Reference > Cambridge History > From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance > The Arthurian Legend > Lancelot and Guinevere
  Gawain The Holy Grail  


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.

§ 14. Lancelot and Guinevere.

In the full-orbed Arthurian cycle the most dramatic feature of the story which centres around the fortunes of Arthur himself is the love of Lancelot for Guinevere. The story of Lancelot is a comparatively late, and, to all appearance, a non-Celtic, graft upon the original Arthurian stock. Whether, as some surmise, its motive was originally suggested by the Tristram legend or not, it remains as an obvious embodiment of the French ideal of amour courtois, and is thus the most significant example of the direct influence of the conceptions of chivalry upon the development of Arthurian story. Lancelot first appears as the lover of Guinevere in Chrétien’s Chevalier de la Charrette, a poem written at the instance of Marie of Champagne, who took a lively interest in the elaboration of the theory and practice of“courtly love.”Hence it came about that, as Chaucer tells us, women held“in ful gret reverence the boke of Lancelot de Lake.” 70  The book to which Chaucer, like Dante in the famous passage about Paolo and Francesca, refers is, doubtless, the great prose romance of Lancelot, traditionally associated with the name of Walter Map. The Lancelot is a vast compilation, of which there are three clear divisions—the first usually called the Lancelot proper, the second the Quest of the Holy Grail and the third the Morte Arthur.  71  In the MSS. these romances are persistently attributed to Walter Map; one version of the Quest is described as having been written by him“for the love of his lord, king Henry, who caused it to be translated from Latin into French.”A passage in Hue de Rotelande’s poem, Ipomedon, following the description of a tournament which bears some resemblance to incidents recorded in Lancelot, has been taken to furnish additional evidence of Map’s authorship.  72  The main difficulty about assigning these romances to Map is that of reconciling the composition of works of such size with his known activity as a countier and a public man. Nor, apart from one or two fairy-stories included in it, does what may be called his common-place book, De Nugis Curialium, afford any indication of the life-long interest which Arthurian romance must have had for one capable of so imposing a contribution to its literature as the great prose Lancelot.   38

Note 70Nonne Prestes Tale, 392 [ back ]
Note 71. See Ward, Catalogue of Romances in the British Museum (vol. I, pp. 345 sqq.), for an account of some of the MSS. [ back ]
Note 72. See ante, Chapter x, p. 211. For a full discussion of the problems suggested by this passage, see Ward, Catalogue of Romances in B. M. (vol. I, p. 734) and Miss J. L. Weston’s The Three Days’ Tournament (Nutt, 1902). [ back ]

  Gawain The Holy Grail  

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