The Medieval Review 11.03.08

Hanna, Ralph (ed.). The Knightly Tale of Golagros and Gawane. The Scottish Text Society, 5. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2008. Pp. 148. $70 ISBN 9781897976296. .

Reviewed by:

Graham N. Drake
State University of New York, Geneseo

The Scottish Arthurian romance Golagros and Gawane has seen several editions in the past two centuries, particularly F. J. Amours's 1897 volume for the Scottish Text Society (STS). In the early twenty-first century, W.R.J. Barron initiated a more carefully scrutinized revision of the text for STS. After Barron's death in 2005, Ralph Hanna took over the project, incorporating Barron's work, further emendations, and a textual commentary.

Golagros and Gawane is a specifically Scottish Arthurian poem in 13-line stanzas that combine alliteration and end-rhyme. From the evidence of source material, phonology, and the sole witness (an early-sixteenth-century Edinburgh imprint), the ultimate termini of the poem are probably between 1420 and 1508. In this brief romance, the proud lord Golagros refuses hospitality to King Arthur's Jerusalem-bound troupe. After several contests between knights from either party, Gawain challenges Golagros directly. When Gawain defeats him, Golagros asks Gawain to pretend he is the vanquished one. At a subsequent feast, Golagros asks his people whether they would accept his lordship even if he were defeated; they continue to acclaim him. Golagros then reveals Gawain's victory, and Golagros returns with Gawain to submit to Arthur.

This plot derives from several earlier Arthurian works: first, a continuation to Chrétien's Perceval narrative, which the Golagros poet would have known through a later prose version. As Hanna observes, the Scottish romance extracts one storyline from the "rich mess" of the original French; Golagros resonates with its source's battle-scenes, Sir Kay's embarrassment, the contest between Golagros and Gawain, and the negotiations for status between the two parties. The name of the antagonist,Golagros, stems from "Orguilleux" (the French source's "house of pride"), yet the Scottish poem reengineers the thematic possibilities

(59-60): ...these implications of the name are subject to a surprise reversal resembling the poet's later characterization of Kay (see 53n). Golagros proves willing to abase himself, not simply before Gawain and Arthur but before his own subjects in open court... Golagros's military might, timorously applauded by Spinagros at lines 347-51, also links him with overpowering giant figures with similar names, as Amours saw. Most notable here would be Golapas (MA 2124), but Spenser, after all, derived his Orgoglio (the name the Italian equiv of French orgeullus) from Arthur's signature adviser in MA [Morte Arthure], the battle with the giant of Mount St Michel (lines 840-1221). The second source for Golagros is the early-fifteenth-century Scottish poem, The Awntyrs off Arthure. Golagros contains numerous verbal echoes and alliterative formulations found in Awntyrs as well as "proximate" echoes. Those echoes, which Hanna painstakingly documents, are emblematic of what the Scottish poem announces at its very outset: as in both Awntyrs and the Morte Arthure, Golagros alludes to Tuscany, already recalling a European imperial adventure that leads to catastrophic fortune (xxxv). Meanwhile, the Scottish poem siphons off the essence of an Awntyrs encounter with the ghost of Guinevere's mother: the ghost is discarded, but her discourse on Fortune is transferred to the defeated Golagros, while the combat over lands in Awntyrs becomes concentrated in single combat between Golagros and Gawain.

One of the most fascinating sets of source-echoes in Golagros and Gawain is its allusions to the Nine Worthies, a link with the Morte Arthure tradition which Hanna's textual commentary remarks on. Early in the narrative, the Arthurian knight Spinagros warns that not even Alexander the Great managed to extract homage from Golagros's ancestors. Later, as Golagros reflects on his own defeat in a soliloquy on Fortune, he specifies "Hectour and Alexander and Iulius Caesar./ Dauid and Iosue and Iudas the gent" (ll. 1236-37; despite their achievements, when all of these heroes "...met at the merk, than might thai na mair" (ll. 1239-40). Golagros adds Sampson and King Solomon to this number even though they do not typically claim membership among the Worthies. Hanna reports Amours' explanation here: the poet is being historically pragmatic. The heroes listed lived before Arthur's time, but two Christian heroes who usually included--Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon--have not yet arrived on the scene.

