Geoffrey of Monmouth Criticism - Essay

Robert A. Caldwell (essay date 1963)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Geoffrey Monmouth, Prince of Liars,” The North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 31, Nos. 1 & 2, Winter-Spring, 1963, pp. 46-51.

[In the following essay, Caldwell argues that the original work from which the Variant version of The History of the Kings of Britain stemmed was compiled by Archdeacon Walter and was not in the British language, but in Latin.]

Probably in 1135 or 1136 a.d. Geoffrey of Monmouth, or Geoffrey Arthur as he sometimes called himself, a member of the house of Augustinian canons at Osney near Oxford, released to the world his Historia Regum Brittaniae, or The History of the Kings of Britain. That his work created something...

(The entire section is 4162 words.)

Robert W. Hanning (essay date 1966)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae: Great Men on a Great Wheel,” in The Vision of History in Early Britain, Columbia University Press, 1966, pp. 121-72.

[In the following essay, Hanning discusses the impact of the Normans on the more secular attitude toward historical study in the twelfth century. He focuses on how Geoffrey demonstrated this new approach through his accounts of outstanding individuals and the cyclical nature of history.]

The secular interpretation of British history brought to birth by at least one of the authors of the Historia Brittonum can be said only to have reached a promising youth in that work. Its...

(The entire section is 11546 words.)

Brynley F. Roberts (essay date 1976)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Geoffrey of Monmouth and Welsh Historical Tradition,” Nottingham Mediaeval Studies, Vol. 20, 1976, pp. 29-40.

[In the following essay, Roberts contends that Geoffrey's historical view was influenced by the teachings of native Welsh historians.]

Former generations of readers, who accepted Geoffrey's claim to have translated a “British” book, naturally regarded the Historia Regum Britanniae as an authentic and valuable source for early Welsh or British history. Even after the eclipse of the book as an acceptable account of genuine history, there remained a belief in its value as a source of Welsh legend and tradition. If Geoffrey had in fact...

(The entire section is 6676 words.)

Christopher Brooke (essay date 1976)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Geoffrey of Monmouth as a Historian,” in Church and Government in the Middle Ages, edited by C. N. L. Brooke et al., Cambridge University Press, 1976, pp. 77-91.

[In the following essay, Brooke explores some possible motives and intentions of Geoffrey in writing The History of the Kings of Britain.]

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain1 purports to be a history of the rulers of Britain from the foundation of the British race by Brutus, great-gradson of Aeneas, in the second half of the second millennium b.c. to Cadwalader in the seventh century a.d. It is a shapely, well-conceived book, written in Latin in the...

(The entire section is 6715 words.)

Valerie I. J. Flint (essay date 1979)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Historia Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth: Parody and Its Purpose—A Suggestion,”Speculum, Vol. LIV, No. 3, July, 1979, pp. 447-68.

[In the following essay, Flint presents evidence that The History of the Kings of Britain was intended to make fun of other histories and ultimately to advance the cause of worldly society over monastic society.]

The Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth has enjoyed an enormous amount of attention. In the first place, the work itself was extraordinarily popular. The most recent edition of the text, by Acton Griscom, lists almost 200 surviving Latin manuscripts, 48 of the twelfth century,1 and more have been...

(The entire section is 11678 words.)

R. William Leckie, Jr. (essay date 1981)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “New Light on a Shadowed Past,” in The Passage of Dominion: Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Periodization of Insular History in the Twelfth Century, University of Toronto Press, 1981, pp. 29-54.

[In the following excerpt, Leckie discusses the many problems faced by medieval historians in chronicling Britain's past and traces the reaction to and impact of Geoffrey's effort.]

Prior to the second quarter of the twelfth century information on pre-Saxon Britain was sparse and largely discontinuous. The deeds of the island's early Celtic inhabitants had left few traces in extant sources. Scattered entries afforded brief glimpses of isolated events, but no coherent...

(The entire section is 14962 words.)

