It was a king bi are dawes,
Pat in his time were gode lawes
He dede maken, an ful wel holden;
Hym louede yung, him louede holde,
Ern and barun, dreng and kaygi,
Knict, bondeman, and swain,
Wydues, maydnes, prestes and clerkes,
And al for hise gode werkes.
(vv. 27 ff.)
23 W. W. Comfort, "The Character Types in the old French Chansons de Geste", P.M.L.A., XXI, pp. 279 ff., distinguishes three treatments of the king in the chanson de geste. He is represented (1) as grandiose and epic, less only than God; (2) as weak, old, sometimes cowardly; (3) as a mere political necessity—this last under the influence of the Breton cycle where the king is only "a fixed point of support, on which the leading characters in the story are made to lean". The noble king of Havelok seems English. However, the weakness of the kings in Horn, Bevis, and Guy seems to relate them to class (2). The Emperor of Almaine (in Guy) is clearly of this class; his capture while on the chase is an incident connecting him with stories of Charlemagne.
It may be worth while to note here that both Bevis and Guy had fathers who were good stewards. They furnish the nearest parallels to the account of A'elwold. Bevis's father Guy "kept well Englond in his days".
He set peas and stabelud the laws,
Pat no man was so hardye,
To do another velanye.
(M. MS. vv. 43 ff.; passage missing from one set of Bevis MSS.)
In Guy, Syward was a steward of similar virtues.
þei a man bar an hundred pounde,
Opon him, of gold y-grounde
Per nas man in al Pis londe
pat durst him do schame no schonde
pat bireft him wor, of a slo,
So gode pais Per was to.
(vv. 137 ff.)
In Abelwold's time one could carry red gold upon his back and find none to trouble him (Havelok, vv. 45 ff.).
If one thinks of Chreétien's romances, one recognizes how incongruous similar lines would appear if found in them. The same is equally true of nearly all of the super-refined chivalric romances. Compare, too, the Alexander romances. Generosity, not justice, is the chief virtue of the chivalric king.
24 For numerous parallels, see Hall's notes. Medieval romancers were inclined to insist, as here, that their heroes were the most beautiful in the world; cf. William of Palerne, vv. 4437 f.
25 The shining face is common, but more frequently belongs to women. In Chrétien's Cliges the hero and Fenice are so beautiful that they make the palace shine (vv. 2755 ff.).
26 It is worth noticing here that something is said in regard to Guy's dress apart from armour; when he first calls on Felice he was arrayed in a "silken kirtell" that was so "well setting" that there was no need to amend it (vv. 211 ff.).
27 Cf. W. W. Comfort, P.M.L.A., XXI, pp. 307 ff. on the Hero in the chansons de geste. See p. 325 for distinction between hero of earlier and later chansons de geste: "If any differentiation were attempted between the heroes of the earlier and those of the later poems, it would consist in this: the heroes of the later poems are less passionate, less flery, less implacable; they feel the softening influence of woman and of many of the principles of Christian charity which the later Middle Age included in the terms chevalerie and courtoisie." A comparison in these respects of Bevis and with Guy is suggestive. But even in the latest chansons de geste, according to Comfort, there remains in the hero "an unmistakable trace of his genealogical connection with the paladins of Charlemagne. In spite of his love adventures, and the lorn maidens, and the kind fairies, his mind harks back to his old-time foe, the Saracens, and to his duty to God. If we are not mistaken, this undercurrent of sturdy faith, this seriousness of purpose, was just the quality which was sought by a portion of the public as contrasted to the more imaginative, fantastic, and vain heroes of the Breton cycle."
28 As an instructive contrast, an examination of this same character elsewhere is valuable. In Horn Childe (the later English version) and Horn et Rimel she has lost her primitive traits. She is not wholly passionate; she devises plans. In HCh
þe miri maiden hir bithouyt
In what maner þat sche mouyt
Trewe love for to ginne.
(vv. 364 ff.)
She wins Horn's favor first by costly gifts. Even more striking is the equanimity with which she learns of the deceit which the steward has practised in substituting Haberof for Horn (vv. 349 ff.). The heroine of HR is also a highly developed character, eager, it is true, but not merely impulsive.
29 Apparently of the same type, but interesting as tending away from it, is Melior, the heroine of William of Palerne. After falling in love with William, who apparently is somewhat mildly attached to her, she analyzes her feelings in a fashion which Josian and Rymenhild would never dream of. Yet she is the really active one of the pair; is the pursuer rather than the pursued indeed, acting, however, through her maid Alexandrine. William's love, it seems, becomes really passionate as the result of a dream which Alexandrine, by some magic power, introduces into his mind while he sleeps. Even then he merely stops eating, makes no effort to win the beloved; who comes to him while he is asleep in a garden. This figure is so much sophisticated as to seem considerably removed from Rymenhild and Josian. Yet she is not much farther removed from the type than is Rimel of Horn et Rimel.
30 In the Celtic romances elaborate descriptions of dress as well as personal beauty are found. Cf. Libeaus Desconus, vv. 868 ff.; Launfal, vv. 926 ff. The brightness of the woman's face is characteristic. In Richard Coer de Lion a lady is "bryght as the sunne thorugh the glas" (v. 76); Cf. Legend of Good Women, Prologue B, vv. 232 f., Le Bone Florence of Rome, vv. 184 ff.; also the ballad "Lamkin" (Child No. 93), in which the head of a murdered woman, hung in the kitchen, makes the hall shine. On the personal appearance of women of chansons de geste, cf: Gautier, Chivalry, pp. 306 f.
31 Josian was educated in "fysik and sirgerie" and "knew erbes mani and fale", by the use of one of which she was able to make herself undesirable. This accomplishment is hardly comparable to the learning of Felice. The manner of its introduction is also significant, as it is told merely to account for Josian's ability to pick out the right herb. Knowledge of herbs, however, was not an unusual accomplishment and seems connected with skill in leechcraft. Acula, in HCh (vv. 790 ff.) and Gouernail in Tristrem (vv. 1200 ff.) are instances. This accomplishment is in no sense characteristic of the romance of chivalry, but is rather a popular element which survives in the romances.
32 On frankness of speech and other characteristics of women of the chansons de geste, cf. Gautier, Chivalry, pp. 308 ff., and Comfort, op. cit., pp. 359 ff. See discussion of love, pp.
33 Cf. Comfort, op. cit., pp. 307 ff., on the relations of vassal and lord in the chansons de geste.
34 However, the companions of Horn are not named. In HCh, where less is made of minor characters than in HR, the companions are named and carefully disposed of. The twelve companions may be faintly reminiscent of the twelve peers of Charlemagne, who, in turn, go back to the twelve apostles; cf. Gautier, Les Epopées (1st ed.), I, pp. 173 ff.
35 As comedy is rather rare in the romances, it seems worth while to enter into this feature in somewhat greater detail. Perhaps the chief comic scene in the romance is the one of the baptism of Ascopard.
For Ascopard was mad a koue;
When þe beschop him scholde in schoue,
A lep anon vpon þe benche
And seide: "Prest, wiltow me drenche?
þe deuil þeue me belle pine,
Icham to meche te be christine!"
(vv. 2591 ff.)
The incident of the dragon fight has also its comic opportunity. Bevis and Ascopard arrive in the neighborhood of the dragon, when
Ascopard swore, be sein Ion
A fote ne dorste he forther gon.
Beues answerde and seide po:
"Ascopard, whi seistow so?
Whi schelt pow afered be
Of ping pat pow miyt nouyt sen?"
A swor, alse he moste pen,
He nolde him neiper hire ne sen;
"Icham weri, ich mot haue reste;
Go now forp and do pe beste!"
(vv. 2747 ff.)
The "Icham weri, ich mot haue reste", coming from the mouth of the giant who carried the horse Arondel in his arm (v. 2564), in itself no doubt amusing to the medieval audience, must surely have raised a laugh.
Thus, slightly as the character of Ascopard is developed on the humorous side, and dangerous as he proved to be, here is a clear case of the introduction of a character with whom amusing incidents may naturally be connected.
Comic characters like Ascopard are found in a highly developed state in certain chansons de geste. Cf. W. W. Comfort, op. cit., section entitled "Bourgeois and Vilain", pp. 279 ff. For other comic baptismal scenes see Ferumbras, vv. 5715 ff., and the chanson de geste Aliscans.
36 That the scribes did not keep the dramatis personce clearly in mind is evidenced by curious blunders. Thus Clarice, the daughter of the Emperor of Constantinople, is called "Blauncheflour" in both the Auchinleck and Caius MSS. at one point (v. 4497). Again, in a battle with the Saracens, the King of Nubia, after being struck down by Guy, immediately afterward is summoned by the Sultan to attack the Christians (v. 3506 ff.). This is only in the Auchinleck MS.; in the Caius MS. it is the King of Armenia whom the Sultan sends against the Christians, which, no doubt, is the correct reading.
37 There are 137 lines in the poem, including the prayer of Havelok at Grimsby (vv. 1359 ff.), which possess the nature of soliloquy. An excellent example is the soliloquy in which Havelok determines that he must "swinken" for his "mete" (vv. 790 ff.).
38 Cf. vv. 73 ff., 283 ff., 394 ff., 421 ff., etc.
39 The second interview of Guy and Felice fills one hundred lines, and there is real progression, giving a clear view of the characters of the principal actors.
40 Cf. Hart, Ballad and Epic, p. 56.
41 With King Horn should be compared Horn et Rimel, the author of which shows decided interest in mental states. As has been stated, Herselote's importance lies in her part as Rimel's confidante. Rodmund can hardly decide on the fate of Horn and his companions. Rimel's impatience and anxiety to obtain an interview with Horn appear when she sends for the seneschal.
Ele demaunde souvent dan Herlant quant
She gazes in her mirror and inquires anxiously as to her appearance (vv. 526 ff.). Herlant's mental distress at Rimel's request to see Horn, his sleeplessness, his arguments with himself, are related in detail (vv. 662 ff.). The scene in Rimel's chamber when Haperof is trying to convince Rimel that he is not Horn but is unable to do so, presents an interesting psychological situation. This interest in emotional states is prominent throughout the romance, and the length of this redaction is largely due to this characteristic.
42 It may be noted that little is said about the heroine's feelings, as contrasted with Horn et Rimel, for instance, where there is a pretty thorough study made of the feelings of Rimel, much more subtle indeed than the study of the lover's feelings in Guy.
43 Caius MS. only, v. 4013.
44 See Hall's note to this line, Breul's note to Gowther, v. 546, and Schmirgel's list of stereotyped phrases in Bevis (in the Introduction to Kölbing's edition), p. XLVI.
45 Kölbing says no parallels found.
46 See Schmirgel for additional parallels, p. XLV.
47 Sir Cleges (v. 90 of the romance so named) swoons from thinking of his misfortunes. In William of Palerne the Emperor swoons six times "for sorwe & for schame" when William elopes with Melior (v. 2098); in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women (v. 1342) Dido swoons twenty times (but this is hardly meant to be exact). Charlemagne and his hundred thousand followers faint for grief at the death of Roland (Chanson de Roland, v. 2916); in Renaud de Montauban the four sons of Aymon faint on seeing their paternal castle after an absence (Gautier, 1st ed., II, p. 192).
48 Additional proof of conventionality of these and many other expressions may be obtained by consulting Schmirgel's list of typical phrases in the introduction to Kölbing's Bevis, the introduction to Zielke's edition of Sir Orfeo, as well as the notes to Kölbing's Bevis, Zupitza's Guy of Warwick, Hall's Horn, etc.
49 Fainting, weeping, and tearing of the hair apparently run through medieval narrative literature. In the roman d'aventure the most violent grief is for unsuccessful love, in the chanson de geste for loss of comrades, although exceptions to this rule may be found. Sickness resulting from love is of course a strictly romantic feature. With Guy's illness may be compared the "fever" of Troilus in Troilus and Criseyde, v. 491. Fainting seems to have been almost a necessary part of romantic courtship. In the French Amados & Ydoine (cf. Hist. Litt., XXII, p. 761) the scornful lady is won by the hero's fainting in her presence. In the chanson the fainting is more likely to be on the lady's side. In Enfances Guillaume when Orable, the Saracen maiden, is hearing from her brother an account of the beauty of Guillaume, whom she has never seen, she says she will faint if he says another word (Gautier, 2nd ed., IV, p. 297).
50 A comparison of Bevis with the Old French Boeve de Haumtone (ed. by Stimming, Bib. Normannica, Halle, 1899), which represents pretty closely the version which the English translator had before him shows very few cases of parallclism of emotional expression.
51 The love in William of Palerne is not quite of the chanson de geste type. But in Amis and Amiloun it very clearly is. Belisaunt threatens Amis with death if he does not accept her love (Am. and Amiloun, vv. 625 ff.). Octavian (S. Eng. version), vv. 1201 ff., tells of a Saracen maid loving a Christian knight, who makes advances to him and finally becomes a Christian.
52 More than twenty girls go to the beds of knights in chansons de geste, according to Gautier 1st ed., I, p. 478.
53 Cf. the English Sir Ferumbras, vv. 5763 ff. In this case Floripas, who has been converted, seems fired with religious zeal.
54" Cf. the conduct of Charlemagne's queen Galienne in Garin de Monglane (Gautier, 2nd ed., IV, pp. 138 ff.). Three maidens seek Garin's love in Enfances de Garin (Gautier, IV, pp. 115 ff.). Even the chanson de geste hero wearies of the boldness of the women; cf. complaint of Girars de Viane, mentioned by Gautier, 1st ed., II, p. 90.
55 Usually sexual relations with an unconverted Saracen woman were strongly condemned. Cf. Merline (Percy Folio, I, vv. 410 ff.):
King Anguis had verament
a daughter that was faire & gent,
that was heathen Saracen;
& Vortiger for loue fine
vndertooke her for his wiffe,
& liued in cursing all his life.
56 Good summaries of several romances of this type may be found in Langlois, Société Française au XIIIe Siècle D'après dix Romans d'Aventure (Paris, 1904); cf. Le Chatelaine de Couci, for example.
57 Even in war there was less consideration for Saracens than for Christian enemies; a twelfth century church council forbade the use of the crossbow against Christian enemies.
58 Fikenhild hi dude todrabe (Horn, v. 1492).
59 Possibly stepbrother?
60 It is interesting to note that in Ponthus and Sidone the reunion of mother and son is elaborated and made the basis of pathetic appeal.
61 The relation of father and son is more important in some romances; cf. Generydes, Perceval, Libeaus Desconus.
62 Numerous references to the relationship are of course found; cf. Oliver and Aude, Percevale and his sister. But it is not made the basis of emotional appeal to any great extent.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 795
SOURCE: An introduction in Three Middle English Romances, David Nutt, 1911, pp. 1-2.
[In the following excerpt, Hibbard alludes briefly to Bevis's genre classification, possible origins, metrical schemes, and wide popularity.]
… Beves of Hampton differs materially from both Horn and Havelok. Although originally, perhaps, a viking tale of the tenth century,16 in its extant forms it is a typical romance of adventure. There is no notably English feature in it save a few place-names and the obviously late addition telling of Beves's fight with the London citizens.17 It would seem, rather, that Beves was an international character. Five versions of his story in French, six in Italian, others in Scandinavian, Dutch, and Welsh, attest his popularity; in Russia 'he was the most acclimated hero of the chivalric epic.'18 The wide wandering of his story was like his own fabled adventurings, from England to Africa, and up and down the length and breadth of Europe.
Like a rolling ball it seems to have gathered up widely divergent motives and incidents, and in itself aptly illustrates the catholicity of mediaeval taste. There is scarcely an incident in it that may not be paralleled in some one of such famous romances as Guy of Warwick or Lancelot de Lake, which it mentions by name, or in Tristram, William of Palerne, or Ferumbras. Much of the phraseology is the stock-in-trade sort, long tried and dear to the children-like lovers of mediaeval story.19 Traces of Germanic folk lore are found in the animal fights, and other motives suggest Greek,20 Persian, Middle High German, and old French stories.21 The influence of the Crusades is evident in the importance of Saracen conquest, and the belligerency of a militant age reveals itself in the detailed account of four single combats and five pitched battles. The romantic element is enlivened, as in most cases where Crusading influence entered in, by spirited wooing on the part of the young Saracen heroine; and the supernatural, through magic rings and herbs of healing, lends the ever delightful touch of mystery. Finally, the bourgeois element, indicative of the passing of romance from courtly lips and courtly audience, adds its touch of real and simple life. Like any little lad of a village housewife, Beves is taken by the ear; he is a rude and awkward lover; Josian, in a scene like that of Brunhild in the Nibelungenlied, over which 'one can hear the old-time audience chuckling,' hangs her unwelcome husband on the wall; and Ascopard's attempted baptism is a scene of pure burlesque comedy.
From all this, then, it may be concluded that the author of Beves was of different character and purpose from those who wrote Horn and Havelok. These stories have in them more clearly the sound of the minstrel's voice; they were better, probably, in the telling than in the writing, but in Beves one feels a clerkly, fourteenth-century scribe at work. Though possibly inspired by local pride, for his Southern dialect would indicate a home in the neighbourhood of Southampton,22 he wrote down no native English 'song,' but followed a French original, deviating from it only in the way of expanded detail and such additions as a typical dragon fight or a battle, which seemed to him necessary ingredients in the ample proportions of romance. He knew his 'olde bokes' and made industrious, generous use of them. The result is a tale of 4620 verses, interesting enough as a kind of summary of popular mediaeval motives, but well open to the elvish ridicule of a Chaucer, who jeers at such long-winded 'merriness' and solemnly parodies from it most of the metre of his Sir Thopas. The two entirely different metres of Beves, the tail-rhymed six-line stanzas of the first 474 lines, the short rhyming couplet of the remainder, may, perhaps, be explained by that lack of decisive literary consciousness which distinguishes the imitators from the originators of a popular literary fashion. In Beves, despite the old-fashioned, undying charm of a story for the story's sake, one may see clearly the forces that brought about the degeneracy of metrical romance.
… 16 Suchier, H., 'Bibliothethaca Normannica' VII. cxcv, 1899. But see also Leo Jordan, 'Uber Boeve de Hamtone,' p. 59, Halle, 1908, or R. Zenker, 'Das altfranzosische Epos von Boeve de Hamtone und der Ursprung de Hamlet Sage.' Literarhistorischen Forschungen, Band XXXII: Berlin, 1909.
17 'Beves of Hamtoun,' ed. E. Kolbing, p. xxxiv: E.E.T.S., 1894.
18 Wasselofsky, A., Materiaux et Recherches pour servir a l'Histoire du Roman et de la Novelle, Tome III, 229-305. Reviewed in Romania XVIII, 313.
19 Schmirgel, C. 'Typical Expression and Repetitions in "Sir Beves of Hamtoun,"' Kolbing's edition, p. xlv.
20 Zenker, pp. 318, 398.
21 Deutschbein, [M., 'Studien zur Sagengeschichte Englands, Horn, Havelok, Tristram, Boeve, Guy'], pp. 194, 211 [Cöthen, 1906].