The references to the Worthies appear in the poem (similar to earlier romance tradition) in a Boethian context of Fortune and her wheel, as the defeated Golagros muses:

Sen Fortoune cachis the cours throu hir quentys, I did it noght for nane dreid þat I had to de, Na for na fauting of hart, na for na fantise; Quhare Criste caches þe cours, it rynnis quently. (ll. 1223-26) The punning words in this speech--"quentys" and "quently"--contrast the "whims" of Fortune with the manner in which Christ behaves ("rationally"). "The implication," says Hanna, "is that human virtue, while proof against anything Fortune can do, must nonetheless bow to due limits imposed on it by divine providence" (80). This wording may also answer Hanna's own reluctance to accept an earlier reading of the word "quentance" several stanzas earlier (l. 1123, which could actually be justified as a kind of ironic verbal foreshadowing of this passage. The "quentance" that "newþir casar nor king...knew" was the sham fight that would conceal Golagros's defeat temporarily; in the later passage, Golagros must truly accept the outcome of Fortune's reality. All together, Golagros's speech illustrates one of Hanna's comparative claims about the poem, namely that it is "more thoughtful than Awntyrs off Arthure, more than just sentimental" (xxxviii) and indeed that the author of Golagros may have known the Morte Arthure (80). The interlacing of this discourse--Boethian, Arthurian, Scottish--hinted in Hanna's commentary should be a point de depart for further critical investigation.

The actual text that Hanna establishes begins with the earliest surviving witness of Golagros and Gawane, the imprint of 1508 by Chepman and Myllar. Now in the National Library of Scotland, Golagro is the second of nearly a dozen printed pamphlets bound together as Advocates Library 19.1.16. Hanna sees the Advocates collection as a personal Sammelband (xxi). Such volumes typically include groupings of small, individual books or pamphlets, more or less homogeneous in their form of production; these have been joined together to suit a single reader's taste. There is also evidence of a manuscript of the poem: the Asloan MS (National Library of Scotland MS Acc. 4233) mentions a tale of Golagros and Gawane in its table of contents , but that portion of the manuscript is now lost (xii). The earliest editor, David Laing, created a facsimile version of the text in 1827, but Hanna shows good reason for paying close attention to the groundbreaking work of Amours' late Victorian edition in order to come to the best-justified readings of the printed witness. [1]

Hanna is wary of naively relying on the Chepman and Myllar imprint alone, since a missing manuscript tradition lies tantalizingly just beyond his grasp. For this reason, Hanna allows himself to be guided by the vocabularies and alliterative phrasings from the Scots literary corpus in general, and he also attends closely to how the text stands up to late-medieval Scottish alliterative prosody. The thirteen-line alliterative stanza of Golagros models the stanza form first appearing in Richard Holland's Book of the Howlat and in Awntyrs, and the alliterative practice in these earlier poems provides a guide for emending the text.

The edition's attention to alliterative form is meticulous and precise. Normally, an alliterative line in Scots usage contains four stresses, two for each half line, usually alliterating in the pattern aa/ax. Alliterative license does occur, and Hanna notes variants such as aba/bx (l. 535), abb/aa (l. 955) and aaa/xy (l. 1331). The final rhymed syllable in a line tends to attract alliteration, producing what Hanna calls "hyperalliteration," or an aa/aa pattern (xl).

The text that Hanna establishes demonstrates care in counting syllables and analyzing alliterative patterns to ensure that emendations fit such patterns, and indeed unusual alliterative patterns can create important interpretive cruces. One unusual pattern found in a handful of instances appears in lines 145-46: "'I will na vittale be sauld your senyeour vntill.'/ 'That is at your avne will,' said wourthy [W]awane..." This aab/bx pattern, Hanna observes, with emphasis on "will", underscores the refusal "vittale" (food) (50-51). ("V" and "w" alliterate in Scots usage.)

Hanna's consideration of the metrical foundation of the poem encourages the reader to see just how integral alliteration is to prosody and to art. One particularly illustrative hyperalliteration appears in stanza 75: "Golagras at Gawyne in sic ane grief grew,/ As lyoune for falt of fude faught on the fold" (ll. 963-64). The second line takes the usual animal simile of romance-jousting and extends the idea through an almost dilatory extension of alliterative patterning.