T. D. Crawford (essay date 1982)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “On the Linguistic Competence of Geoffrey of Monmouth,” Medium Aevum, Vol. 51, No. 2, 1982, pp. 152-62.

[In the following essay, Crawford examines evidence indicating that Geoffrey did not read Welsh and was unfamiliar with Breton, but that, rather, his history was based on remembered oral tales, embellished with imagination.]

There is a striking disagreement among students of the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth about his ability to speak the Welsh language. A propos of his breaking off the composition of the Historia Regum Britanniae in order to translate the ‘Prophecies of Merlin’, Parry and Caldwell declare, ‘There is no evidence that at...

(The entire section is 5686 words.)

Hugh A. MacDougall (essay date 1982)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Britains as Trojans: The Legendary World of Geoffrey of Monmouth,” in Racial Myth in English History: Trojans, Teutons, and Anglo-Saxons, Harvest House Ltd., 1982, pp. 7-27.

[In the following excerpt, MacDougall discusses the significance of The History of the Kings of Britain, the controversy surrounding its authenticity, and its reception.]

In the history of myths of national origin few have been as influential and have had such a curious development as those popularized by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain. His writing, appearing about 1136, was destined to become “the most famous work of nationalistic...

(The entire section is 7990 words.)

Neil Wright (essay date 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to The “Historia Regum Britannie” of Geoffrey of Monmouth: I. Bern, Burgerbibliothek, MS. 568, edited by Neil Wright, D. S. Brewer, 1985, pp. ix-lix.

[In the following excerpt, Wright discusses the merits and shortcomings of various editions of The History of the Kings of Britain.]


It is surprising that a work as important and influential as the Historia Regum Britannie has previously been edited on only eight occasions; in view of the plethora of surviving manuscripts, it is less surprising that none of these editions can be considered to fulfill the needs of modern...

(The entire section is 3464 words.)

Sheila Delany (essay date 1987)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chaucer's Legend of Good Women,The Chaucer Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1987, pp. 170-74.

[In the following essay, Delany discusses Chaucer's use of The History of the Kings of Britain for a line in his Legend of Good Women.]

Chaucer took much of the material in his Legend of Good Women from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and this text, supplemented with the Ovide Moralisé, was his primary source for the legend of Thisbe.1 However, one curious and unforgettable line from the legend occurs neither in Ovid nor in the OM: it is the oddly farcical phrase describing Piramus's death, when Thisbe...

(The entire section is 2116 words.)

Mary L. H. Thompson (essay date 1988)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Possible Source of Geoffrey's Roman War?” in The Arthurian Tradition: Essays in Convergence, edited by Mary Flowers Braswell and John Bugge, The University of Alabama Press, 1988, pp. 43-53.

[In the following essay, Thompson presents evidence that Geoffrey used Caesar's Commentary on the Gallic Wars as a source for his own History.]

Arthur's campaigns in Gaul, here collectively termed his Roman War, make up a part of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae for which almost no historical evidence has been forthcoming and which has thus been considered exclusively fictional. After his pacification of the region and a period of nine...

(The entire section is 3588 words.)

Neil Wright (essay date 1988)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to The “Historia Regum Britannie” of Geoffrey of Monmouth: II, The First Variant Version: A Critical Edition, edited by Neil Wright, D. S. Brewer, 1988, pp. xi-cxvi.

[In the following excerpt, Wright provides an overview of the First Variant version of The History of the Kings of Britain.]


In 1951 Jacob Hammer published—albeit in seriously mangled form—a text of the Historia Regum Britannie which differed considerably from that hitherto regarded as the standard version of Geoffrey's Historia.1...

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Antonio L. Furtado (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Geoffrey of Monmouth: A Source of the Grail Stories,” Quondam et Futurus, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring, 1991, pp. 1-14.

[In the following essay, Furtado concludes that the Elidurus episode in Geoffrey's narrative, or at least a related document or tradition, served as the source for later versions of the legend of the Holy Grail.]