22 'Beves,' ed. Kölbing, p. xxv.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4596
SOURCE: "Beves of Hampton" in Medieval Romance in England, Oxford University Press, 1924, pp. 115-26, 321-26.
[In the essay below, Hibbard offers an overview of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century scholarship regarding the oldest versions, the sources, and the composition date of Bevis of Hampton.]
Versions. The hero who bears the name of Beves of Hampton (Boeve de Hamptone, Hanstone) might well be described as an international character. The wide wandering of his story was like his own fabled adventuring from Hampton to Damascus. Versions in English, Welsh, Irish, French, Dutch, Scandinavian, Italian, attest the popularity of him who became even in Russia the most acclimated hero of the chivalric epic (Wesselofsky; cf. Rom. XVIII, 313). The story of the loss and recovery of his inheritance, his fights with Saracens and dragons, his marriage with a converted princess, his gaining of innumerable possessions, is distinctive chiefly for its amazing absorption of familiar motifs and for its blending of elements drawn from romance, fairy tale, saint legend, and heroic epic. Few stories better illustrate the catholicity of mediaeval taste; and in this, perhaps, lay the secret of an influence which may be traced, not only through the wealth of manuscript material but through many literary allusions to the poem and through the representation of its incidents in different artistic forms.1
The length, the number, and the variety of the vernacular versions of Beves make the problem of their classification extremely difficult. Since the publication in 1899 of Stimming's edition of the Anglo-Norman version of Beves, the story has been the subject of many elaborate investigations, but for the purpose of enumeration it is convenient to disregard the maze of controversy and to note as the three principal versions the Anglo-French (AF), the Continental French (CF), and the Italian (Matzke, Mod. Phil. x, 20).
The first group, as Stimming made clear, has four branches, a thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman poem extant in two long supplementary fragments (ed. Stimming, 1899), a fourteenth-century prose version in Norse (ed. Cederschi6ld, 1884), another of the thirteenth-century in Welsh (R. Williams, 1892), and one in Middle English verse (ed. Kolbing). The last, in the Auchinleck manuscript, has the first 474 verses in a six-line stanza and the remaining 4146 lines in short couplets. The popularity of the version, belonging originally, it would seem, to the south of England (Kölbing, XIII ff.), is attested by the six existing texts and by the six which Kölbing assumed as antecedent in order to explain the extant readings. These six manuscripts fall into two classes (A and SN; Mo-ME-C), in which the earliest, the (A)Auchinleck manuscript, is less near to the lost thirteenth-century Middle English original than is the fifteenth-century (M) Manchester manuscript, or even Pynson's old print. This original, from which the later manuscripts take over numerous references to a French original, was, in Stimming's opinion, derived from a lost Anglo-Norman version (x), the source also, through various lost intermediaries, of the extant Anglo-Norman and Welsh texts, and of the Norse account. The Middle English poet seems to have shortened his original at will, to have elaborated certain episodes, and to have made three important additions: (1) the account of Beves's first battle fought on Christmas day for the honor of God; (2) his great fight with the dragon of Cologne, an episode which suggests to the poet comparison of his hero with Lancelot, Wade, and Guy of Warwick; and (3) the heroic defense made by Beves and his sons against the London citizens when they are roused against him by the accusation that Beves has killed the king's son, a scene graphic enough to suggest some contemporary riot. Despite its prolixity and its constant borrowings from the commonplaces of Middle English romantic diction, which Schmirgel pointed out in Kölbing's edition, (pp. xlv-lxvi), the poem has a certain vigor of its own. Its popularity with a mediæval audience is not to be wondered at, nor is it strange that the traditional delight in this hero persisted even in the Elizabethan period.2 An instance of the foreign interest in the Middle English Beves is a fifteenth-century Irish translation (ed. Robinson).
The Anglo-Norman (AF) text is generally thought to represent an independent version of the same story as that told by the continental French texts. Of these, nine manuscripts in verse and two in prose are now known. They fall apparently into three groups. The first is represented by the thirteenth-century Paris manuscript (P1) published by Stimming in 1911. This version, Behrens (p. 77) believed, originated between 1230 and 1250, on the southern borders of Picardy. The second version, represented by an inedited and incomplete manuscript in Rome (R), another (W) of the fifteenth century in Vienna, and by another thirteenth-century Paris manuscript (ed. Stimming, 1913), was thought by Oeckel (p. 78) and Meiners (p. 239) to have been by the scribe, Pierot du Ries. The possibility that Pierot might have been the author was dismissed by Stimming (2, p. 4, 200). This version tends constantly to amplify the original by new episodes and so much delights in ecclesiastical detail that its author was presumably of the clergy. "Lokal patriotismus," however, gives now and then a secular touch to his story. The third group comprises the Beves texts of the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries found in manuscripts at Carpentras (C), Turin (T), and Venice (V); and finally a fragment now at Modena (Wolff and Paetz). Of these continental texts Boje (pp. 136-37) believed the oldest and truest form to be represented by the Rome and Paris manuscripts of the second group, and the original text to be the work of one man only. As a whole this continental French version is somewhat longer than AF, and, unlike it, places the hero's home on Gallic soil and names his stepfather Doon de Mayence. In the AF version Doon is Emperor of Almayn, and Beves's home is at Littlehampton (Hampton-sur-Mer, v. 2811), not more than two and one half miles from Arundel, the city named, according to the English romance, in honor of the race won by Arundel, Beves's famous horse. Finally it may be noted that the two fifteenth-century French prose versions of Beves and the five known sixteenth-century editions belong to the same redaction as the manuscripts P, R, W (Boje, p. 13).
The Italian version is preserved in at least six texts, of which the earliest is the fragmentary thirteenth-century Venetian manuscript (ed. Reinhold). The only complete form is the Buova d'Antona in the Reali di Francia, a late fifteenth-century composite which draws on the French as well as the Italian versions. The Italian version is shorter than the French; it differs in names and in sequence of events; and is, in the opinion of Rajna (Ricerche intorno ai Reali di Francia, pp. 135-40, Milan, 1872), of Jordan, and Matzke (3, p. 32), the prior form "independently transmitted from the original version of which the common source of AF and CF is another offspring."
Of the later popular versions of Beves, the first Dutch edition, printed at Antwerp, 1504, was derived from the CF version; and the sixteenth-century Russian and Jewish folk-books were from the Italian (Wesselofsky, Rom. XVIII, 302-14, 1889). In 1881 the Italian was translated into Roumanian (Groeber, 1901, 11, 3, 386). The fullest account of these and all the other versions is given by Boje (pp. 1-13).
The influence of Beves has been traced in the Middle High German poem, Graf Rudolph (cf. Bethmann, Palœstra, XXX; Deutschbein, p. 191), but the similar scenes are of the fairly conventional type concerning a Christian hero and a heathen princess. The Provencal poem, Daurel et Beton (ed. P. Meyer, Paris, 1880), is in part clearly a sequel to Beves (Jordan, 1, 102). Brockstedt's account (pp. 96-103) of this relationship is more convincing than his idea that the Siegfriedlied and the Nibelungenlied are variations of the Anglo-Norman Beves. The forest death of Beves's father, Beves's fight with the dragon of Cologne, and the bridal of Josian with Earl Miles, are in truth analogous to scenes in the German poems, but the inference made from the resemblance is over-large. Boje (p. 137) believed that the influence of the French forms of Beves was to be clearly traced in certain incidents in five poems; in Florent et Octavian (Hist. Litt., XXVI, 316), in Parise et Vienne (Rom. Forsh., XV, 1904), in Ciperis (Hist. Litt., XXVI, 31), in Valentin u. Namelos (ed. Seelmann, 1884, p. 68) and, most interesting of all, in Aucassin (ed. Suchier), in the episode in which the heroine, disguised as a maiden minstrel, goes in search of her lost lover. On the whole, however, the influence of Beves is best attested by the long line of its own self-perpetuating versions.
Origin. Beves of Hampton is a typical roman d'aventure which moves within a certain "Ideenkreis" of a well-defined character. In his comparison of it with one hundred and eighty-seven Old French romances Boje distinguished the following characteristic details and incidents: the forest hunt, p. 62; the murder of Beves's father, the marriage of his mother with her husband's murderer, the stepfather's hostility to Beves, pp. 62-64; the disguise of Beves, coloring his face, p. 67, etc., to save his life; the exhibition of his bloodstained clothes as a proof of death, p. 66; the rude porter, p. 71; the feast broken up by a tumult, p. 66; the selling of the boy and his stay at the court of a foreign king, the love for him of the Saracen princess, the defeat through Beves of her cruel suitor, the false accusation brought against the lovers, the letter of death carried by Beves to a heathen king, pp. 74-80; the overthrow of the idols by Beves, p. 82; his imprisonment in Damascus, his escape and the vain pursuit, pp. 91-100; the beating of the idols by the heathen king, p. 100; Josian's forced marriage and the magic protection of her virginity, p. 106; Beves's disguise as a palmer and his horse's recognition of his master, pp. 108-09; the drugging of Josian's guard, p. 112; the elopement of the lovers, pp. 109-12; the grotesque giant Escopart and his comic baptism, pp. 113-14; Josian's second forced marriage, the killing of her husband, and Beves's rescue of Josian from the stake, pp. 115-17; Beves's homecoming, the rage of the usurper who throws a knife at the messenger, p. 90; the overthrow of the usurper by Beves in battle or by a judicial combat, pp. 82-88; the great race won by Beves's horse, p. 118; the horse theft attempted by the king's son, p. 131; the killing of the king's son, pp. 120-23; the second exile of Beves, the forest birth of Josian's twin sons, the separation of the family, pp. 123-24; Beves's nominal marriage with another lady, Josian's disguise as a minstrel, her search for her lost love, the recognition and reunion of husband and wife, pp. 128-31; the old age of Beves, the angelic warning and his death, pp. 132-33.
As no text of Beves antedates the thirteenth century, as linguistic studies, no less than a literary study of motifs such as Boje's, suggest nothing antecedent to 1200, it is probable that the original poem was not composed before that date. But numerous attempts have been made to find in the extant versions the signs of much more ancient origin. Suchier's belief (1, p. cxcv) based on the evidence of such names as Ivor, Bradmund, Rudefoun, etc., that the poem was basically a Viking saga, may be offset by reference to Langlois's Tables des noms propres dans les chansons de geste, Paris, 1904, from which it appears that these names appear in Old French poems for which no Viking origin can possibly be alleged. Deutschbein (p. 198) sought to connect the story with certain historical German antecedents and suggested identification of Doon, represented in Beves as the Emperor of Almayne who murders Beves's father in the forest in order to marry his mother, with Otto (Odon) the Great (929-947) who exiled his step-son, Duke Ernst of Swabia, or with the father of Ernst II of Swabia who was killed on a hunt and whose son revolted against his step-father, the Emperor Conrad II. Boje (pp. 62 ff.), however, proved the essentially literary character of this introductory part of the romance.
The question of origin has been constantly associated with the localization of the story. The apparently ample evidence of English place-names,3 which led Stimming (pp. 183-85) to believe the poem of Anglo-Norman origin, has been brought into dispute by the contention that the Italian version, in which the English are supplanted by Continental names, is representative of the oldest and most authoritative version. Rajna in 1872 was one of the first to point out in his studies on the Reali di Francia that Hamtone or Hanstone might better be identified with Hunstein or Hammerstein on the Rhine than with Southampton, and others have stressed the importance of the clearly non-English elements in the romance. Nevertheless, Matzke, who did most to establish the independent value of the Italian version, thought (Mod. Phil., X, 54) the question of insular or continental origin still an open one. Less cautious scholars, by considering limited portions of the story in the AF or CF group, which they take to represent the original nucleus of the story, have arrived at interestingly varied opinions. Settegast (pp. 282, 383) derived the history of Beves's first exile from an Armenian tale in which a king was killed on a hunting expedition, the throne was seized by an usurper and a young prince, the true heir, escaped in disguise as a shepherd boy. By the most dubious sort of etymology (p. 354) the names in this tale were made in some instances to coincide with those in Beves, and so made to argue an eastern origin for the romance. Deutschbein (p. 182), emphasizing different elements in this same part of Beves, the ill treatment of the boy by his relatives, the feast which he breaks up by shaming his enemy, was reminded of Karl Mainet and of an episode in Jourdain de Blaivies. The account of Beves's relations with his royal step-father still further suggested (p. 198) the twelfth-century German poem, Herzog Ernst, (ed. Bartsch, 1869), which relates the adventures of Ernst of Swabia, traditionally the rebellious stepson of Otto the Great. In Graf Rudolph, c. 1170 (Palœstra XXX) the eastern adventures of the hero, his escape from prison, his rescue of his beloved from a forced marriage, parallel to some degree similar incidents in Beves. These stories of Mainet and Ernst and Rudolph, which were known in their earliest versions in the district between Flanders and Picardy, were supposed by Deutschbein (p. 204) to have been carried to England by Flemish colonists who settled in Pembrokeshire in the neighborhood of Haverford (Aberford, in AN. Beves). There the stories were localized, and to some extent, perhaps, influenced by tales of the Horn type. The commonplace likeness between Beves and Horn in the hero's expulsion from home, his adventures at the foreign court, his banishment, his rescue of his betrothed, led Hoyt, on wholly insufficient grounds, to conclude that the home of the two stories must have been in England and that Beves was "but a romantically developed form of the Horn Saga."
The historical kernel for the story of Beves's second exile is to be found, according to Jordan (Archiv, CXIII, 98), in the story recorded under the year 870 by Regino of Prum (Mon. Germ. I) of Carolus, the Frankish prince. In this anecdote a courtier, whose horse has been stolen in jest by the prince, unluckily wounds the royal youth and has to flee for his life. Deutschbein (p. 209) accepted Jordan's view and noted that Prum was not far from the district from which he fancied some episodes in the first part of Beves to have been originally drawn. The theft of a famous horse as an episode in itself was, as Boje (p. 131) indicated, a popular incident.
Legendary sources for Beves have been found far and near. Zenker (p. 44) maintained that Beves and the Hamlet (Amlethus) legend told by Saxo Grammaticus were versions of the same story (p. 32), and that the common source probably originated in England. In the two stories the hero becomes the stepson of his father's murderer, vows vengeance, has a violent altercation with his mother, is sent (but for different causes) to a foreign court bearing a letter of death (Uriasbrief), escapes, and finally returns to accomplish his revenge on the step-father, the usurper of his heritage. Zenker believed that of these incidents the most distinctive was the use of the Uriasbrief, and paralleled it (p. 45) with numerous oriental tales, with the Greek Bellerophron story (pp. 283, 313), and the French Dit de l'Empereur Coustant (Rom., VI, 162 ff.). But later students have shown that in most of these instances, with the exception of the Greek story, the letter, so rewritten as to command great rewards for the bearer, opened to him a new career of successful adventure. Such is the tale twice found in the Amlethus legend, but in Beves the original letter was delivered by the hero, and almost caused his death. This simpler use of the motif seems to be derived either from the ancient Biblical story (2 Sam. XI, 15) of David and Uriah or from "a folk-lore tale current in the East and introduced into Beves in the time of the Crusades."
A second important argument of Zenker's that Amlethus is the source of Beves, rested on the supposedly similar incidents of the double marriage of the two heroes. In Beves the hero, separated from his wife and children, comes to a city (AF, Aumberforce, CF, Civile); its ruler, one of many "Forth-Putting" ladies, offers herself to him, having been attracted by his military prowess; he enters reluctantly into a pretended marriage with her (AF version); and his true wife appears in time to prevent its consummation. In Amlethus the hero enters willingly into the second marriage, and the interest of the episode lies entirely in the Valkyrie-like character of the lady who, because of her vow of chastity, has long caused the death of all her suitors. The essential unlikeness of the episodes makes it improbable that one was derived from the other. To Jordan (2) the distinctive element in Beves was the hero's separation from his family—the separation and reunion motif that dominates such stories as Guillaume d'Angleterre, Sir Isumbras, Die Gute Frau, etc., narratives which are always in this episode in some way related to the Eustachius legend.
Although Zenker believed that the larger portion of Beves was to be derived from the northern Hamlet legend or its variants in the stories of Havelok, Hrolf Hraka, or the Icelandic Anloþi, which he thought basically related, he accounted for many of its eastern elements by traces which he detected in the Hamlet legend itself of the ancient Persian Chosro story found in the "King's Book" of the poet Firdausi (cir. 1011). This Chosro account in turn seems to show a fusion of the Brutus and Bellerophron legends. Beves's childhood resembles that of Chosro; for each has a faithful protector in the person of his father's friend, each acquires a wonderful horse whose recognition of his master is sometimes of vital consequence, each hero marries a king's daughter.
The Eastern names, the localization of so many incidents in eastern places, the perceptible flavor of the Crusading spirit in Beves, have led to other attempts to identify special incidents. Beves's imprisonment in Damascus was traced by Settegast (pp. 282, 338) to the similar experience of Bischen as recorded in Firdausi's book, and more significantly by Brockstedt (p. 35) to the French Floovent. In the Italian Bovo (Jordan, I, p. 17) the princess Malgaria loves and protects the imprisoned Beves; in Floovent the princess Maugalie, similarly tender-hearted, aids the hero to escape. The possible influence on the Ur-Bueve of Floovent or other stories of this exceedingly popular type must be admitted. Warren's study (PMLA. XXIX, 340-59) of the Enamoured Moslem Princess, showed that the type story greatly antedated the Crusading era, as he traced its earliest western form to the sixth Controversia of Seneca, the Rhetorician, and the earliest Crusade version to the account of Bohemond in the Historia Ecclesiastica, c. 1135, of Orderic Vitalis.
Brockstedt's argument, however, that the Italian version of Beves, because it borrowed the episode from Floovent, is a late form, was disputed by Matzke (Mod. Phil., X, 25) who urged that the role of Malgaria must have belonged to the French source of the Italian poem, since she is to be recognized as the necessary second heroine of the story (which he believed the fundamental one in Beves), the so-called Legend of the Man with Two Wives ("Lay of Eliduc," Mod. Phil., V, 211-39). In this type a youth exiled from his own home wins through his valor the love of a princess. He is slandered and is again forced to go into exile. In another court he wins the love of another lady but remains loyal to the first. He returns in time to rescue her from an unwelcome marriage, or she appears in time to prevent his marriage to the second lady. To Matzke (3, p. 41 ff.) the starting point of the legend is simply the doubling of the exile-and-return formula, and the consequent doubling of the love adventure of the hero. The doubled form appeared in such tales as Horn, Ille et Galeron, and, with certain variations in Tristan, Eliduc, Lai del Fraisne, and its derivative, Roman de Galeran. A comparison of the different versions of Beves seems to show that its original form was structurally of the same type as these.
