Reference > Cambridge History > From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance > The Arthurian Legend > Wace
  The French Romances Layamon  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

XII. The Arthurian Legend.

§ 9. Wace.


The Norman clerk, Wace, was the first French writer who turned Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fabulous chronicle to profitable poetical uses. Geoffrey Gaimar, an Anglo-Norman writer who lived in the north of England, had, probably, anticipated Wace’s design;  50  but no copy of Gaimar’s translation has been preserved. Wace’s poem was completed in 1155, and, according to Layamon,  51  was dedicated to queen Eleanor, the wife of Henry II—another fact which indicates the interest taken by the Anglo-Norman court in the literary exploitation and the dissemination of British legends. Wace was a courtly writer, and in his narrative Arthur appears as the flower of chivalry, the ideal knightly warrior of the Norman imagination. Although his poem is based, in substance, entirely on Geoffrey’s History, Wace is far from being a mere servile translator of Geoffrey. He dresses up Geoffrey’s matter with a wealth of picturesque detail and of colour all his own. Moreover, he seems to have had access to romantic traditions, or stories, quite unknown to Geoffrey. The Round Table, for example, is first heard on in Wace—and of it, as he says, “the Bretons tell many a fable.” It was made by Arthur in order to settle all disputes about precedence among his knights.  52  Wace also amplifies Geoffrey’s account of the passing of Arthur. The British king is not merely left in Avalon “to be cured of his wounds”.; he is still there, the Bretons await him, and say that he will come back and live again.  53  Wace’s poem, as a whole, thus represents an intermediate stage between the chronicles and the pure romances. It must have contributed powerfully to the popularity of “the matter of Britain,” by putting it into a form and a language which commanded a much larger constituency of readers than would be attracted by any Latin prose narrative, however highly coloured or agreeably written.   30

Note 50. Gaimarhad probably completed his work by 1150. His lost History of the Britons formed a perlude to his L’Estorie des Engles, which has been preserved (ed. Hardy and Martin, Rolls Series, 1888–9). [ back ]
Note 51. Layamon states that Wace “gave” his book to “the noble Eleanor, who was the high knig Henry’s queen,” Brut, 11. 52, 43. [ back ]
Note 52. LI. 9994-10,007. [ back ]
Note 53. L.13,685. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  The French Romances Layamon  
 
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