The most influential version of the Grail story, the first to introduce the term “grail” (a deep wide dish, a platter), is the Perceval—li Contes del Graal of Chrétien de Troyes. Chrétien died before concluding the work, and one can only conjecture the kind of ending he had in mind. Nor did he have the chance to review...

(The entire section is 4256 words.)

Brynley F. Roberts (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae and Brut y Brenhinedd,” in The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature, edited by Rachel Bromwich et al., University of Wales Press, 1991, pp. 97-116.

[In the following essay, Roberts considers the conception, planning, and design of The History of the Kings of Britain.]

The early history of the Britons appears to have been Geoffrey of Monmouth's sole literary or ‘scholarly’ interest, inasmuch that the two, perhaps three, works associated with his name are narratives of pre-Saxon Britain and of the English conquest. His earliest book was probably the...

(The entire section is 10197 words.)

Julia C. Crick (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Reception,” in The “Historia Regum Britannie” of Geoffrey of Monmouth: IV, Dissemination and Reception in the Later Middle Ages, D. S. Brewer, 1991, pp. 218-26.

[In the following excerpt, Crick credits The History of the Kings of Britain with inspiring the composition of other histories and argues that Geoffrey's work circulated widely not because it was accepted as historical fact, but because it served the needs of its readers.]

So far this study has largely been concerned with the immediate circumstances in which Geoffrey's History was transmitted, a subject hardly separable from the broader question of how the Historia was regarded...

(The entire section is 3785 words.)

Neil Wright (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to The “Historia Regum Britannie” of Geoffrey of Monmouth: V, Gesta Regum Britannie, edited and translated by Neil Wright, D. S. Brewer, 1991, pp. ix-cxiii.

[In the following excerpt, Wright considers the date of composition and the author of the Gesta Regum Britannie, a 5000-line hexameter version of The History of the Kings of Britain.]


The Gesta Regum Britannie can be dated, though not exactly, through its addressee. In the prologue of the poem (I.16), the dedicatee is referred to as presul Uenetensis or bishop of Vannes; and in the last line of the work (X.501), he is...

(The entire section is 2686 words.)

Alison André (essay date 1993)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Geoffrey of Monmouth's Portrayal of the Arrival of Christianity in Britain: Fact or Fiction?” Reading Medieval Studies, Vol. 19, 1993, pp. 3-13.

[In the following essay, André argues that Geoffrey's writings concerning Christianity are in part historically authentic and in part politically-motivated propaganda.]

William of Newborough described Geoffrey of Monmouth as ‘effrenta mentiendi libidine’ (that is, as an imposter writing from an inordinate love of lying). In more modern times, Geoffrey has fared little better in the hands of R. W. Hanning, who calls him ‘an unscrupulous fabricator of a legendary British past’.1 However, I would...

(The entire section is 3664 words.)

Kellie Robertson (essay date 1998)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Translation of Insular Historiography,” Arthuriana, Vol. 8, No. 4, Winter, 1998, pp. 42-57.

[In the following essay, Robertson explains how Geoffrey distanced himself from rhetorical historians and the prevailing practices of historiography by asserting that his chronicle was a translation. Robertson also discusses the problem posed by Geoffrey's writing in Latin, a language associated in the Middle Ages with conveying the truth.]

In claiming to translate his Latin history from a Celtic source, Geoffrey attempts to disrupt the received Anglo-Latin historical tradition. The divergent responses of monastic...

(The entire section is 6665 words.)

John E. Curran, Jr. (essay date 1999)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Geoffrey of Monmouth in Renaissance Drama: Imagining Non-History,” in Modern Philology, Vol. 97, No. 1, 1999, pp. 1-20.

[In the following essay, Curran argues that playwrights who tried to be faithful in their adaptations of Geoffrey's material met with disappointing results, whereas William Shakespeare's version—which did not treat the History literally—is a masterpiece.]

At the end of King Lear, Shakespeare makes a crucial decision that sheds much light on his intentions for the play: contrary to the story he would have read everywhere else, he has Regan and Goneril die without issue. Geoffrey of Monmouth's version, recounted in his...

(The entire section is 8912 words.)