Some of the earliest processes of accretion in Beves are set forth in Matzke's study of the St. George legend. In its ancient Eastern forms this legend had known only the monster-killing and martyrdom episodes, but in the course of its development in the west it absorbed the Beves story and became a typical roman d 'aventure, as it appears, for instance, in Richard Johnson's Seven Champions of Christendom, London, 1592. In Beves, on the other hand, the influence of the saint legend is especially obvious in the scene in which Beves overthrows the heathen idol, in the account of his sufferings in the prison of Damascus, and his fight with the dragon of Cologne.
In regard to the authorship of Beves, the most important suggestion of recent years was that made by Boje. He urged that the original French version was the work of a single author sufficiently acquainted with contemporary romance to borrow from it freely. His belief that Beves was not a racial saga, that it was not of German, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, or Viking origin, nor a gradual combination of elements drawn from Persian-Armenian, nor Graco-Roman story, but a literary romance, the work of one man, is in line with the whole tendency of modern criticism.4
1 Scenes from Beves appear in the Smithfield Decretals and in the Taymouth Horæ.… Notes and Queries, 8th ser. XI (1897) referred to the hangings of Juliana de Leybourne, 1362, which were worked with the legend. W. G. Thompson, Tapestry Weaving, p. 26, mentioned two pieces of arras of Beves of the time of Henry V. The Bull. de la Soc. des Antiquaires de France, 1909, p. 237, shows a small stone mould (c. 1359) of the Musee de Cluny on which Beves and two lions appear. An inscription refers to "Bueve."
2 Beves and Guy had an almost equal popularity, and the heroes were often mentioned together.…
3 Cf. J. Westphal, Englische Ortsnamen im Altfranzösischen. Diss. Strassburg, 1891.
4 Cf. Bédier, Les Légendes Épiques, Paris, 1908-13; L. Foulet, Roman de Renard, Paris, 1914; F. Lot, Étude sur le Lancelot en prose, Paris, 1918.
TEXTS, MIDDLE ENGLISH:
(1), A, Auchinleck MS., ed. Turnbull, Maitland Club, Edin., 1838, rev. Eng. Stud. II, 317; E. Kölbing, EETSES. XLVI, XLVIII, LXV, 1885-86, 1894, rev. Anglia, XI, 325; Eng. Stud. XIX, 261; Rom. XXIII, 486; (2) C, Caius Coll. Cbg. 175, desc. Eng. Stud. XIV, 321; (3) S, Egerton 2862, desc. Brit. Mus. Catalogue of Add. MSS, 1905-10, p. 238, formerly the MS. of the Duke of Sutherland, desc. Eng. Stud., VII, 191 ff.; (4) N, Royal Library, Naples, MS. XIII, B, 29; (5) C, Cbg. Univ. Libr. MS. Ff. II, 38; (6) M, Chetham Library, Manchester, MS. 8009, ed. Kölbing, op. cit.; cf. Eng. Stud. VII, 198. Early printed editions: L, "Douce fragments," no. 19, Bodleian; 0, undated edition by Pynson, Bodleian. Editions from 1689-1711 listed by Esdaile, English Tales, pp. 163-64. Trans. L. Hibbard, Three Middle Eng. Romances.
Stimrning, A. (1) "Der Anglo-Normannische Boeve de Haumton," Bibliotheca Normannica, VII, Halle, 1899; (2) "Der festländische Bueve de Hantone," Fassung I, Gesellschaft f rom. Lit. XXV (1911); (3) Fassung II, ibid. XXX (1912); XLI (1918); Fassung III, ibid. XLII (1920).
Robinson, F. N. "The Irish Lives of Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton." Zts. f celt. Phil. VI, 180-320 (1907). Text and trans. See also, Eng. Stud. XXIV, 463.
Reinhold, J. "Die franko-italienische Version des Bovo d'Antone." Zts. f rom. Phil. XXXV, 555-607; 683-714; XXXVI, 1-32 (1912).
Billings, Guide, pp. 40-1; Boje (see below) for MSS., pp. 1-13; Studies, pp. 43-49; Wells, Manual, pp. 765-66.
Behrens, L. Ort u. Zeit der Entstehung der Fassung I des festländischen Beuve de Hantone. Diss. 135 pp. Göttingen, 1913.
Bodtker, A. "Ivens Saga u. Bevis Saga in Cod. Holm. Chart. 46," PB. Beitrdge XXXI, 261-71 (1906).
Boje, C. "Ueber den altfrz. roman v. Bueve de Hamtone." Beihefte z. Zts. f rom. Phil. XIX, 145 pp. Halle, 1909. Rev. Rom. XLII, 314; Zts. f frz. Spr. u. Lit. XXXV, 49.
Brockstedt, 1. Floovent Studien. Kiel, 1907. 2. Von mittelhochdeut. Volksepen französischen Ursprungs. Kiel, 1912. Beves, pp. 60-159. Rev. Archiv. CXXI, 170-72.
Deutschbein, M. Studien z. Sagengeschichte Englands. Die Wikingersagen: Horn, Havelok, Tristan, Boeve, pp. 181-215, Guy of Warwick. Cothen, 1906.
Favaron, G. L 'elemento italiano nel period popolare toscano del epopea romanzesca; Saggio sul Buovo d'Antona. 61 pp. Bologna (1900).
Gerould, G. See Isumbras here.
Groeber, G. Griindriss, II, 386 (1901).
Hibbard, L. A. "Beves of Hampton and the Nibelungenlied," MLN. XXVI, 159-60 (1911). "Jaques de Vitry and Boeve de Haumtone," MLN. XXXIV, 408-11 (1919).
Hoyt, P. C. "The Home of the Beves Saga," PMLA. XVII, 237-46 (1902).
Jordan, L. I. "Ueber Boeve de Hanstone," Beihefte z. Zts. f. rom. Phil. XIV. 197 pp. Halle, 1908. Rev. Archiv. CXXII, 412, Zts. f. frz. Spr. u. Lit. XXXIV, 25. 2. "Die Eustachiuslegende, Christians Wilhelmsleben, Boeve de Hanstone u. ihre orientalischen Verwandten," Archiv. CXXI, 340-62 (1908).
Kühl, H. Das gegenseitige Verhältnis der Handschriften der Fassung II des festländischen Bueve de Hantone. Diss. 63 pp. Göttingen, 1915.
Matzke, J. E. I. "Contributions to the Legend of St. George," PMLA. XVII, 464-535 XVIII, 99-171 (1902-03). 2. "The Legend of St. George; Its Development into a Roman d'Aventure," PMLA. XIX, 449-78 (1904). 3. "The Oldest Form of the Beves Legend." Mod. Phil. X, 19-54 (1912-13).
Meiners, J. E. Die Handschriften P (RW), Fassung II d. festländischen Bueve de Hantone. Diss. 268 pp. Gottingen, 1914.
Oeckel, F. Ort. u. Zeit. d. Entstehung der Fassung II d. festländischen Boeve v. Hantone. Diss. 88 pp. Gottingen, 1911.
Paetz, H. "Ueber das gegenseitige Verhältnis d. venetianischen, d. frankoitalienischen u. d. französischen gereimten Fassungen d. Bueve de Hantone." Beihefte z. Zts. f. rom. Phil. L. 133 pp. Halle, 1913.
Reinhold, See Texts, Italian.
Robinson, See Texts, Irish.
Sander, G. Die Fassung T des festländischen Fassung d. Bueve de Hantone. Diss. Gottingen, 1913.
Settegast, F. Quellenstudien z. gallo-rom. Epik. Leipzig, 1904. Ch. XVI, 338-69, Beves, Generides.
Schüiltsmeier, F. Die Sprache d. Handschrift C d. festländ. Bueve de Hantone. Diss. 200 pp. Göttingen, 1913.
Stimming, See Texts, French.
Wolf, S. Das gegenzeitige Verhältnis d. gereimten Fassungen d. festländ. Bueve de Hantone. Diss. Gottingen, 1912.
Zenker, R. "Boeve-Amlethus, Das altfrz. Epos Boeve de Hantone u. der Ursprung der Hamletsage." Literarhist. Forschungen, XXXII, 480 pp. Berlin, 1905. Rev. Archiv., CXVIII, 226; Eng. Stud., XXXVI, 284.
Abbreviations and References
… Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, ed. Herrig. Braunschweig, 1849…
Mod Phil. Modern Philology. Chicago, 1903…
PMLA Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, Baltimore, 1884-1901, Cambridge, 1902-
Rom. Romania Paris, 1872…
Rom. Forsch. Romanische Forschungen. Erlangen, 1883…
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4602
SOURCE: "Sir Beues of Hamtoun" in Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967, pp. 211-20.
[In the following excerpt from a work originally published in German in 1967, Mehl analyzes the episodic structure of Bevis, describing it as consciously contrived to increase suspense and keep the audience's attention focused on the title character. The critic also maintains that the poem is a popular chronicle—chiefly concerned with the origins of a noteworthy family—not a courtly romance.]
… Sir Beues of Hamtoun was probably one of the best known of the Middle English romances; in popularity it was probably second only to Guy of Warwick with which it has several features in common. Its wide appeal is attested by the transmission alone: the poem is preserved in six manuscripts and a number of early prints; there are also some versions that were current on the continent.7 The English versions are mainly to be found in larger collections, like the Auchinleck Ms. (A) and Cambridge Ff. II. 38 (C), where they are put among other secular works, or Gonville & Caius 175 (E), Chetham 8009 (M) and Egerton 2862 (S), where they are copied together with some more historical and legendary works. (The sixth manuscript, Royal Library of Naples, XIII, B 29 (N), is of particularly mixed content.) It may be coincidence that Sir Beues of Hamtoun stands next to poems like Arthour and Merlin (in A), Athelston (in E) and Richard Coeur de Lion (in S) in some of the manuscripts, but it could also indicate that the novel was felt to be a kind of family chronicle or at least a tale from England's past which had some important bearing on the present.
In the poem's source, the Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone, this is even more obvious; it belongs to the type, suitably described as 'ancestral romance' by M. D. Legge.8 Its most characteristic motifs are the founding of a family, exile, and the achievement of extraordinary exploits abroad. The English version has taken over and dramatized just these 'native' qualities of the ancestral romances so that the term could also be applied to Sir Beues of Hamtoun, though perhaps in a wider and less specific sense.
The form of the work presents some problems. Unlike its source, it begins in tail-rhyme stanzas, which, however, break off after some four hundred lines; after that, the poem continues in rhyming couplets. As the Auchinleck version of Guy of Warwick has a similar change in metre, it is possible that the scribes of the manuscript or of its immediate source were responsible for the introduction of the tail-rhyme stanzas and, in the case of Sir Beues, simply continued in the metre of the preceding item (Reinbrun). Horn Childe and Amis and Amiloun show that this manuscript is particularly important for the history of the tail-rhyme romances.9
On the other hand, some other manuscripts, not immediately dependent on A, also have the strophic beginning. In two of them (S and N) there is an attempt to carry on the metre by adding a cauda (tail-line) after every couplet, though only for about a hundred lines, while in another version (M) the beginning is completely altered and consists of rhyming couplets only.
Thus it is hardly possible to say anything definite about the reasons which may have led the scribe to abandon the tail-rhyme stanzas in favour of couplets. All the same, the close relationship between the two metrical forms becomes apparent here. Kölbing maintained that the beginning of the romance could not originally have been written in couplets because he felt that many of the tail-lines were quite indispensable for the meaning;10 this may be so, yet it is noticeable that the form of the tail-rhyme stanzas used here is quite different from that found in most of the tail-rhyme romances. Thus, only very few of the couplets are linked to each other by rhyme (see, for instance, 11. 301-5) and the tail-lines usually only rhyme in pairs; in other words, we have here six-line stanzas, not the usual twelve-line stanzas. The caudae are for the most part quite unimportant for the development of the plot; often they are only very loosely integrated in the syntax, just as in the passage of lines 409-50921 of the manuscripts S and N, where it is obvious that the caudae are an afterthought. Essential parts of a sentence or of the plot are hardly ever contained in the tail-lines, as, for instance in Reinbrun." Thus, it seems to me quite possible that the first part of the poem was also originally written in rhyming couplets which by slight alterations, in many cases merely by the insertion of caudae, were turned into tail-rhyme stanzas. The lines 409-50921 in S and N prove that such a procedure was occasionally followed. The M-version, on the other hand, which is in rhyming couplets throughout, obviously belongs to a slightly different line of transmission. It is sometimes rather more formal than the other versions and occasionally tries to be more precise (cf. the indirect speech in M, 11. 708 ff., as compared with direct speech in A, 11. 917 ff., or the more exact details in M, 11. 241 ff. and the vaguer ones in A, 11. 301 ff.). Kolbing's 'stemma' describes very accurately the textual relationship between the individual manuscripts, but it is more than doubtful whether it gives an adequate explanation of the actual origins of the different versions.12
The plot of the poem has several points in common with King Horn. Both romances apparently go back to a chanson de geste and have some uncourtly, or rather pre-courtly characteristics, such as the resolute wooing by the lady, by which the knight is almost forced into loving her.13 As in King Horn, the story combines the motifs of love, revenge and the progress of a knight from an inexperienced youth to a victorious fighter and king. In both poems the boy is deprived of his inheritance, and a long series of fights is necessary before he can win it back. The similarities between the two poems are hardly sufficient to prove that they have a common source, but they do show that this is a type of plot which was obviously a particular favourite in England.
An important difference between the two poems lies of course in their length. King Horn is a short tale, summarizing an extensive plot within a brief space, so that it could easily be read in one sitting, whereas Sir Beues of Hamtoun is a verse-novel of three times the length, with clear divisions and pauses, obviously aiming at a series of effective episodes rather than a unified whole. The work is not expressly divided into 'fitts' or 'partes' (nor are any of the other verse-novels dealt with in this chapter), and so in reciting the poem, breaks could be introduced at various undetermined points, according to circumstances. However, the story itself suggests several clearly marked caesuras, dividing the novel into five almost equal sections of about nine hundred lines each.
The first part briefly describes the hero's youth, his escape and his first heroic deeds at the court of King Ermin. His boyish displays of strength already give a foretaste of his later glorious exploits, and his rescue by Josiane hints at the love relationship between the two. The injustice done to Beves and his vow of revenge (11. 301 ff.), foreshadowing later events, create enough suspense to hold the attention of the listeners and make them eager to hear the continuation of the story (see also the anticipation in 11. 328-30 and the repetition of his vow, 1. 552). Thus, although complete in itself, this first part of the poem contains several motifs that prepare for the further development of the story. The opposition between Christians and heathens, too, which runs through the whole novel, is introduced at an early point. In the first description of Josiane we are expressly told that she is a pagan ('Boute of cristene lawe yhe koute nauyt', 1. 526), and Beves soon has an opportunity of proving his loyalty to the Christian faith when Ermin offers to make him his heir and give him Josiane for a wife if he renounces his faith (11. 555-68). Beves' determined refusal, which only increases Ermin's regard for him (11. 569-70), is the more remarkable as he obviously only has a very vague idea of the Christian creed and has to have the meaning of Christmas explained to him by a heathen (11. 585-606). That he can only remember the jolly tournaments and feasting in honour of Christmas from his early childhood, but nothing about the deeper meaning of the festival, is quite characteristic of the unconcerned and at the same time realistic tone of the poem.
At line 909 a new section of the novel begins, outwardly marked by the passing over of three years and by the appearance of Brademond as Josiane's suitor. What makes the break between the two parts particularly clear, is the detailed recapitulation of an episode told only a few lines earlier (11. 934-59). This recapitulation is included in most of the English versions, but is lacking in M, which, as we noted before, is a more bookish redaction, less adapted to oral recitation. The repeated reference to Beves' heroic deeds at this point seems completely unnecessary and probably has no other function than that of giving the second part a certain amount of unity by providing a few helpful clues for all those who would not recall every detail of the first part (or had not listened to it). The second section of the poem describes Josiane's wooing of Beves, his seven-years' imprisonment by Brademond and his miraculous rescue. On his way to Brademond, as well as after his escape from prison, he gives further examples of his prowess and gains victories against overwhelming odds, particularly, of course, against heathens. Beves is called 'be cristene kniyt' (1. 1011), and there is a real crusading spirit in this part of the story, as in the English Charlemagne-romances and, by the way, in nearly all the verse-novels discussed in this chapter. The meeting with Terri recalls the first part of the poem with the story of Terri and Saber; both characters are to play an important part in the later course of the plot. Josiane's own fate, her despair at Beves' supposed infidelity and her marriage, are also described in this section. Thus, the second part, too, is in a way self-contained; it includes several complete episodes and all the most important characters of the story make their appearance.
Again at line 1959 a new section begins, which is also introduced by some glances at the previous parts of the story, reminding us of the most important elements in the plot that has already become somewhat complicated. Beves gives an account of his life-story up to this point and vows that he will only marry a virgin, a motif that may have something to do with the family-chronicle character of the poem and points forward to later events in the poem. The French version does not mention Beves' promise to marry a virgin at this point. The A-version of the poem has in addition some more recapitulations and backward glances (11. 1991-2004, 2013-36). More recapitulations follow, usually extended by the English adapter, some in the form of dialogue. They recall Beves' own adventures (even the wicked part played by his step-father is briefly mentioned) and those of Josiane. The narrator also seems very interested in the fate of Beves' horse Arundel (11. 2139-46), presumably because of its association with the founding of Arundel castle.
Beves arrives at the conclusion that he is not yet in a position to reconquer his inheritance, and so first of all he sets out to find his lady again. The section which now follows gives an account of their flight together and their arrival in Cologne where Josiane is baptized. Another clear caesura in the plot can be discovered after line 2596, but the subsequent episode, which is only to be found in the English versions of the story (11. 2597-2910), probably has to be counted as part of the previous section. Beves' glorious feat of killing a most dangerous dragon gives added importance to his sojourn in Cologne. The regaining of Beves' inheritance is again delayed by this interlude, as well as by Josiane's short marriage to Miles which is told in the following section (11. 3117-3304). Thus, the third section of the poem (11. 1959-2910) is just as long as the first two, whereas the fourth part, ending with Beves' reestablishment in his inheritance, and his marriage to Josiane, is somewhat shorter, though particularly rich in exciting incidents.
Between this and the following (fifth) section of the poem the division is less clearly marked;14 indeed all the divisions suggested here are not meant as a strict scheme, but rather as reflecting the basic structure of the poem and the principle of its composition, with a view to oral recitation. These divisions are, however, by no means clearly marked in all the manuscripts. Just at this point (between the fourth and the fifth section) there is a very clear break in the plot, though not in the text of the poem. Beves has achieved his end, and the poem could quite conceivably stop here, but with the introduction of the English King new complications begin to arise, involving Beves' own sons and a number of his former enemies. They start with a quarrel about Arundel, the faithful horse, and a new separation from Josiane, lasting for seven years. At the end of the novel, Beves has won a kingdom for each of his sons, for Terri and for himself. After twenty years of happiness he and Josiane die, almost at the same moment, and Arundel, too, falls down dead.
