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Arthurian Chronicles: Roman de Brut   By: (ca. 1100-1175)

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ARTHURIAN CHRONICLES: ROMAN DE BRUT

by

WACE

TRANSLATED BY EUGENE MASON

INTRODUCTION

"... In the chronicle of wasted time I see descriptions of the fairest wights, And beauty making beautiful old rhyme, In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights."

SHAKESPEARE, Sonnet cvi.

I. WACE

In the long line of Arthurian chroniclers Geoffrey of Monmouth deservedly occupies the first place. The most gifted and the most original of their number, by his skilful treatment of the Arthurian story in his Historia Regum Britanniae , he succeeded in uniting scattered legends attached to Arthur's name, and in definitely establishing their place in chronicle history in a form that persisted throughout the later British historical annals. His theme and his manner of presenting it were both peculiarly adapted to win the favour of his public, and his work attained a popularity that was almost unprecedented in an age that knew no printed books. Not only was it accepted as an authority by British historians, but French chroniclers also used it for their own purposes.

About the year 1150, five years before the death of Geoffrey, an Anglo Norman, Geoffrey Gaimar, wrote the first French metrical chronicle. It consisted of two parts, the Estorie des Bretons and the Estorie des Engles , of which only the latter is extant, but the former is known to have been a rhymed translation of the Historia of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Gaimar's work might possibly have had a longer life if it had not been cast into the shade by another chronicle in verse, the Roman de Brut , by a Norman poet, Wace, which fills an important and interesting place among our Arthurian sources, not merely because of the author's qualities as a poet and his treatment of the Arthurian story, but also because of the type of composition that he produced. For the metrical chronicle occupies an intermediate position between the prose chronicle, one of the favourite forms of mediaeval monastic production throughout Europe, and the metrical romance, which budded and blossomed most richly in France, where, during the last half of the twelfth century, it received its greatest impulse from Crestien de Troies, the most distinguished of the trouvères . The metrical romances were written for court circles, and were used as a vehicle for recounting adventures of love and chivalry, and for setting forth the code of behaviour which governed the courtly life of France at that period. Wace's poem, though based upon chronicle history, is addressed to a public whose taste was turning toward chivalric narrative, and it foreshadows those qualities that characterised the verse romances, for which no more fitting themes could be found than those supplied by the stories of Arthurian heroes, whose prowess teaches us that we should be valiant and courteous. Wace saw the greater part of the twelfth century. We cannot be certain of the exact year of his birth or of his death, but we know that he lived approximately from 1100 to 1175. Practically all our information about his life is what he himself tells us in his Roman de Rou :

"If anybody asks who said this, who put this history into the Romance language, I say and I will say to him that I am Wace of the isle of Jersey, which lies in the sea, toward the west, and is a part of the fief of Normandy. In the isle of Jersey I was born, and to Caen I was taken as a little lad; there I was put at the study of letters; afterward I studied long in France.[1] When I came back from France, I dwelt long at Caen. I busied myself with making books in Romance; many of them I wrote and many of them I made."

Before 1135 he was a clerc lisant (reading clerk), and at length, he says, his writings won for him from Henry II. preferment to the position of canon at Bayeux. He was more author, however, than prebendary, and he gave his first effort and interest to his writings. He composed a number of saints' lives, which are still extant, but his two most important works were his historical poems, the Roman de Brut and the Roman de Rou (i... Continue reading book >>




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