This last part of the poem is of course linked to the preceeding sections by most of the characters taking part, but it still gives the impression of a later addition which is not absolutely necessary for the continuity of the story. On the other hand, we are at the end of the fourth part still in ignorance about the fate of Josiane's father and her first husband. Thus the poem is indeed a unified whole in so far that all the threads of the story are not tied up until the end; nevertheless there are several places where we can see that the plot is spun out in a purely episodic manner, suggesting that there was no very definite masterplan for the whole novel, such as we can discover in Chrétien's poems. The three extensive additions made by the English adapter can be quoted in support of this observation. They each consist of an episode, complete in itself (see 11. 585-738, 2597-2910, 4287-4538) and by no means clumsily inserted, but heightening the suspense; however, they seem to prove that the adapter was more interested in the individual episode than in the structure of the whole poem. Thus, the fight with the dragon is obviously added with the intention of putting Beves on an equal footing with Guy of Warwick and Lancelot, as the express reference to these two famous heroes shows. Beves has to be given a similar adventure as Guy. The fight is told almost in terms of a Saint's legend. It is prepared for by a dream, such as we would expect in a legend (11. 2681 ff.), and Beves' victory is celebrated by bell-ringing and by a solemn procession (11. 2893-2910).
The London street fight, too, has the effect of an independent insertion which was bound to appeal particularly to an English audience of less refined tastes and must have been especially successful when read somewhere in the London area. The scene does not only prove that the poet had a pretty exact knowledge of the topography of London,15 but also that he was capable of describing this battle against citizens of flesh and blood with more precision and artistic energy than the conventional encounters with bloodless monsters. It is less likely, however, that he wanted to allude to definite historical events. In this case, the wholesale slaughtering of London citizens would not have been an exploit apt to endear Beves and his sons to a London audience of the lower classes.
There are also some other aspects of the poem which give the impression that the author was mainly concerned with satisfying the audience's desire for simple amusement. Thus, we find quite a number of rather burlesque scenes, suggesting that the poet had no very subtle sense of humour, such as Ascopard's attempted baptism and his very unchivalrous way of fighting (11. 3420 ff.), the messenger scene, obviously only included to raise a laugh (11. 3061 ff.), and the description of Josiane's and Miles' wedding night (11. 3117-3304). This whole episode is clearly not taken very seriously by the author; otherwise it would give rather an unfavourable picture of Beves' future spouse. There are also some other instances of the poet's grim and not very delicate humour.16
In spite of the episodic structure of the poem, there is no lack of coherence and tension, although we cannot detect a systematic plan or any sophisticated principles of composition. The dramatic unity of the poem is above all achieved by the character of the hero, who gets his revenge on his step-father, regains his inheritance, and founds a family which rules over several kingdoms. At the same time, the novel describes the career of a knight who by his natural valour alone overcomes all obstacles and all resistance. There is a certain climax in the series of his exploits. His first trials of strength (except his fight against Brademond) have something of the swaggering youth about them; his battles against his pursuers after his escape from prison are mainly fought in self-defence, but his great fight with the dragon shows him as a Christian champion who with God's help frees the country from a satanic plague and is honoured by the Bishop with a ceremonial procession. All the time Beves has to rely entirely on himself; indeed, he insists on being left to himself in all his fights and he twice rejects Josiane's offer of help (11. 2413-20 and 2474-8), the second time with a brutal threat. Truly heroic courage and obstinate ambition seem to be closely related here, which fits in with the portrait of a popular hero rather than one of a courtly knight. The dramatic principle of increasing tension is applied time and again, but the repetition of similar episodes and the prominence of the external mechanism of the plot make it impossible for us to feel that this is a novel about the maturing and the chivalric education of a king, as is the case with King Horn, Havelok, and, to some extent, Guy of Warwick.
Beves is not only a valiant knight, but also a warrior of God who succeeds in decimating the heathens, freeing the Christians from wicked enemies and converting Josiane to the Christian faith. All this, however, does not amount to a consistent spiritual design, but is presented as part of the swiftly moving plot. The theory that the author of the original poem was a cleric could account for the pious tone of several episodes, but the style of the English versions is not so obviously religious that we are forced to assume the English adapter, too, must have been a cleric. The poem only shows once more to what extent love of God and hatred of the Saracens are part of the make-up of the perfect knight in many of the English popular romances and these qualities are just as important as physical superiority and courage. It is hardly surprising that these characteristics are particularly emphasized in a work describing the origins of a powerful English family and praising its famous ancestor. The term 'romance of prys' would be especially fitting in the case of this poem.
Apart from prowess and exemplary piety,17 it is above all liberality by which the true knight is distinguished, and this is also a virtue which, in a somewhat watered-down form greatly appealed to the adapters of the English romances. Thus, Josiane's chamberlain who comes to Beves in order to reconcile him with his mistress, receives a princely reward from the knight, although his request is refused (11. 1153 ff.), and it is just this reward that convinces Josiane that Beves cannot possibly be of low degree because
… hit nas neuer a cherles dede,
To beue a maseger swiche a wede!
Indeed, it is this proof of his noble character that finally causes her to abandon her faith in order to win his love.
The on the whole very pointed and well-balanced structure of the poem shows that, within his modest limits, the English adapter had a conscious artistic design which, in spite of all episodic rambling and embellishment, he never quite lost sight of and tried to impress on his audience. Thus, even the Anglo-Norman version contains various prophetic hints, designed to create a feeling of suspense and to give some unity to the whole story. The English adapter took over some of these anticipations more or less literally (as, for instance, 11. 1063-8), extended them (as in 11. 205-10), or added new ones (11. 832-6, 3637-8). They usually, however, refer to events that follow fairly soon, at least in the same section of the poem, whereas the recapitulations, as we have seen, mainly serve to connect the various sections and help the audience to keep up with the somewhat intricate plot.
The frequent premonitions also have another function which is characteristic of the style of the poem. They give some prominence to the figure of the narrator by revealing his deep involvement in the events he has to relate. Thus, some of the premonitions are in the form of powerless complaints about the unavoidable disaster that is to befall one of the characters, as the distressed warning when Beves' father rides into the forest where he will meet his death (11. 205-10).18 The prayers for individual characters, particularly frequent in this poem, and the cursing of villains have a similar effect.19 Such formulas are not infrequent in the source of the poem, but they can also be found in those passages that were added by the English adapter. The frequently inserted proverbs and general aphorisms are also characteristic of the style of the poem; they mostly seem to be added by the English adapter and are reminiscent of Havelok, particularly such homely truths as the following:
For, whan a man is in pouerte falle,
He haj, fewe frendes wit alle.
These proverbial sayings also allow the narrator to come to the fore and to establish closer contact with his audience. In addition, there are the numerous conventional formulas, pointing out transitions and changes of scene or announcing some particularly exciting events, like 'Herkney now a wonder-cas!' (1. 1792) and similar clichés.21 As in Havelok, the narrator in one place asks for a drink before he can continue his story:
Ac er ban we be-ginne fiyte,
Ful vs Pe koppe anon riyte!
Here, too, we are not to think of an ale-house, but of some larger social gathering or a domestic circle. The passage, like several other formulas, creates a feeling of a community between the narrator and his audience, whether the invitation was really meant to be followed or, as is more likely, it is to be understood as a literary convention.
The narrative style of the poem has much in common with that of the Anglo-Norman poem which, as M. D. Legge says, 'has no nonsense about it'.22 In spite of its length, the poem never seems monotonous or longwinded. The action develops rapidly throughout, and the narrator hardly ever troubles to give us a more detailed description of things and persons. Even the descriptions of feasts, so common in many other romances, are sometimes passed over by an occupatio, like the following:
Iouy ich discriue nouyt ke bredale,
ye mai wel wite, hit was riale,
oat per was in alle wise
Mete and drinke & riche seruise.
Only certain climaxes, like the fight with the dragon and the London street-fight, are related in more detail, but the long and elaborate speeches, so frequent in Havelok, are almost entirely absent here, although many events are portrayed in the form of brief scenes of dialogue in direct speech. Thus, in A (11. 70-174), the sending of the messenger as well as the delivery of his message and his report on his return are presented in direct speech. In many ways, the style of the poem is much more like that of the shorter romances than that of Havelok or Ywain and Gawain.
Beues of Hamtoun, then, is an extremely lively and entertaining, though on the whole rather artless verse-novel, which is mainly concerned with presenting an exciting plot and with engaging the listeners' interest by a swift narrative and a wealth of colourful episodes. If the number of manuscripts is anything to go by, it was certainly very successful in this limited aim.…
7… See the very thorough edition by E. Kölbing, EETS, ES, 46, 48, 65 (1885, 1886, 1894), pp. vii ff.
8 See her Anglo-Norman Literature and its Background, pp. 156-61, and A. Stimming's edition of Boeve de Haumtone, Bibliotheca Normannica, VII (Halle, 1899), especially pp. CXXX ff.
9 The first twenty-four lines of Richard Coeur de Lion are also composed in tail-rhyme stanzas in the Auchinleck-manuscript. See K. Brunner's edition, pp. 25-6.
10 See Kölbing's introduction, pp. x ff.
11 See, however, 11. 19 ff.
12 See Kölbing's stemma, p. xxxviii. We need to know a lot more about the copying of manuscripts and the methods of transmission before we can be very confident about such neat stemmata.
13 See H. L. Creek, 'Character in the "Matter of England" Romances' [Journal of English and Germanic Philology, X (1911), 429-52 and 585-609], passim. Creek repeatedly refers to the useful study by W. W. Comfort, 'The Character Types in the Old French Chansons de Geste', PMLA, XXI (1906), 279-434, which contains much interesting material.
14 In most versions there is a clear break after line 3962 and again after line 4252. See also the prophetic hint, 4027-8, which connects several episodes.
15 See Kölbing's edition, p. xxxvii.
16 See 11. 1006-7 and the scene in which the Emperor tells Beves (whom he does not recognize) his (Beves') own story (11. 2985 ff.), or the messenger's rough answer (11. 3105 ff.).
17 Beves' escape from the prison is a direct answer to his prayer (see 11. 1579 ff., 1645 ff., 1795 ff.).
18 See also the prophetic hints in 11. 1200, 1204, 1328, 1388, etc.
19 See 11. 510, 846, 1261-2, 1431-2, 2784, 3286 ff., 3619, 4016, 4352 (prayers for the hero or other characters) and 80-1, 1211 ff., 3458, 4030 (curses).
20 See also 11. 46-7, 1192, 1215 ff., 3352.
21 E.g. 11. 737-8, 848, 1068, 1263-4, 1345, 1433, 1527.
22Anglo-Norman Literature, p. 160.
23 See also 1483-4 and 4563-8.…
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Editions of Romances
All quotations in the text are taken from the editions listed here. Other editions of individual poems and works that are only mentioned in passing will be found in the footnotes. The titles are sometimes abbreviated in accordance with usual practice.
Sir Beues of Hamtoun, ed. E. Kölbing, EETS, ES, 46, 48, 65 (1885, 1886, 1894).…
Richard Coeur de Lion, ed. K. Brunner (Der mittelenglische Versrontan über Richard Löwenherz), Wiener Beiträge zur Englischen Philologie, XLII, Wien-Leipzig, 1913.…
Works of Reference and Criticism
LEGGE, M. D. Anglo-Norman Literature and its Background, Oxford, 1963. …
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6803
SOURCE: "Interlacing in Bevis of Hampton" in Studies in "The Bovo Buch" and "Bevis of Hampton," 1976, pp. 22-49, 229-30.
[In the excerpt below, Spector identifies a structural principle in Bevis known as interlacing, in which seemingly unrelated narrative threads are woven together—as in a silken tapestry or an illuminated letter in a medieval book of psalms—to achieve a unified whole. The poem begins with chaos and ends with the restoration of order, the critic argues, paralleling Josian's development from an unworthy pagan to an ideal Christian woman.]
The fourteenth century romance, Bevis of Hampton, though certainly not a first-rate poem, has more merit than most of its critics are willing to grant it. At first glance, it may appear an "almost formless story,"1 with "episodic rambling and embellishment,"2 because of its unusual length;3 but it does contain a structural principle which not only provides its unity, but also contributes to its total effect.
Eugene Vinaver, through his work with thirteenth century French romances, provides the key for understanding Bevis. In his essay, "The Poetry of Interlace," he points out that nineteenth century critics tried to "rehabilitate" the medieval romance but invariably, this meant applying their own "artistic ideal" to the text, rather than studying the romances in the context of their own tradition.4 Because medieval romances were so far removed from the recognized norm of the nineteenth century, these critics lacked the "aesthetic notions" and "critical vocabulary" to deal with them.5 Vinaver himself corrects their error by returning to medieval critics—Martianus Capella, Cassiodorus, Geoffrey of Vinsauf and John Garland—to whom amplificatio meant not "unity" but "multiplicity":
The medieval variety of amplification was a horizontal rather than a vertical extension—an expansion or an unrolling of a number of interlocked themes.…
Carried to its logical conclusion, this doctrine would not only justify but call for the very things that our conventional poetics condemn outright. It would call not for monocentric unity but for expansion and diversity, for growth, both real and hypothetical: real when a theme or a sequence of themes is lengthened within an existing work; hypothetical when the author projects a possible continuation into the future, to be carried out by a successor who in turn will bequeath a similar projection to those who will follow him.6
Vinaver calls this kind of poetry "the poetry of interlace." Through this technique the narrator is able to "give meaning and coherence to amorphous matter."7 In other words, the romancer had at his disposal a number of strands of action revolving around a central character. Rather than selecting a single episode for his song, he would combine them all in an intricate design, analogous to a tapestry, where one theme would interrupt another which would interrupt a third, and so on; yet all would be kept in the reader's mind simultaneously, with earlier episodes contributing to the significance of later ones which, in turn, foreshadowed still later ones in a fabric from which one could not isolate the single thread but could perceive the unity of the total design.8
The term "interlace" is borrowed from medieval art which is notable for its very intricate ornaments. Though they appear to reflect no formal principle of construction,
Historians of Romanesque art have shown us, among other things, that the so-called 'ribbon' ornament, which has no beginning, no end, and above all no centre—no 'means of guidance', as one critic puts it—is nevertheless a remarkably coherent composition.… Straightforward progression is abandoned in favour of intertwined patterns, 'the themes run parallel, or entwined, or are brought together as in a chequer of knotting and plaiting'. 9
Although interlacing was a popular technique of the early Middle Ages, the advent of the novella, a relatively short tale with a unity of action, produced a resistance to interlacing in the later centuries of the period. The new reader was "unwilling … to be involved in structural complexities."10 Consequently, the "minds and eyes" of twentieth century critics
… have lost the art of perceiving the infinity of the great in the infinity of the small. The fascination of tracing a theme through all its phases, of waiting for its return while following other themes, of experiencing the constant sense of their simultaneous presence, depends upon our grasp of the entire structure—the most elusive that has ever been devised.11
What Kane and Mehl both overlooked in their evaluations of Bevis is that the narrator employs interlacing in the work, and it is through an analysis of his technique that a kind of unity emerges. Though certainly not on the level of a first rate romance writer like Chretien, the Bevis narrator did have a reason for including what the twentieth century mind regards as padding and digressions.
The method differs slightly from that delineated by Vinaver, being more like a procedure of modification through repetition. That is, all constituent elements of Bevis are those found frequently in the romances of the time. Most of the plot and characters are stock, as can be attested to by the motif study by Christian Boje (Über den altftranzösischen Roman von Beuve de Hamtone).12 In addition, there is a great deal of repetition in the story. One almost loses count of the number of men who try to take Josian from Bevis, or the number of times Bevis is betrayed by the Saracens. yet despite this apparent repetition, each particular incident is distinct. Earlier incidents of a particular type differ from later ones, as earlier characterizations of individuals within a type differ from later ones; and, most significantly, later incidents and appearances of characters are tempered by the earlier ones so that the growth of Bevis himself is marked by the change in scene as he progresses from Ermonie to England.
As the various threads come together at different points to produce these modified repetitions, the fact that they are not haphazardly joined becomes clear. Rather, the question of why certain strands interlace at a given moment takes on greater significance, especially from the perspective of the narrative as a whole. In this analysis, I will separate the three major interlaced elements: plot, theme and characterization. These three threads interlace to produce a unit which, if not equal to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, does indeed reflect a degree of craftsmanship which may account for the considerable popularity of the romance.
The Beautus Initial of the Westminster Psalter is a good visual analogy for the plot of Bevis. 13 A quick glance at the illustration identifies it as an interlaced "B," but, in fact, as one continues to look closely at the intricacies of the design, the basic outline is obscured as the eye becomes lost in the maze of threads. Within the illumination, there is symmetry, though no identical repetition. The vertical line of the letter is punctuated by three round drawings, evenly spaced, at the top, middle, and bottom. Because of the shape of the letter, the center figure is only a semicircle, but the two ends are complete, each having spirals in the corner. The drawings within the circles are all different, and the two spirals are also different. In literary terminology, archetypically the circles are the same, though each is made distinct within its own context. Similarly, the two loops of the "B" are comparable, each having two interlocked circular figures running vertically along the left two-thirds of the loop, and a vertical figure (bordered by animals) along the right. Within the basic outline of the "B" are interlaced a myriad of threads, each merging with others, difficult to trace individually, yet necessary to the total composition.
Similarly, Bevis is an interlaced design woven around a linear outline, and like the "B," the intricacies of the threads obscure the outlines of the plot. Perhaps the major reason it has been difficult to recognize the unity of Bevis is that critics have assumed that, as with most narratives, the hero himself defined the outline of the story. But in analyzing the "B," once we defined the outline, we moved on to the more interesting figures and swirls within the outline. The initial only provided a frame—a necessary frame, certainly, yet only the skeleton of a drawing whose flesh and muscle make it artistic. In Bevis, the conflicts between the hero and his adversaries are the elements which interest us, but the composition as a whole is not given form by the succession of incidents. The form is built around the almost linear development of the character of Josian who progresses from heathen (archetypically a "siren") to Christian wife and mother. Around her outline are woven the innumerable repetitions of similar incidents which distract us from Josian as a character so that she becomes an almost passive object, constantly being kidnapped and rescued. But we must keep in mind the fact that it is her adventures which provide the organization of the plot.
The introductory section of the poem establishes not only Bevis's quest but also the major threads which are woven into the poem. This section also postulates the kind of character Josian is to be in the wish-fulfillment world of romance. The first 500 lines of the poem are a negative microcosm of the rest of the romance. In order to complete his quest, Bevis must undo every action performed by Devon against Guy, and Josian must prove herself to be the inverse of Brandonia. Virtually every major type of action repeated throughout the story is introduced in this section, but in an inverted form.
If the Bevis-Josian plot represents the typical happy-ending love story of romance, Brandonia and Guy are the embodiment of love gone wrong. This fact must be established immediately and decisively in the poem to avoid the audience's becoming too sympathetic with a character who is to die in the first episode. In order to do this, the narrator utilizes two techniques. First, he interrupts the narrative with editorial asides:
Whan he was fallen in to elde,
pat he ne miyte him self welde,
He wolde a wife take;
Sone bar after, ich vnderstonde,
Him hadde be leuer pan al 1is londe,
Hadde he hire for-sake.
Man, whan he falleb in to elde,
Feble a wexeþ and vnbelde
þoury riyt resoun.
Then he employs an almost heavy-handed foreshadowing:
A knaue child be-twene hem bai hedde,
Beues a het.
Faire child he was & bolde,
He nas boute seue winter olde,
Whan his fader was ded.
But even more important, he borrows the plot of the comic fabliau for the introduction of the tragedy of the story. Though the Guy episode provides the impetus for the action, it is actually a modified version of the cuckold plot of the January-May marriage. The result is that while we are horrified at Brandonia's treachery, we do not become too involved emotionally at the death of Guy to prevent our identifying with Bevis as a hero in his own right.
Basically, the cuckold theme revolves around the marriage of a foolish, old man and a buxom young woman who has no qualms about seeking her pleasure elsewhere, often in the arms of a young clerk who is only too willing to oblige her. The comic tone of the fabliau is easily sustained because the old man is egocentric enough to believe that a young girl would love him, yet insecure enough to fear that she will cuckold him. Thus, he watches her so closely that we, as well as the wife, enjoy the joke which she elaborately contrives to cuckold him. In Bevis, we have the basic outline with the January-May marriage and alternate suitor, but the elements are all modified for the milieu of a moralistic romance. Thus, they provide impetus for the serious adventures of Bevis.
To begin with, while Guy's flaw is that he lacks judgment, he is not a foolish old man. In fact, the narrator attributes almost heroic proportions to the father of our hero:
Of Hamtoun he was sire
And of al bat ilche schire,
Lordinges, bis, of whan y telle,
Neuer man of flesch ne felle
Nas so strong
And so he was in ech striue,
But Guy's life was incomplete. He had never married. Hence, when an old man he decides to wed:
And euer he leuede wib outen wiue,
Al to late and long.
Whan he was fallen in to elde,
þat he ne miyte him self welde,
He wolde a wif take;
But even before the description of Brandonia, the narrator interjects his editorial, lest the reader might be led to believe that the marriage would be a happy one. He eliminates the possibility that the reader might sympathize with this young and beautiful daughter of the King of Scotland who was pitifully forced to marry a man she did not love. Actually, though, her lack of chastity was more significant than her lack of love. Long before Guy sued for her hand, she had had a paramour, one Devon, the Emperor of Almaine.
Guy is capable of performing sexually—we have Bevis as evidence—but not often enough to satisfy his wife whose sexual appetite is enormous:
'Me lord is olde & may nouyt werche,
Al dai him is leuer at cherche,
ban in me bour,
Hadde ich itaken a yong kniyt,
bat ner nouyt brused in werre & fiyt,
Also he is,
A wolde me louen dai and niyt,
Cleppen and kissen wib al is miyt
And make me blis.'
Again, the ambiguity of a cuckold theme in which one sympathizes with January rather than May is emphasized. In addition to Brandonia's excessive preoccupation with sex—desiring a young knight to love her day and night—she criticizes Guy's preference for the church to her bower.
In the fabliau, the action culminates in the cuckoldry, but Brandonia wants more than to sleep with Devon. Unable to adjust to life with Guy, she demands life without him:
'I nel hit lete for no binge,
þat ich nel him to debe bringe
Wiþ sum braide!'
And only after Devon kills Guy will she have sex with her paramour. In demanding Guy's death, she subverts all the principles upon which Guy had established his leadership in Southampton. She selects the appropriate instrument to execute her wiles, a man who will do anything, including commit murder:
'Sai, 'a seide, 'icham at hire heste:
þif me hf hit wile leste,
Hit schel be do!'
The battle between the two men is the antithesis of what is to be expected in the noble confrontation between knights, though it is perfectly in keeping with this episode of the romance. Guy is unarmed; Devon is armed, complete with a host of followers. Devon does not challenge Guy to combat, but insults him:
'Aþilt þe, treitour! þow olde dote!
þow schelt ben hanged be þe þrote,
þin heued þow schelt lese;
þe sone schel an-hanged by
And þe wif, þat is so fre,
To me lemman i chese!'
Guy swears to defend his wife and child and after losing the battle, offers Devon anything, save Brandonia and the life of Bevis, neither of which will Devon grant since those are the objects of his battle. Therefore, he kills Guy and sends the dead man's head to Brandonia, who invites the murderer to her bower that very night. The next day the marriage of Devon and Brandonia is celebrated with the attitude of "The king is dead; long live the king," the only mourners being Bevis and his loyal uncle Saber.
This episode represents the total subversion of order. Guy marries at the wrong time, old instead of young; Brandonia had a lover before marraige; both Brandonia and Devon place personal desire above social and moral responsibility; the battle is unfairly rigged—an old man who is unarmed against a young knight who is fully equipped; Brandonia sleeps with her new husband before marrying him; she tries to have her own son killed; and the people, in concert with their new lord, ignore the realities of the situation in favor of the appearance of order.
If the introduction represents chaos, the bulk of the poem is the re-establishment of order. If Brandonia is the symbol of the destruction of order, Josian's progress from paganism to her twenty-year reign as Christian queen, wife, and mother, is the antithesis of her mother-in-law's life and determines the order of the realm. It is therefore fitting that she also provide the linear unity of the poem. If Brandonia is Acrasia in the Bower of Bliss, Josian is Amoret in the Garden of Adonis. Venus brought Amoret to the Garden "To be vpbrought in goodly womanhed," (FQ III.vi.28, 1. 7), and it is Josian's growth into Christian womanhood which provides the structure of the plot of Bevis.
An analysis of those incidents dealing directly with Josian indicates that as heroine of the story she is the direct inverse of Brandonia. She begins as a pagan who lusts after a young man, in contrast with Brandonia who is a nominal Christian, though her actions exceed the evil of the pagans Bevis meets on his adventures. Josian does convert to Christianity after proving herself worthy of the salvation of Christ. Brandonia, on the other hand, is most unworthy. Once Josian converts and proves her chastity (note the emphasis on Brandonia's lack of chastity), she and Bevis marry and produce two children. Brandonia, too, married and had a child, but she then had her husband killed and tried to kill her son. Guy and Miles love and respect their mother who teaches them to love, respect, and come to the rescue of their father when he is in trouble. Not only does Brandonia try to kill her son but, when she fails, she sells him to the Saracens. And finally, Josian lives out her life in peace, surrounded by a loving family and loyal subjects. Brandonia dies for her sins.
It is around this linear thread tracing the growth of perfect womanhood that the multiple incidents of the plot are interlaced. In addition to direct repetitions, where an incident is begun early in the romance but not completed until a later return, there are metaphoric or archetypal repetitions wherein types of incidents are repeated. The function of both kinds of repetition is the same. Josian progresses steadily throughout the poem, and the modifications worked on the repetitions reflect directly on her growth as they demonstrate her maturing responses to life in the world of romance.
The first part of the plot culminates in Josian's decision to convert. In a reverse of the situation between Guy, the King of Scotland and his daughter, the King of Ermonie and his daughter are Saracens. The daughter falls in love with Bevis at first sight. Ermin, too, recognizes Bevis's innate nobility and offers his daughter to him if only he will become a heathen. Bevis refuses, and though "pe kinges hertte wex wel cold," (1. 553), he makes Bevis his chamberlain and promises to knight him.
But Josian continues to love the Christian knight. When Bevis comes home from his first battles, she bathes his wounds, and when he presents her with the boar's head (the ironic repetition of Devon's sending Guy's head to Brandonia, especially since Guy had thought he was going to fight a boar), and defeats the envious steward (another ironic reference, this time to Devon's envying Guy), she is overtaken by a fit of love-longing, and prays to Mahomet:
'O Mahoun,' yhe seide, 'oure driyte,
What Beues is man of meche miyte!
Al bis world bif ich it hedde,
Ich him beue me to wedde;
Boute he me loue, icham ded:
Swete Mahoun, what is be red?
Loue-longing me hab be-couyt,
par of wot Beues riyt nouyt.'
This speech is a reversal of Brandonia's scornful comment about Guy's preferring church to her bower.
In the context of a Christian poem Mahomet, of course, is powerless, and the next thing we know, Brademond appears on the scene demanding Josian's hand. Here we have the first of the many triangles which develop, with Josian being in love with Bevis, though sued by someone else. In addition, we are reminded of Brandonia's being in love with Devon, though sued for by Guy or, possibly, her being married to Guy, though sued for by Devon. The ambiguity of the interlacing reflects the ambiguity of the situation. Though Josian loves Bevis, she is a Saracen, and hence, unfit for Bevis at this time. And it is her conversion which reconciles the situation.
Before she decides to convert, however, she undergoes the first of many metaphoric deaths and rebirths in the story. Unable to control her love any longer, especially in the light of Bevis's glorious defeat of Brademond and his forces, she confesses her feelings to the hero, and in doing so, offers her immortal soul in exchange for his physical love:
'Beues, lemman, Pin ore!
Ichaue loued be ful bore,
Sikerli can i no rede,
Boute tow me loue, icham dede,
And boute bow wit me do be wille.'
'Merci,' yhe seide, 'yet wit ban
Ichauede be leuer to me lemman,
þe bodi in be scherte naked,
ban al be gold, Oat Christ hab maked,
And bow wost wib me do be wille!'
Her behavior, antithetical to Christian morality, is to be expected perhaps from a Saracen. Hearing her proposition Bevis in this way, we cannot help but remember Brandonia's proposition -to Devon, though Brandonia demanded murder. Josian wants only physical gratification. But the offer itself demonstrates that she is not yet an appropriate mate for Bevis.
She curses him in the name of Mahomet, and denigrates his nobility. Of course, curses in the name of a false god are meaningless and, as Bevis reminds her, he is of noble origin:
'Damesele,' a seide, 'jow seist vnriyt;
Me fader was bobe erl & kniyt:
How miyte ich banne ben a cherl,
Whan me fader was kniyt & erl?'
His identity is valid and her words cannot change it. Her identity, on the other hand, is based on false values. She must ascend to his level, and she does. When Bevis gives her messenger, Bonifas, an embroidered mantle, he demonstrates that he is truly noble and, through Bonifas's prodding, she does admit that the gift was not the action of a churl. She then goes to his chamber, prostrates herself, and vows to convert:
'Men saib,' yhe seide, 'in olde riote,
pat wimmannes bolt is sone schote:
For-yem me, pat ichaue misede,
And ich wile riyt now to mede
Min false godes al for-sake
And cristendom for be loue take!'
It is only then that Bevis kisses her.
Her actual conversion is the focus of the second part of the narrative. It consists of three tests which she must undergo in order to prove herself worthy of Christ: Yvor, the lions, and Ascopart.
Acting on the lies of two envious knights, Ermin sends Bevis to Damascus where he is imprisoned by Brademond. Meanwhile, in order to quiet Josian's enquiries into her lover's whereabouts, Ermin says that Bevis returned home to marry the daughter of the King of England (ironic fore-shadowing of Bevis's son). Later, Ermin has her marry Yvor, King of Mombraunt, in a manner similar to the way the King of Scotland had married Brandonia to Guy when she was in love with Devon. In this case, the purpose of the interlacing is to show the difference between the two women. Whereas Brandonia accepts a mock sacrament, only eventually to have her husband killed, Josian, though having more justification than Brandonia, nevertheless refuses to accede to a loveless marriage. Instead, she professes faith in Bevis's fidelity:
Hende kniyt of Soub-Hamtoun,
Naddestow me neuer for-sake,
yif sum tresoun hit nadde make:'
And with the help of her magic ring, she protects her chastity:
'Ichaue,' yhe seide, 'a ring on,
bat of swiche vertu is 1e ston:
While ichaue on Oat ilche ring,
To me schel noman haue willing,
And, Beues!' yhe seide, 'be god aboue,
I schel it weren for be loue!'
While Bevis languishes in prison, Josian spends the seven years questioning palmers for news of him. When he finally escapes, and after several intermediary adventures, Bevis comes to Josian disguised as a palmer to test her faith. In the tradition of the disguise motif, Bevis answers all of Josian's questions ambiguously so that they are literally true to those who know the truth. When she asks him if he knows Bevis, he replies:
'bat kniyt ich knowe wel inouy!
Atom,' a seide, 'in is contre
Icham an erl and also is he;'
And when they go to the stable, she tells the faithful Bonifas:
'Be je moder, Oat me ha' bore,
Ner lis mannes browe to-tore,
Me wolde benke be his fasoun,
þat hit were Beues of Hamtoun!'
And when the horse permits his master to mount him, Josian knows that it is Bevis:
'O Beues, gode lemman,
Let me wib be reke
In bat maner, we han ispeke,
And Penk, bow me to wiue tok,
When ich me false godes for-sok:
Now bow hast pin hors Arondel,
Pe swerd ich be fette schel,
And let me wende wib Pe siþþe
Hom in to bin owene kibbe!'
The identification works both ways. By naming him, she is not only giving him the identity which had lain dormant for seven years, but since she is the only one who recognizes him, she is proving her own worth by responding to the innate qualities of the hero. This is an interlacing of the earlier episode when she had misidentified him as a churl, only to find herself mistaken. That incident resulted in her promise to convert. Josian has passed her first test of a seven-year false marriage (compare this with Brandonia's seven years with Guy).
The next adventure, the encounter with the lions, symbolically reinforces the previous incident. While they attack and kill Bonifas, and ferociously fight against Bevis, they will not touch Josian:
But bey ne myyt do hur no shame,
For Pe kind of Lyouns, y-wys,
A kynges douyter, bat maide is,
Kinges douyter, quene and maide both,
be lyouns myyt do hur noo wroth.
Because she is a king's daughter and a maid and will twice be a queen, she is immune to their attack. Unfortunately, her steward is killed, but they soon encounter Ascopart who, in Josian's mind, will be a suitable replacement.
Ascopart is not just a test of faith but one of judgment. After Bevis defeats the giant in battle, Josian mercifully begs that Ascopart's life be spared. This excess of Christian charity reminds us of Bevis's sparing Brademond's life at their first encounter and Devon's denial of mercy to Guy. Mercy is a Christian virtue, but one must have the judgment to determine when it is justified. Though by now Bevis has that kind of knowledge ("'Dame, a wile vs be-trai!"' [1. 2371]), Josian, new to Christianity, has not. Although she is ready for her conversion, she is not yet the woman she is to become.
After Ascopart joins the party, the three of them go to Cologne where Josian is converted. But she must be tested yet another time before Bevis can marry her. Having already proven her chastity, in this episode she must prove her willingness to defend it to whatever lengths are necessary. The previous assaults against her chastity were outright—Brademond simply attacked Ermin, and Yvor's suit was openly granted by her father. And her defenses were appropriate. Ermin, with Bevis's help, defeated Brademond, and her magic ring protected her from the marriage bed. This third assault, however, is accomplished through duplicity; consequently, Josian must go to extraordinary lengths to protect herself.
At this point, Bevis returns to England to regain his heritage, leaving Josian in Cologne under the protection of the bishop and Ascopart. Josian, for her part, feels secure in Bevis's absence because "While ichaue Ascopard,/ Of be nam ich nobing afard," (11. 3133-3134). But this is a typical romantic twist of irony: it is fairly certain that if she feels that she will be safe with Ascopart, he will be unable to protect her. And this is precisely what happens. Miles sends Ascopart a letter ostensibly from Bevis (reminiscent of Bevis's Uriah letter, and Brandonia's original message to Devon betraying Guy), requesting the giant's presence in England. He goes, leaving Josian unprotected, but she, on her own, sends Bevis a letter which ultimately counteracts Miles's treacherous one.
Once her protection is gone, Miles appears but Josian gives him the correct response for a Christian woman in her position:
'Nouyt, þey i scholde lese me lif,
Boute ich were þe weddede wif;
þif eni man me scholde wedde,
þanne mot ich go wiþ him to bedde:
I trowe, he is nouyt now here,
þat schel be me wedde-fere!'
This situation has occurred repeatedly in this poem but the significance of this scene is that the interlacing of the thread is completed. She enunciates the necessity for married love and, thus, compensates for her original lustful proposition to Bevis. Earlier, she had said she would die if she did not have him; now, she would rather die than fornicate. This reverses the travesty of love represented by Brandonia.
Words, of course, are not enough. Miles is not particularly concerned about the marriage vows:
'Y schel þe wedde ayenes þe wille,
To morwe y schel hit ful-fille!'
And kiste hire anon riyt.
And sente after baroun & kniyt
And bed hem come leste & meste,
To anoure þat meri feste.
His kiss is reminiscent of Bevis's when Josian decided to convert. That kiss became the source of Bevis's betrayal by Ermin who wrongly believed it to be lustful. This time it does represent lust, only Josian has no one to protect her from it, and must handle the problem herself.
She requests one favor from Miles:
'Ich bidde, þow graunte me a bone,
And boute þow graunte me þis one,
I ne schel þe neuer bedde none;
Ich bidde þe at þe ferste frome,
þat man ne wimman her in come;
Be-lok hem þar oute for loue o me,
þat noman se our priuite!'
She speaks the literal truth since one boon is all she will ever need from him. The irony parallels that used by Bevis when he came to Yvor's castle dressed as a palmer. Then, irony was used to identify Bevis; now Josian uses irony to protect her identity, for after this episode she will have proven her right to be Bevis's wife.
Once she has killed Miles, she does not run away but stays in her bed and waits. Though she knows that certain retribution will follow the murder, she feels that her action is justified—she has defended herself against an assault on her chastity—and as a Christian, she must face the consequences. To run away would indicate guilt, but she has committed murder under special circumstances and must defend it as such:
'þestendai he me wedded wiþ wrong
& to niyt ichaue him honge:
Doþ be me al youre wille,
Schel he neuer eft wimman spille!'
Still, the townsmen decide to burn Josian at the stake. She is stripped and the fire is started when, in timely fashion, Bevis and Ascopart come to the rescue. Symbolically, Josian undergoes the death of her old self, and is reborn as wife to Bevis. In addition, the episode reflects back to the introduction of the poem. On the literal level, Josian parallels Brandonia in that both were forced into loveless marriages, and arranged the deaths of their respective husbands in order to marry the preferred suitors. However, one must keep in mind the character of Brandonia in contrast to that of Josian.
Brandonia was unchaste and did not have her husband killed for the sake of chastity but for that of lust. Even more significant is the contrast between the reactions of the townsmen. While Miles's kin demand revenge against a justifiable murder, the people of Southampton not only ignore the murder of Guy but celebrate the wedding of their treacherous queen and her lover. The contrast cannot have been overlooked by the fourteenth century audience. Bevis not only embodies the heroic aspects of romance but also represents a national hero who rectifies the political injustice of Edgar's reign. Though he has not yet literally avenged his father's murder, he has done so metaphorically, by choosing a wife who is the inverse of Brandonia.
Once Josian is safe, Bevis returns to England, kills Devon, sees his mother die ("yhe fel and brak hire nekke per fore." [1. 3462]), and he and Josian marry. At this point, the past has been rectified. Guy's murder has been avenged, his mother is dead and he can retrieve his birthright. But as a nationalistic romance postulating the ideals of society, the poem cannot end here. Before the author can rest, he must establish stability for the future.
Bevis is an interlaced narrative and the future is not a simple linear progression. In a comedy, for example, marriage frequently signifies the defeat of the old society and birth of a new one.14 Even in Love's Labour's Lost, where the action is cut off before that moment, the projection of a happy ending suffices since we are confident that after their year's penance, the academicians will marry and live happily ever after. In Bevis, however, such a relaxed attitude towards the future does not work. Because Christians have been assaulted by treacherous Saracens, and even by other Christians, every loose thread must be interlaced completely into the fabric, lest future happiness might unravel. Consequently, the romance must continue until its natural resolution, the establishment of a realm of peace.
The fourth section of the narrative culminates in the reunion of Bevis and his family. Once Josian is married and bears children, chastity is replaced by motherhood as the central issue. It is in this section that Bevis's prophecy about Ascopart is fulfilled, when the giant becomes the Iago of the story. He remains loyal to Bevis and Josian until he is denied promotion in favor of another—Bevis makes Terry his swain. Then, in revenge, Ascopart betrays Josian to Yvor. He had earlier betrayed Yvor when Bevis defeated him in combat, but now, he returns to his original master.
When Josian is about to deliver twins, she sends Bevis and Terry away:
'For godes loue,' yhe seide, 'nai,
Leue sire, þow go þe wai,
God for-bede for is pite,
þat noman þoury me be kouþe:
Goþ and wende hennes nouþe,
þow and þe swain Terry,
And let me worþe & oure leuedy!'
On the one hand, this speech directs our attention to her one boon from Miles, only that time she pretended modesty to make her new husband's retainers leave the chamber; but this time she is literally modest. Both incidents result in the elimination of a suitor. On the other hand, the speech also reminds us of the earlier time she had sent Bevis away. Then, the lions symbolically attested to her chastity; now, she will have to use trickery to preserve it. In addition, the result of the earlier incident was the introduction of Ascopart to the retinue; the ultimate result of this one will be the elimination of the traitor.
As soon as the twins are born, Ascopart arrives with forty Saracens and captures her on behalf of Yvor. This is the third time that Josian is forced to be with a man other than Bevis, and each time her defense is appropriate to the point in the story. Miles had threatened rape in the guise of marriage; consequently, a violent response was indicated. In the first episode with Yvor, she had been legally married though as yet unbaptized. Thus, the ordeal of a seven-year temptation was an apt way of demonstrating her worthiness of becoming a Christian. This time, however, it is only a matter of simple protection; therefore, she protects herself in the simplest way possible. She ingests an herb which gives her the appearance of a leper and makes her look so repulsive that Yvor locks her away for a year and a half. She is in absolutely no physical danger. The fact that Saber and not Bevis rescues her underscores the lack of danger.
Josian and Saber then search for Bevis who remains for seven years at Amberforce. Unlike the earlier reunion between the two, which was protracted to permit them to test each other, this one is resolved in less than ten lines. They retrieve their children from the fisherman and forester, and then move on. Though the incident is short in itself, its association with the introduction of the romance gives it great significance. Guy and Brandonia had been married for seven years when she had him killed. She then tried to have her son killed and failing that, sold him to the Saracens. This episode reverses that procedure. Bevis and Josian are separated for the seven years following the birth of their children who are given to strangers to raise. Each is tempted to commit adultery; both withstand the temptation. They are then reunited and retrieve their sons. In the previous episode the treachery against Guy was avenged. Now, with the reunion of Bevis and his children, this thread which began when Brandonia exiled her son, is completed. If Guy symbolized the past, Bevis represents the present, and now we can move on to a future marked by a generation of peace.
The emphasis of the final episode is social. Bevis and Josian have already proved themselves worthy of their identities, and now they fulfill those identities by converting the Saracens and reforming evil Christians, spacially moving back to England in the reverse of Bevis's original exile. Bevis converts the land of Ermonie which its king then leaves to Bevis's son, Guy. Bevis kills Yvor, who refuses to convert, and becomes King of Mombraunt. Both of these episodes are reminiscent of the beginning when, first of all, Ermin offered his kingdom and daughter to Bevis provided he become a Saracen, and when after that, Ermin had his daughter married to the King of Mombraunt.
In the final section, Josian withdraws from the action, performing only one last act. When the London mob attacks Bevis for being a traitor, she sends her sons to defend their father. She thus completes the final thread begun by Brandonia. Probably even more important to young Bevis than the fact that his mother had had his father murdered was his inability to help Guy. Now this situation is resolved as Bevis's own sons assist him. And in order to establish peace, Edgar, now old (like Ermin and Guy—Bevis's father), gives his daughter in marriage to Bevis's son Miles.
Finally, all of the loose threads have been woven into the fabric. The Saracens have been disposed of, and everyone has a realm to rule: Bevis has Mombraunt; Guy, Ermonie; Miles, England; Terry, Amberforce; and Bevis gives his earldom in Hampshire to Saber.
The emphasis on monarchy is necessarily strong. In the beginning, the townspeople feasted at an occasion which should have provoked rioting. At the end, a bloodthirsty mob unjustly attacks Bevis. Coming as it does at the end of the romance, the social commentary is significant. The people of London require a strong ruler to lead them, lest they be betrayed by unscrupulous usurpers. As a whole, from beginning to end, the people lack the wisdom to rule themselves and only a Bevis of Hampton, married to a Josian, producing a line of Guys and Miles', can assure order and stability. This they all do.…
1 George Kane, Middle English Literature (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1951), p. 50.
2 Mehl, p. 218.
3 Baugh, "The Middle English Romance," 23-24.
4 Eugène Vinaver, "The Poetry of Interlace," in The Rise of Romance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 68-98.
6 Ibid., pp. 75-76.
7 Ibid., p. 68.
8 Ibid., p. 76.
9 Ibid., p. 77.
10 Ibid., p. 95.
11 Ibid., p. 81.
12 (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1909).
13 The illustration is reproduced from Vinaver, p. 81.
14 Frye, p. 163.…
… Baugh, Albert C. "The Middle English Romance: Some Questions of the Creation, Presentation, and Preservation." Speculum, 42 (1967), 1-31.…
Kane, George. Middle English Literature. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1951.…
Mehl, Dieter. The Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. London: Routeledge and Kegan Paul, 1968.…
Vinaver, Eugène. The Rise of Romance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.…
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4188
SOURCE: "Land, Lineage, and Nation" in Insular Romance, University of California Press, 1986, pp. 53-91, 225-51.
[In the following excerpt, Crane examines the competing principles of feudalism and nationalism in Bevis of Hampton as well as in the Anglo-Norman version of the poem and other Middle English romances. She contends that Bevis merely pays lip service to the notion that national ideology is more important than the interests of noble families; in reality, she asserts, it celebrates ancestral heriage, opposition to royal authority, and aristocratic autonomy.]
The conventional notion of what constitutes medieval English romance—much bloodshed, great length, marvels and wonders, action rather than reflection-—comes close to perfect embodiment in the stories of Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton. Lord Ernle's assessment typifies modern reaction to these romances: "The austere simplicity of the older forms is overlaid with a riot of romantic fancy; their compactness of structure is lost. The romances are swollen to a prodigious length, in which incident is threaded to incident, adventure strung to adventure, and encounter piled on encounter."1 They are as long as novels, and their detractors often fault them for failing by modern fictional standards,2 while their admirers class them with popular detective novels or thrillers.3 But "novel" content, design, technique, and invention by no means characterize the aesthetic of these works, nor are they particularly strong on mystery or thrills. Rather, they develop earlier romances' interest in baronial issues of land and lineage; their design, the kinds of events and problems they treat, and their stylistic procedures convey images of noble life that give their "riot of romantic fancy" a meaning worthy of the success they enjoyed.
This chapter treats the thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman romances of English heroes, their English descendants, and some later fourteenth-century romances as well. Sir Beues of Hamtoun4 and Guy of Warwick (both ca. 1300) are so closely related to Anglo-Norman versions that some critics have treated them as translations. But textual studies demonstrate that no English manuscript translates an extant Anglo-Norman manuscript, so that their differences cannot be considered evidence of direct poetic reworking. Instead, the various versions of each story, like the versions of Horn and Havelok, are related works whose differences may be more accurately understood in terms of insular generic and historical developments than in terms of textual revision.
The longer romances of English heroes usually connect exile and return to feudal dispossession and reinstatement, and double the hero's winning of land with his winning a bride to continue the lineage. As for Horn and Havelok, the law and the courts are important sources of justification for Bevis, Guy, and Fulk—though this confidence in law breaks down in the later Athelston and Gamelyn. In addition, the diffuse longer works incorporate new sources of validation for noble heroes. Motifs from epic, saints' legends, and courtly poetry demonstrate heroic worth by other standards than winning a heritage. Where these standards conflict, uneasy accommodations reestablish the heritage as the dominant value for adventuring heroes.
Des Aventures e Pruesses Nos Auncestres
Central to all these works is the English hero's status as fictional forebear and defender of his nation. The opening lines of Fouke le Fitz Waryn (ca. 1280) illustrate this emphasis by revising the topos that spring's renewal stimulates human activity. Rather than inspiring love as in much lyric poetry, or warfare as epitomized in Bertran de Born's "Be'm platz lo gais temps," here springtime prompts reflection on the deeds of English ancestors:
En le temps de averyl e may, quant les prees e les herbes reverdissent e chescune chose vivaunte recovre vertue, beautè e force, les mountz e les valeyes retentissent des douce chauntz des oseylouns, e les cuers de chescune gent pur la beaute du temps e la sesone mountent en haut e s'enjolyvent, donque deit home remenbrer des aventures e pruesses nos auncestres, qe se penerent pur honour en leaute quere.5
In the season of April and May, when meadows and plants become green again and every living creature regains its nature, beauty, and force, the hills and valleys echo with the sweet songs of birds, and people's hearts soar and gladden at the beauty of the weather and the season, then we should remember the adventures and deeds of prowess of our ancestors, who labored to seek honor in loyalty.
Fulk is loyal to his lineage and to feudal law: the "aventures e pruesses nos auncestres" typically continue to arise from disputed land tenure and a family's cyclical self-renewal. This is evident in the first of the later romances of English heroes, the Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone, composed somewhat later than the Lai d'Haveloc but probably not long after 1200. More than in the Old French Bueve de Hantone, in Boeve a clearly discernible line of interest in land and family runs through a varied range of motifs and adventures.6
Boeve, which closely resembles the story of Horn in plot,7 unites the hero's first exile loosely around his first disinheritance. Like Horn, Boeve becomes a model vassal who defends the feudal hierarchy at home and in exile, refuses to marry until his patrimony is secured, and makes plans to avenge his father's death and rewin his own rights.8 His subsequent confrontations with King Edgar inspire the most politically cogent section of the work. Unique to the insular versions of the story are Boeve's refusal to pay the inheritance fee because of Edgar's failure to protect his rights, his request for permission to build Arundel Castle, and his warning to Edgar not to interfere with his land while he is again in exile.9
Boeve's second exile develops insular concerns in the more emotive sphere of family feeling. The hero's line of descent and that of his old tutor Sabaoth become intermixed in one extended family that shares Boeve's exile, conquests, and return to power in England.10 Boeve and his companion Tierri, Sabaoth's son, value their wives primarily as mothers and take great delight in their children.11 Boeve's two sons obediently play up to their father's pride in their emerging likeness to himself:
Dist l'un a l'autre: 'le champ traversez,
si pensom de joster! Contre moi venez; Tierri, Sabaoth's
ke ne savom, kant serrom esprovez.
Kant nus vera mun pere li alosez
nos armes porter, si serra mult lez.'
Ore purrez vere cops de chevalers.
'Par mon chef!' dist Boves, 'cil erent
s'il vivent longes, il atenderunt lur per.…
Sainte Marie, dame!' dist Boves li alosez,
'dame, merci! les enfans me gardez.'
One said to the other: 'Cross the field, and let's think on jousting! Come at me, for we don't know when we will be tried. When our renowned father sees us bearing our arms, he will be very happy.' Then you could see the blows of knights! 'By my head!' said Bevis, 'these are fine aspirants to knighthood; if they live long, they'll catch up to their father.… Holy Mary, Lady!' said worthy Bevis, 'Lady, your grace! Guard these children for me.'
The family continuity that Boeve sees represented in his children culminates when his two sons share in achieving his heritage and when he realizes at his death two weeks later that his children can successfully hold his property:
'Sire, ke tendra vos riches cassemens?'
'Dame, jeo n'en ai cure, a deu lur command;
la merci deu, uncore ay trois enfans,
ke purrunt tenir nos riches cassemens.'
'My lord, who will hold your great fiefs?' 'Lady, I have no concern for them, I commend them to God; thanks to God I still have three children who can hold our great fiefs.'
Here the familial devotion running through the work finally comes to support the political concept of land tenure.12 Through much of the romance, however, the influence of baronial concerns operates on the level of emotionally felt impulse rather than of consciously articulated political principle.
In Fouke le Fitz Waryn the "aventures e pruesses nos auncestres" all center more closely around the disputed patrimony. This romance, exceptionally, tells not of legendary pre-Conquest figures but of a historical family's fortunes from the time of the Conquest through the reign of King John. Nearly half the romance recounts (with many historical distortions) the exploits of Fulk's ancestors as they establish the lineal claims he must defend from King John's depredations. Fulk's defense is double, with two escapes abroad from John's unjust anger, two promises of restoration, and numerous minor adventures that support the legal rights of family members and other barons to land.
The central crisis occurs when, upon the death of Fulk's father, King John denies Fulk's inherited right to Whittington in favor of another's claim. Fulk turns outlaw with a resounding denunciation of John's failure to provide just administration:
'Sire roy, vous estes mon lige seignour, e a vous su je lïé par fealté tant come je su en vostre service, e tan come je tienke terres de vous; e vous me dussez meyntenir en resoun, e vous me faylez de resoun e commune ley, e unqe ne fust bon rey qe deneya a ces franke tenauntz ley en sa court; pur quoi je vous renk vos homages.' (24.26-32)
'Sir king, you are my liege lord, and I am bound to you in fealty as long as I am in your service and as long as I hold lands from you; and you ought to sustain me in justice, and you fail me in justice and common law; and there was never a good king who refused his free tenants law in his court; wherefore I renounce my allegiance to you.'
Fulk's language of fealty and his appeal to law recall the Romance of Horn, yet here the situation is directly historical. The era of Magna Carta is the only post-Conquest period for which it is easy to imagine baronial victories comparable to those in the romances of English heroes. The historical John, like the fictional Edgar in the story of Bevis or Edelsi/Godard in the story of Havelok, appeared a wrongheaded and in the end intimidated king who had to concede the rights he unjustly sought to deny. Similarly, the Welsh border is perhaps the only post-Conquest setting that provided something like the military autonomy with which the English heroes demonstrate the worthiness of their claims. The Marcher lords enjoyed rights to private armies, to waging war and winning land, and to considerable judicial freedoms, in contrast to the rest of England's barony.13 In Fouke a remarkable historical moment, an exceptional setting, and a heavily romanticized account of the Fitz Warin family's affairs allow the ideal fictional pattern of baronial victory to play itself out in a situation from the insular barony's own history.
To regain his holdings, in these later romances as in earlier ones, the hero must establish or sustain his family dynasty. Women's roles (except in the story of Guy) support the hero's efforts and contrast to roles from the literature of fine amor. Fulk secretly marries Matilda, whom he has never even seen before the wedding, partly to discomfit her suitor, King John, and partly because he "savoit bien qe ele fust bele, bone e de bon los, e qe ele avoit en Yrlaunde fortz chastels, cités, terres e rentes e grantz homages" [knew well that she was fair, good, and of good reputation, and that she had in Ireland strong castles, towns, lands and income, and great fiefs] (30.20-22). The insular Bevis versions lack even the superficially decorous customs of deference that ornamented political alliances in the Romance of Horn. Rather, Josian courts Bevis with pleas and insults, while he shows energetic pique at her advances, walks out on her show of indignation, and, when she follows him to his room, snores in a futile attempt to get rid of her (AN 670-772, ME A 1093-199). After their betrothal, this freedom from the conventions of fine amor allows Josian to become an active helper to the hero, very like his wonderful horse Arundel, with whom she is in fact sometimes equated. Bevis's wife and horse both assist him in his dynastic victory and, despite their servile status, achieve a measure of dignity and repute as the appanage of Bevis's great merit.14
Sir Beues of Hamtoun undertakes an important development, whose beginnings are barely discernible in Boeve, from the perception of the baronial family as a political unit owing personal allegiance to rulers on the basis of reciprocal support, to a wider perception of national identity and the importance of national interests. The adventures of Horn and Havelok as they lose and gradually regain power correspond directly with the loss and the need of their people. This is a simple and effective means of heroic justification: what is good for Horn and Havelok turns out to be good for everyone. Fouke le Fitz Waryn shares this confident assessment. In the romances of Bevis and Guy, the needs and desires of the whole nation do not constantly coincide with those of the noble hero. But in compensation, patriotic sentiment reinforces the value of the hero's actions. Whatever his private baronial goals, he nonetheless represents his nation by occupying England's fictional history as an ancestral figure of diverse and superlative accomplishments.
The process is just beginning in Boeve de Haumtone, where a marginal sense of the hero's Englishness may be suggested by echoes of the legend of St. George, whose feast day became a national holiday in 1222.15 Boeve's crusading fervor against pagans and his imprisonment in Damascus, as they recall St. George's exploits, reflect the gradual development of England's national identity through the impact of the Crusades, the loss of Normandy in 1204 and of the Angevin territories by 1243, and the increasing centralization of rule: "By the thirteenth century the fully developed medieval state [of England] had reached a momentary equilibrium, and if it was still 'feudal,' it was also, in its way, a national state."16 To sustain the national state, a sense of pride in and commitment to it developed, expressed during the thirteenth century in antiforeign sentiment and more positively in the country's mobilization against the crises of the 1290s. Maurice Powicke concludes from Edward I's handling of these crises that "it was in Edward's reign that nationalism was born."17
A powerful sense of national commitment renders obsolete and even subversive the older feudal belief that lord and vassal have mutual duties and that vassals can maintain some spheres of autonomous action. Fulk's resistance to John goes unquestioned, but the Middle English Beues recognizes and adjusts to the challenge of nationalism by adding references to England and Bevis's Englishness on the one hand while supporting and even strengthening Bevis's feudal claims on the other.18 Introducing an interpolated combat with a dragon, the poet ranks Bevis's achievement with similar victories by the English Wade and Guy of Warwick (2599-608). Told in the manner of a saint's legend, the dragon-killing extends the correspondences suggested in Anglo-Norman between the hero and St. George, patron saint of the English army from the earliest Crusades.19 By these associations the Middle English version implies that Bevis's merit is national, even while extending references to his personal claims.
The conclusion of Beues also recognizes that the more dominant national ideology becomes, the more questionable a baron's commitment to his family and resistance to royal authority will become. Boeve de Haumtone reaches its resolution when Boeve, in response to Edgar's disseisin of Sabaoth's son, returns to England to bring the king into line. Edgar sweats with fear at the news of Boeve's arrival and, deferentially greeting the hero as "'sire roi"' (3767), settles Boeve's claim by arranging with his parliament to offer his daughter in marriage to Boeve's son (3738-49). The tensions in the feudal hierarchy that provide the terms of Boeve's conclusion are obfuscated in the conclusion of Beues. The vassal no longer intimidates the king; even though Edgar had wrongly denied Bevis's rights he simply returns the heritage "blebeliche" (A 4301). But the inescapable tension between them erupts in a street battle instigated by the king's steward, who recalls Bevis's role in the death of Edgar's son during the son's attempted theft of Arundel:
'Hureb be kinges comaundement:
Sertes, hit is be-falle so,
In your cite he hab a fo,
Beues, bat slouy be kinges sone;
þat tresoun ye ouyte to mone:
I comaunde, for be kinges sake,
Swibe anon bat he be take!'
Whan be peple herde bat cri,
bai gonne hem arme hasteli.
It may seem surprising that a hero would be memorialized in British literature for slaughtering so many citizens of London "bat al Temse was blod red" (A 4530).20 The carnage does resolve the charge that Bevis had betrayed the king: "-pus men schel teche file glotouns [vile rascals] / tat wile misaie [speak evil of] gode barouns,"' the hero concludes self-righteously as he delivers the coup de grace to King Edgar's steward (A 4387-88). In terms of the poem's professed national feeling, the best we can do is to read this episode non-mimetically as a "good baron" triumphing over slander.21
But it is important that, however Bevis's Englishness or his relations with Edgar may be described, his actions still defend his heritage, defy the king, and maintain his autonomy. Deprived of direct confrontation with Edgar, he exercises indirect opposition with relish; during this battle his sons' devoted support is crucial (A 4415-18, 4457-74, 4523-26). The romance denies its own assertions with respect to nationhood whenever those assertions interfere with Bevis's access to rights and rank. The underlying impetus of Beues of Hamtoun remains baronial, and any conflicting elements of national ideology are resisted.…
1 Ernle, Light Reading, p. 78.
2 Charles W. Dunn writes that Guy of Warwick's "incidents are unduly repetitive and prolix; the Middle English adapters show no inventiveness or critical sense.… The extent of its appeal is presumably dependent more upon the fame of Warwick Castle than upon its literary merit" (Severs, ed., Manual, I, 31).
3 E.g., Richmond, "Guy of Warwick: A Medieval Thriller"; McKeehan, "Guillaume de Palerne: A Medieval 'Best Seller"'; Ramsey, Chivalric Romances, pp. 1-7.
4Beues of Hamtoun, ed. Kölbing. On its dependence on the AN Boeve, see Kölbing, edition, p. xxxv; and Baugh, "Improvisation," pp. 431-32. The eight MSS and early printed versions used in Kölbing's edition differ considerably, although three main versions may be classified from them. See Kölbing, pp. vii-viii; Baugh, "Convention and Individuality," pp. 126-29. I cite the Auchinleck (A) MS, except where variants are significant to the discussion.
5Fouke le Fitz Waryn, ed. Hathaway et al., p. 3, lines 1-8. The editors summarize research on the relationship between the extant prose version (ca. 1330) and its lost verse source (ca. 1280), pp. xxxiii-xlvii.
6Boeve de Haumtone, ed. Stimming. Legge, Anglo-Norman Literature, p. 157, suggests a late twelfth-century date, but cf. Stimming, edition, pp. Ivii-lviii. Stimming, pp. clxxx-cxciii, and Matzke, "Beves Legend," summarize debate over the origin of the story and the relationship of the AN version to the three continental versions (Bueve de Hantone, ed. Stimming). Recent opinion supports continental dependence on the AN version (Rickard, Britain in Medieval French Literature, pp. 140-41).
7 During Bevis's first period of exile from his patrimony in England he is wooed by Josian, the daughter of the foreign king he serves, and in consequence suffers a long imprisonment in Damascus. A second exile from England (after his horse Arundel kicks King Edgar's son to death) follows Bevis's marriage to Josian and a temporary reacquisition of his lands and titles. This exile repeats the pattern of foreign success and wooing by a foreign princess found in Bevis's first exile, with many added adventures of separation and reunion. Finally, Bevis's twin sons participate in the acquisition of three kingdoms, those of Josian's father, Josian's pagan husband Yvor, and England.
8Boeve, 635-46, 683-87, 977-79, 1412-16, 1945-46, 2375-77, 2380-82. Martin [Weiss], "Middle English Romances," pp. 95-107, believes that different poets composed the first 165 laisses and the remainder of the poem. Errors and illogicalities do trouble the later stages of narration, e.g., the designation "Françeis" for Boeve's supporters (3156-59, 3604-28). Cf. Stimming, edition, pp.xxii-lvii.
9Boeve, 2428-50, 2508-22, 2545-50, 2615-21.
10 Boeve gives Sabaoth his land (2598-600); Boeve's second (chaste) wife subsequently marries Tierri (3001-6); Boeve is godfather to their son Boeve (3200), who is to be married to Boeve's daughter Beatrice (3520).
11 The account of Boeve's marriage stresses the conception of his sons (2389-96); see also 3064, 3195-200, 3205-6, 3265-71, 3512-13.
12 In addition, a few events in the second half of the work reinforce or echo Boeve's political claim in England: he defends the claim of the Dame de Civile (2824-47) and of Sabaoth's son (3702-5); he returns to England, as he warned Edgar he would, when Edgar dispossesses Robant, who holds Boeve's lands for him (2611-21).
13 Davies, Lordship and Society, pp. 67-85, 149-75, 217-28; Meisel, Barons, pp. 34-54, 87-100, 132-38.
14 Arundel is her gift to Bevis; both she and the horse are one-man creatures who resist appropriation by others (e.g., Yvor's attempts, AN 981-1031, ME A 1457-534, 2031-35). In two AN warning dreams losing Arundel represents losing Josian (2731-42) and harm to Boeve indicates the loss of one or the other helper (3436-43).
5 Matzke, "Contributions," p. 125; Weiss, "Sir Beues of Hamtoun," p. 72.
16 Galbraith, "Nationality and Language," pp. 113-14; Powicke, Thirteenth Century, pp. 29-31, 100-103, 218-19; Wood, Age of Chivalry, pp. 125-38; Rickard, Britain in Medieval French Literature, pp. 38-40.
17Thirteenth Century, p. 528; see also Keeney, "Military Service."
18 The English adapters add these references to Bevis's claims: Beues, A 1126-28, 1263-88, 1339-44, 2916-20, 2938-40, 3039-46, 3070, and M 901. But they omit passages on the children's charms and their growing prowess; Terri has no son and Bevis no daughter.
19 A 2597-910; Weiss argues that "patriotic sentiment" inspires these and other developments in Beues ("Sir Beues of Hamtoun," p. 72); see also Matzke, "Contributions," pp. 125, 150-56.
20 That the steward's chief ally is a Lombard, or in later versions crowds of Lombards (A 4497-516; MO 4102, 4233), gives the episode a more conventionally nationalist coloring, yet in all versions surely most of the thirty thousand or more citizens whom Bevis slays must be Englishmen. On antiforeign sentiment in the thirteenth century, see H. W. C. Davis, England under the Normans, pp. 415-16, 421-22, 433-34; Rickard, Britain in Medieval French Literature, p. 40.
21 Mehl recognizes the problem but assumes it would not be recognized by an audience of "less refined tastes" (Middle English Romances, p. 216); Weiss seeks national feeling in the street fight's analogies to certain oppositions between barons and London merchants during the reform period ("Sir Beues of Hamtoun," pp. 73-76).
- Anglo-Norman Text Society …
- Early English Text Society …
- Medium Ævum
- Medievalia et Humanistica …
- Modern Humanities Research Association …
- Modern Philology …
- Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society …
- Transactions of the Royal Historical Society …
Primary sources are listed alphabetically by author, if known, or by the key word in the title. Phrases preceding the key word are bracketed.…
[The Romance of Sir] Beues of Hamtoun. Ed. Eugen Kölbing. EETS, e.s. 46, 48, 65. London, 1885, 1886, 1894.
[Der anglonormannische] Boeve de Haumtone. Ed. Albert Stimming. Bibliotheca normannica, No. 7. Halle, 1899.
[Der festländische] Bueve de Hantone. Ed. Albert Stimming. 5 vols. Gesellschaft für romanische Literatur, Nos. 25, 30, 34, 41, 42. Göttingen, 1911-20.…
Fouke le Fitz Waryn. Ed. E. J. Hathaway et al. ANTS, 26-28. Oxford, 1975.…
… Baugh, Albert Croll. "Convention and Individuality in the Middle English Romance." In Medieval Literature and Folklore Studies: Essays in Honor of Francis Lee Utley. Ed. Jerome Mandel and Bruce Rosenberg. New Brunswick, N.J., 1970, pp. 123-46.
——. "Improvisation in the Middle English Romance." PAPS, 103 (1959), 418-54.…
Davies, R. R. Lordship and Society in the March of Wales, 1282-1400. Oxford, 1978.
Davis, H.W.C. England under the Normans and Angevins, 1066-1272. London, 1905.…
Ernle, R.E.P. The Light Reading of Our Ancestors: Chapters in the Growth of the English Novel. London, 1927.…
Galbraith, V.H. "Nationality and Language in Medieval England." TRHS, 4th ser., 23 (1941), 113-28.…
Keeney, Bamaby C. "Military Service and the Development of Nationalism in England, 1272-1327." Speculum, 22 (1947), 534-49.…
Legge, Maria Dominica. "Anglo-Norman Hagiography and the Romances." M&H, n.s. 6 (1975), 41-49.
——. Anglo-Norman Literature and Its Background. Oxford, 1963; corr. repr. 1971.…
McKeehan, Irene P. "Guillaume de Palerne: A Medieval 'Best Seller."' PMLA, 41 (1926), 785-809.…
Martin [Weiss], Judith Elizabeth. "Studies in Some Early Middle English Romances." Diss. Cambridge, 1967.…
Matzke, John E. "The Oldest Form of the Beves Legend." MP, 10 (1912), 19-36.
Mehl, Dieter. The Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. London, 1968.
Meisel, Janet. Barons of the Welsh Frontier: The Corbet, Pantulf and Fitz Warin Families, 1066-1272. Lincoln, Nebraska, 1980.…
Powicke, Maurice. The Thirteenth Century, 1216-1307. 2nd ed. Oxford, 1962.…
Ramsey, Lee C. Chivalric Romances: Popular Literature in Medieval England. Bloomington, 1983.…
Richmond, Velma Bourgeois. "Guy of Warwick: A Medieval Thriller." South Atlantic Quarterly, 73 (1974), 554-63.…
Rickard, Peter. Britain in Medieval French Literature, 1100-1500. Cambridge, 1956.…
Severs, J. Burke. A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500. Vol. I, Romances. New Haven, 1967.…
Weiss, Judith. "The Major Interpolations in Sir Beues of Hamtoun." MÆ, 48 (1979), 71-76.…
Wood, Charles T. The Age of Chivalry. Manners and Morals, 1000-1450. London, 1970.…
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4572
SOURCE: "Beves of Hamtoun" in Counsel and Strategy in Middle English Romance, D. S. Brewer, 1993, pp. 60-90, 139-58.
[In the excerpt below from an essay that emphasizes the significance of good counsel in several medieval romances, Barnes traces Bevis's growing maturity, linking it to his willingness to accept the judgment or advice of others. She also discusses the issues of kingship and tyranny raised in the final section of the poem.]
… An adaptation, with some emendations and interpolations,44 of the Anglo-Norman Boeve d 'Hamtoune,45Beves of Hamtoun shares certain superficial similarities of theme and structure with Guy of Warwick. In this instance, however, the role of counsel in the hero's life is not directed towards an understanding of the ethos of chivalry but to the overcoming of tyranny and injustice.
Although they are not marked by a change in verse form, Beves, like Guy, falls into two distinct and self-contained parts on the diptych pattern, which chart the loss and restoration of the hero's patrimony.46 The first, and longer, section (to 1. 3510)47 deals with Beves's fight against a private wrong motivated by lust; the second, his efforts to overcome a public act of royal tyranny, precipitated by material greed, which has far-reaching consequences for the kingdom. Whereas Guy is the account of the life of a national hero, whose defence of England against the threat of Danish invasion is only one, albeit the greatest, of his chivalric exploits, the political concerns of Beves are actually closer to those of Havelok. Like Guy, Beves progresses from a disregard for good counsel to the recognition of its importance for knightly success, but his ultimate mission is to save England, not from the external threat of dragons, giants, or invasion, but from the internal threat of royal tyranny.
As a child, Beves is the helpless victim of evil counsel. When he is seven years old, his mother conspires with her lover, Devoun, emperor of Almaine, to murder her elderly husband Guy, Earl of Southampton. The first explicit act of 'counsel' in the narrative is one of conspiracy, in which Beves's mother reveals her plot against his father to a 'messenger': 'Anon riyt pat leuedi fer/To consaile cleped hir masager' (11. 70-71). As acknowledged by Beves's uncle, tutor, and designated killer, Saber, who saves Beves and fakes evidence of his death by soaking his clothes in pig's blood (11. 347-52), it is her red to have her son murdered as well: 'Dame,' a seide, 'ich dede him of dawe/Be þe red and be þe sawe' (11. 481-82).
Attired in poor clothes and unrecognized, Beves receives, and rejects, his first piece of red, which takes the form of an abusive warning ('Scherewe houre son, y þe rede,' 1. 398) by a porter against entering the family castle, now occupied by Devoun. Nevertheless, Beves enters the hall and 'counsels' the usurper in a similar vein: 'Aris! Fle hennes, I þe rede' (1. 436). He rants, raves ('Beues was niy wod for grame,' 1. 439), and strikes the emperor with a club in a display of impotent anger which serves merely to illustrate his youthful vulnerability. Only another, more reasoned form of action restrains the tyrannical exercise of authority and saves him from death, when the knights in the hall, distressed on the child's account, ignore his mother's demand that they seize him (11. 452-56).
Alarmed at the possible consequences of Beves's actions, Saber warns that unless he heeds his counsel ('Boute bow be me consaile do,' 1. 472), both of them will be imperilled. Beves, like Guy, ignores the sage advice of his elder—in this case, to remain in hiding48—and soon, on his mother's orders, finds himself captured and sold into heathendom, where he soon becomes the prized property of King Ermin of Armenia and object of the love of the king's daughter, Josian. Beves repeats his mistake later in the narrative when Terry, Saber's son, offers him life-saving advice in different circumstances: rightly guessing that a letter in Beves's possession actually contains his death warrant on a false charge of seducing Josian, Terry asks to read it.49 Just as Beves has previously ignored Saber's advice, he rejects Terry's request, walks straight into the trap (11. 1387-88), and spends the next seven years in a snake-infested dungeon.
The fortunes of Beves begin to improve only when he learns to act on good advice, beginning with that of Josian's servant, Boniface. Although she loves Beves, Josian is wooed by another, unwanted suitor. Boniface counters Beves's rash proposal to flee with the princess, now the reluctant but virgin bride of King Yvor of Mombraunt, with a plan of his own: 'Sire, be is beter do be me rede!' (1. 2210). 'It schel be so!,' says Beves (1. 2236). The first part of the strategy, to remove Yvor from the scene, is successful, and Boniface prefaces the details of the next step—to drug old King Garcy, who has been left to guard Josian, and then to flee—with the words: 'þif be wil by my consaile do' (1. 2296). When Beves declares that he is, in fact, ready to do battle with Garcy and all his host (11. 2332-38), Boniface once more sagely counsels discretion: 'Sir, bow is better do by my reed' (1. 2340). Beves heeds this counsel, the plan is successful, and he and Josian take ship for Cologne. Three times Boniface has tendered his counsel, and three times Beves has curbed his rashness and successfully followed good advice.50
Having conclusively proved his prowess in battle with a dragon who has taken up residence in Cologne, Beves is now fully qualified, physically and mentally, to reclaim his inheritance. In a significant step towards maturity, he actively solicits wise counsel before taking action and, instead of following his own rash inclinations, seeks advice, this time from another uncle, Saber Florentin, bishop of Cologne: 'Leue em, what is to rede/Of me stifader Deuoun,/ þat holdeb me londes at Hamtoun?' (11. 2912-14). The bishop duly provides red (1. 2922), in the form of one hundred men to support Beves and Saber in mounting an attack on the emperor. Following hard upon this indication of maturity is the first endorsement of Beves's own credentials as counsellor; converted and baptised by Saber Florentin but stranded in Cologne, Josian appeals to him as he prepares to leave for England: 'Who schel me banne wisse & rede?' (11. 2942).
It is not, however, until Beves and his company are one mile out of Southampton that he is represented as a military leader, capable of providing battle strategy. He addresses his men thus: 'Lordinges,' to his men a sede,/ 'ye scholle do be mine rede!' (11. 2957-58), the plan being to trick Devoun into thinking that the force, led by a certain 'Gerard', has come to lend assistance against attacks by Saber. Beves's good counsel here is, however, directly challenged by evil, when his mother re-enters the narrative with her own strategy for the emperor ('Sire,' yhe seide, 'doute bow nouyt!/ Of gode consaile icham be-þouyt,' 11. 3313-14): to muster forces from Almaine and Scotland. Beves is nevertheless victorious, has Devoun put to death—his mother, beside herself with grief at the sight of her husband 'in be pich' (1. 3460) conveniently falls and breaks her neck—and, within the space of thirty lines, marries Josian and follows Saber's advice to go to King Edgar in London to claim his patrimony (11. 3487-88), a request which is immediately granted. Like his father before him, Beves becomes the king's marshall.
Marriage and restoration of birthright are usually signals to narrative closure, and the rapidly moving events of these thirty-five lines (11. 3475-510), which also make reference to the children of Beves and Josian, constitute a stereotyped conclusion to a Middle English romance.51 But Beves has some thousand lines to go, and the concerns of this last quarter of the narrative enter the arena of public affairs. At issue are the duties of kingship and the problem of tyranny. Tyranny is shown to be an insidious thing: some despots may be instantly recognizable, like Devoun, but they may also be less immediately obvious, like the apparently worthy King Edgar. In the first part of Beves, a criminal act robs the hero of his father and his birthright; in this last part, the abuse of legitimate authority drives him from his lands and leads to the loss of his wife and children.
Beves's second exile is precipitated by the attempted theft, by Edgar's foolish son, of Josian's gift, the magnificent warhorse Arundel, who retaliates by kicking out the prince's brains (11. 3561-63). Arundel has been left unattended only because Beves has left the stable to fulfil the obligations of the office of king's marshall, a point emphasized by the narrative:
Hit is lawe of kinges alle,
At mete were croune in halle,
& þanne eueriche marchal
His yerde an honde bere schal.
While Beues was in that office,
þe kinges sone, þat was so nice,
What helpeþ for to make fable?
A yede to Beues stable.
Disregarding Beves's adherence to his duty on the one hand and his son's felonious action on the other, Edgar orders the hero's execution. But, taking into account his previous record of loyal service, the barons exercise their right of counsel and suggest that Arundel be hanged instead (11. 3571-74), a proposal to which Beves responds by making his estate over to Saber and emigrating to Armenia. This incident, where royal tyranny is restrained only by baronial counsel, offers something of a parallel with events in the early part of the narrative, when refusal by the knights of Southampton to comply with an unjust order saves Beves from the homicidal wrath of his mother.
Creating an impression of competing narrative modes, chanson de geste and 'political romance', this last part of Beves presents a striking contrast between the lurid and fantastic nature of those episodes which take place abroad, mainly in 'Armenia', and the more 'realistic' tenor of those set in England.52 Take, for example, the two attempts to steal Arundel, the unsuccessful one by Edgar's son and a second, successful one in Armenia: whereas we are given the plausible details and consequences of the English prince's actions, Arundel is simply whisked away in Armenia by unspecified 'charmes' (1. 4033). Beves achieves his goals in Armenia by the sword, but in England he regains his patrimony 'Ase hit was lawe and riyt vsage' (1. 3470).53 Deviating from the topographical vagueness of Boeve d'Hamtoune,54 the final episodes of Beves convey an impression of geographical versimilitude. We are a long way from exotic and unhistorical 'Armenia' when the narrative moves into the concrete and recognizable world of London and its environs: Putney, the Thames, Westminster, Cheapside, Ludgate.
The events of Beves's second exile parallel those of the first. Having originally lost his birthright and his father to the evil machinations of his mother, he is now deprived of the family assets through royal tyranny and of his wife through the treachery of the giant, Ascopard, who abducts Josian after she delivers twins in a forest enroute to Armenia. In Armenia, Beves inspires the love of another lady, who persuades him to marry her in a bigamous but chaste union (11. 3829-40). The work of conversion continues, too: with the aid of his son, Guy, Beves forcibly brings Christianity to the entire kingdom of Armenia (11. 4019-20), to which the dying Ermin makes Guy heir (11. 4008-13). After defeating Yvor in single combat, Beves himself is crowned king of Mombraunt (11. 4253-54). He has achieved all that the exotic world of chanson de geste can offer but is a dispossessed person in the 'real' world of England.
Beves makes a final journey to his homeland, this time with a force of 60,000 (1. 4276), to lend support to Saber's son, Robant, in the face of the ursurpation of the ancestral lands by King Edgar. Beves argues his case before the king's court in Westminster, but there is a lone dissenter to the decision of king and barons to restore his property in the person of Edgar's steward. The steward's denunciation of Beves as outlaw and traitor to the king (11. 4309-14) and to the people of London (11. 4324-38) leads to a conflict of epic proportions—32,000 die and the Thames turns red with blood (11. 4530-32)—in claustrophobically familiar surroundings.55
This episode is one of two major interpolations by the English adapter of Boeve de Haumtone,56 and, despite its likely association with the incident involving Simon de Montfort and a crowd of Londoners in December, 1263,57 its immediate narratorial significance is not overtly clear. Dieter Mehl suggests that it is intended for local appeal to English, specifically London audiences, 'of less refined tastes',58 and Susan Crane, that: 'In terms of the poem's professed national feeling, the best we can do is to read this episode non-mimetically as a "good baron" triumphing over slander.'59 The episode can, however, be interpreted as another illustration of the power of malign counsel to corrupt justice and promote anarchy, a notion supported by the more forthcoming version of Beves in Gonville and Caius manuscript 175, where the baleful effects of the steward's red are presented in a similar light to the potentially dire consequences of Wymound's slanderous counseil in Athelston, which, as it happens, follows Beves in that manuscript. The Gonville and Caius narrator ascribes the bloodshed to 'þe fals stywardys red' (I. 198, p. 213), commenting, like his counterpart in Athelston, that: 'Falsnesse cam neuere to good endyng' (1. 200, p. 213);60 likewise, the Gonville and Caius Edgar summons his earls, barons, and knights in order to make the same attribution: 'And tolde hem, hou hys men were ded/þorwy be false stywardys red' (1. 214, p. 214).
Edgar's crime is not, like Athelston's, to act upon the advice of one evil counsellor, but not to act at all. This redeless king offers no response to the steward's slanderous attack upon Beves and simply disappears from the narrative until the battle is all but over. The steward's actions in the king's name (he incites the Londoners by claiming that Beves has been outlawed by royal comaundement [1. 4332]) remain unchecked, and the next we hear of Edgar is that he is eager to make peace by marrying his daughter to Beves's son, Miles (11. 4539-60).
As in Guy, love is a problematic issue in Beves, but instead of being a seductive obstacle on the hero's path to a true understanding of chivalry, it is actively eschewed by him from the outset. Whereas Guy initially subscribes to the 'courtly' values of love service, Beves displays a consistent streak of misogyny: Guy eventually denounces the negative effects of 'courtly' love upon chivalry and acknowledges God, rather than Felice, as the inspiration for his noble deeds, but Beves, although spurred throughout by Christian zeal, is also driven by the desire for vengeance upon his mother. In the curriculum vitae with which he identifies himself to Ermin, he accuses his mother of treacherously engineering his father's death, condemns the wickedness of many other women, and swears vengeance for Earl Guy, without making any reference to Devoun, the willing instrument of the deed itself:
'For gode,' a seide, 'ich hatte Bef,
Iboren ich was in Ingelonde,
At Hamtoun, be þe se stronde;
Me fader was erl þar a while,
Me moder him let sle wiþ gile,
Wikked beþ, fele wimmen to fonde!
Ac sire, yif it euer so be-tide,
þat ich mowe an horse ride
And armes bere & scheft to-breke,
Me fader deþ ich schel wel wreke!'
It is tempting, although it credits the narrative with an unwarranted depth of psychological insight, to see the influence of his childhood trauma in all of Beves's dealings with women, which end in disaster, or near disaster, until his mother is dead. The single kiss which he gives Josian at the announcement of her pending conversion (11. 1194-99), for example, leads directly to the false accusation of seduction (11. 1200-10) and his seven-year incarceration in Brademond's dungeon. Then, having escaped and been advised by the bishop of Jerusalem to marry only a virgin (11. 1967-69), he returns to Armenia to learn that King Yvor has Josian 'to bord and to bedde' (1. 2012).
Other incidents, too, recall the horrific events of Beves's early years. Like Guy, he kills a wild boar; but while Guy's boar fight and subsequent killing of Florentine's son illustrate the wrongful use of chivalric prowess, Beves's despatch of the beast, whose head he presents to Ermin, has a different, symbolic significance. His mother's plot to murder his father begins with a feigned illness, which, she tells her husband, can be cured only by the meat of a wild boar (11. 184-86). When Guy duly sets out on the hunt, Devoun waylays him with a company of 10,000 knights, kills, and beheads him. Beves's boar slaying is a reverse metaphorical representation of that murder:61 Devoun sends Guy's head to his mistress as a trophy (11. 277-85), whereas Beves intends giving the boar's to Josian (1. 832). In the course of the hunt, Beves is also assailed, by Ermin's wicked steward; but after defeating his attackers, he presents the head to Ermin (11. 903-04) without further reference to Josian.62
Although Josian eventually becomes his wife, and on one occasion is called Beves's lemman (1. 1984) by the narrator and, on another, by Beves himself (1. 713), he remains the passive and reluctant partner in their relationship. The first, and decidedly ill-timed, offer of her hand comes from King Ermin, who makes his proposal immediately after the statement of disgust for his mother and all womankind with which Beves introduces himself. The hero's declaration, in response to Ermin's offer, that 'I nolde for-sake in none manere/Iesu, bat bouyte me so dere' (11. 565-66) is explicitly a rejection of heathendom, but also, implicitly, of sexuality. Beves ceases his comically brutal rejection of Josian's advances (11. 1093-132; 1179_99)63 when she announces her readiness to embrace Christianity, but not until Devoun and his mother are dead, and Beves is said, for only the second time in his life,64 to be 'glad & blile' (1. 3471), do they marry.
The talented, loving, and faithful Josian is the antithesis of Beves's lascivious mother and the (initially) aloof Felice, but she is also the object of his transferred resentment and, as Lee Ramsey argues, 'clearly punished165 for her first two marriages, unwanted and unconsummated though they are. Condemned to death for the murder of her second husband, Earl Miles, she is stripped to her shift and tied to the stake before Beves rides. to the rescue (11. 3289-93). Even after marriage to Beves, and moments after giving birth to twin sons on the flight from England to Armenia, she is beaten, bound, and kidnapped.
During and despite these hardships, Josian, well-versed in the Eastern arts of magic and trickery and possessed of healing and musical skills, is no passive Griselda and emerges as one of the most enterprising women in Middle English romance. Her ingenuity gives her more in common with Ywain and Gawain's Lunet than with Guy of Warwick's Felice. Like Felice, she dispenses charity to Christian pilgrims for her beloved's sake during his seven years of imprisonment (11. 2080-88), but her outstanding quality is her talent for gyn. While Beves shows himself to be progressively more receptive to wholesome counsel, Josian, successfully contriving to remain a virgin throughout her first two marriages, becomes an exponent of stratagem to virtuous ends. The means by which she manages this in the first instance are not revealed, but she avoids consummation of the second forced union by strangling the bridegroom (11. 3175-224). No practical use is made of Felice's education in Guy, whereas Josian uses the knowledge of medicine she has acquired from the 'meisters grete' (1. 3672) of Bologna and Toledo to give herself the temporary appearance of a leper in order to discourage the renewed advances of Yvor (11. 3671-700). She exercises her healing skills upon Beves when he is wounded in a skirmish with Ermin's knights on Christmas Day (11. 715-34) and is also well-tutored in music, a talent which she employs to practical advantage to support herself and the temporarily ailing Saber (11. 3906-16), after he rescues her from her postpartum abductor (11. 3852-88), and they commence a seven-year search for Beves.
Nevertheless, even on her deathbed, Josian fails to capture her husband's full attention. Mortally ill, she summons her son, Guy, and Beves's cousin, Terry, to her side. The first mention of Beves in this final scene concerns his thoughts not for Josian, but for Arundel. Upon the arrival of Guy and Terry, Beves goes abruptly to the stables, where he finds his horse dead (11. 4595-97). Stricken with grief, he returns to see, apparently for the first time, that Josian is on the brink of death. He embraces her, and they die together.
Like the first, the second conclusion of Beves of Hamtoun returns to the conventional framework of romance, with the marriage of Edgar's daughter and Beves's son, and the reconcilation of king and hero. Instead of returning to Southampton, however, Beves bestows his earldom upon Saber and returns to Armenia to take up residence in Mombraunt, where he and Josian spend the last twenty years of their lives. Beves thus fulfils a threefold mission in life: personal, patriotic, and religious. Through his efforts to regain his patrimony and the family honour, he delivers England from tyranny and Armenia from heathendom. The continued success of these achievements is assured by the succession of his sons, Guy and Miles, to these respective kingdoms, and achieved in no small part through the faithful lifetime service of his uncle, Saber.
Beves follows a pattern, common to Havelok, Gamelyn, and Guy, in which the hero's maturity is signalled by his capacity to receive, to act upon, and to impart wise counsel. With the exception of Havelok, who never rejects good advice, the heroes of these romances progress from initially ignoring sage red and counseil to heeding their mentors and showing themselves to be capable givers of counsel. Knights who spurn wholesome counsel invite failure and dishonour; unrede kings, like Athelston (Athelston), the king of Maydenland (Ywain and Gawain), Costentine (Of Arthour and of Merlin), and Edgar (Beves), who are deficient in judgment and receptive, actively or passively, to evil counsel, or averse to good, are either cyphers or tyrants.
…44 See Judith Weiss, 'The Major Interpolations in Sir Beues of Hamtoun,' 48 (1979), 71, 76.
45 Which probably dates from: 'in its existing shape … the last decade of the twelfth century' (Judith Weiss, 'The Date of the Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone,' Medium vum 55 , 240).
46 There is, however, a switch in verse form from stanzas to couplets early in the narrative, at line 475. Fewster sees this metrical shift as having thematic significance in that it constitutes 'a new opening that points to the establishment of Beues as the hero of this romance. Like the Guy metrical change, the break signals a new set of adventures for the hero' (Traditionality and Genre, p. 48).
47 References, unless otherwise indicated, are to the Auchinleck version of Beves, in Kölbing, The Romance of Sir Beues of Hamtoun. On the relationships between the manuscripts and printed versions, see Mehl, The Middle English Romances, pp. 211-13; Jennifer Fellows, 'Editing Middle English Romances,' in Romance in Medieval England, ed. Mills, Fellows, Meale, pp. 7-10.
48 Although Ellis is of the opinion that, by concealing Beves in a closet, 'Saber was unable to devise any counsel worth following' (Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances, p. 243), this seems to be a logical strategy in the circumstances.
49 Unlike Josian, the heroine of the romance, Beves never receives a scholarly education.
50 The pagan Boniface now appears to have served his purpose and is slain by lions (11. 2378-86).
51 'The reader will now be disposed to flatter himself that this prodigious and eventful history is terminated; that Sir Bevis will in future sleep quietly in his bed, Arundel in his stable, and Morglay in its scabbard' (Ellis, Specimens of Early English Romances, p. 272).
52 On the geographical boundaries of Beves, see Metlitzki, The Matter of Araby, pp. 126-33.
53 As Crane comments: 'Bevis wins back his heritage from King Edgar not by invasion but by pressing his legal claim and winning the support of the king's counselors' (Insular Romance, p. 87).
54 See Albert C. Baugh, 'Convention and Individuality in the Middle English Romance,' in Medieval Literature and Folklore Studies. Essays in Honor of Francis Lee Utley, ed. Jerome Mandel and Bruce A. Rosenberg (New Brunswick, N.J., 1970), pp. 138-39.
55 As Judith Weiss remarks: 'His Pass of Roncesvalles is Gose Lane' ('The Major Interpolations in Sir Beues of Hamtoun,' p. 73).
56 The other being the dragon fight in Cologne (see Weiss, 'The Major Interpolations,' pp. 71-72).
57 See Weiss, 'The Major Interpolations,' p. 74, and above, ch. 1, p. 37.
58The Middle English Romances, p. 216.
59Insular Romance, p. 61.
60 'Lystnes, lordyngys bat ben hende,/ Off faisnesse, hou it wil ende' (Athelston, 11. 7-8).
61 And, to engage in speculation about unconscious symbolism, possibly of his desired revenge upon Devoun: the boar is castrated (1. 815), although Devoun meets his end in a cauldron of boiling pitch and brimstone (11. 3451-57).
62 To venture into Beves's subconscious once again, possibly he associates his plan to give the boar's head to Josian with the attack which follows almost immediately (11. 837-88).
63 On Josiane's wooing of Boeve in Boeve de Haumtone and its comic potential, see Judith Weiss, 'The wooing woman in Anglo-Norman romance,' in Romance in Medieval England, ed. Mills, Fellows, Meale, pp. 152-53. On the figure of the 'bele Sarrasine', see also William Calin, 'Rapports entre chanson de geste et romans courtois au XIIe siècle,' in Essor et Fortune de la Chanson de geste dans I'Europe et l'Orient latin. Actes du XIeCongrès International de la Société Rencesvals pour 1'Etude des Epopees Romanes (Padoue-Venise, 29 août - 4 septembre 1982), 2 vols. (Modena, 1984), II, 415-16.
64 The first (1. 2497) follows his victory over two lions in the forest where he and Josian take refuge after their flight from Garcy and Yvor.
65Chivalric Romances, p. 59.
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Last Updated on February 6, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 354
Brownrigg, Linda. "The Taymouth Hours and the Romance of Beves of Hampton." In English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700, edited by Peter Beal and Jeremy Griffiths, Vol. I, pp. 222-41. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.
Focuses on the illustrations that accompany an excerpt from Bevis of Hampton which appears in the fourteenth-century manuscript known as the Taymouth Hours.
De Vries, F. C. "A Note on The Owl and the Nightingale 951, 1297." Notes and Queries n.s. 16, No. 12 (December 1969): 442-44.
Points out that although the reflexive form of the verb "to understand" is rarely found in fourteenth-century English texts, this usage appears in line 319 of the Auichinleck version of Bevis of Hampton.
Hibbard, Laura A. "Jacques de Vitry and Boeve de Haumtone." Modern Language Notes XXXIV, No. 7 (November 1919): 408-11.
Proposes that a tale related in a sermon by a French cleric is the source of the episode in the Anglo-Nornian version of Boeve de Haumtone in which Bevis escapes from his Saracen foes by a masterful display of horsemanship.
Matzke, John E. "The Legend of Saint George: ItsDevelopment into a roman d'aventure." PMLA XIX, n.s. XII, No. 3 (1904): 449-76.
Compares early English versions of Bevis of Hampton with the story of Saint George as recounted in Richard Johnson's Seven Champions of Christendom (1592). Matzke concludes that Johnson's depiction of George as both a valorous hero and a religious martyr was adapted from a version of Bevis—now lost—in which elements of the stories of Beves and George had already been fused.
——. "The Oldest Form of the Beves Legend." Modern Philology X, No. I(July 1912): 19-54 1-36.
Argues that the essential outline of Italian variants of the Bevis story stems from an independent tradition. Matzke determines that both the Italian forms on the one hand and the Anglo-Norman and continental French versions on the other originally derived from a French tale that is no longer extant.
Turnbull, William B. D. D. "Preliminary Remarks." In Sir Beves of Hamtoun: A Metrical Romance. Publication 44 of the Maitland Club, edited by William B. D. D. Turnbull, pp. xi-xix. Edinburgh: 1838.
Comments briefly on Bevis's historical prototype and the poem's French predecessors, and summarizes the plot.