The lexis of Scottish literature, fortified by attestations in the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST), is another well-trained focus which justifies Hanna's emendations. The commentary tallies numerous Scottish distinctives among word-choices, forms never or else rarely attested as Northern English usage: for example, "tene" for "vexatious" (l. 33) "fere" for "demeanor" (l. 160); or "manrent" for homage (l. 1221). Interestingly, in a sort of linguistic Auld Alliance, some words are distinctive in Scots (but not English) because they come directly from Old French; cf. l. 243, "vesiand," from "vesy," "to inspect or make a formal visitation," from the Old French visiter; cf. also l. 222, "fusioun" from Old French foison, plenty. Similarly, some Scots distinctives may come from Old Norse, as in l. 215's "maill" from Old Norse mál (as distinguished from the normal Middle English derivation from Old English mǣl).

The combination of Scottish distinctives and French derivations is also present in one of the frequent Scottish hapax legomena which Hanna notes as unique in DOST: "astalit" (l. 63) is a French-based hapax meaning "fixed with rich cloth." Other instances include "rekinnit on raw" ("in a line," l. 246) "vnlaissit" ("decomposed", l. 295) "rentaris" ("those living by rents," i.e., "lords," l. 405), and "gretly" ("magnificently," l. 379), a combined Scottish and Middle English hapax formed out metrical necessity. Despite relying on corroboration from DOST for such readings, Hanna does not shy away from questioning DOST's interpretations of certain words, as in the case of whether "forssis their dedis" has a unique meaning in context. [2]

While sensitive to readings that find parallels in the Scottish literary corpus, Hanna demonstrates that some textual issues derive specifically from errors and misunderstandings among the original compositors. In the infancy of Edinburgh's printing industry, Myllar had to seek technology from abroad, and from Rouen he brought in not only type Latin/French-based type fonts but also Norman professionals experienced with this equipment. So Myllar's Rouen-bred compositors would know Latin texts, but not Scots; they would have lacked familiarity with a Scottish literary tradition that would have put the text of Golagros into some context; they did not understand literary Scots, with its alien words and syntax. Further, the Scots secretary hand most likely used in the manuscript text was alien to French compositors. There were practical problems in recognizing easily-confused letters such as "f", "s", and "l"; "c" and "t"; "ī" (the macron meant as a suspension mark for "in" would become confused with the 7-like symbol for "and"); "ou" vs. "en." A lack of "w"'s in the font case sometimes meant that doubled "v"'s had to stand in to finish up a page of set type. Hanna references these issues in the course of reading certain lines, and he also notes cases of dittography (l. 853), haplography (l. 999), and error by attraction (l. 786).

Hanna's self-professed goal for textual intervention is that of a "cautious minimalist," evident in both the detailed scrutiny he gives each line and his frequent reluctance to emend too drastically. Thus, while he follows Amours' suggestions closely, Hanna will depart from them if Amours has exceeded such minimalist bounds: for example, when Hanna rejects a line transposition that Amours has justified in order to demonstrate clear cause and effect (ll. 625-28). "The poet," Hanna wryly observes, "is apt to have been less of a Victorian rationalist than Amours, and, whilst the suggestion is elegant, it seems to me ultimately an unnecessary intervention" (65).

In his own commentary (supplemented by an extensive glossary that includes major variants), Hanna offers guidelines on translating certain lines based on the textual reading he has chosen. Yet he occasionally voices doubts about his own reconstructions (e.g., l. 565) even while ultimately making editorial choices for fluency of reading-sense. Hanna will sometimes report alternative emendations even though he does not finally use them (e.g. l. 267; l. 487). The results of his work seem open-ended at times, almost inviting future emendation or at least awareness of the artificial limits of reconstituting the text. Indeed, the sum total of his interventions, Hanna reminds us, does not mean a restored original; given the lack of earlier manuscript witnesses, the best he can call this is a "corrected copy text."

The care that Hanna devotes to this edition make any quibbles seem downright querulous, but there seem to be at least two very minor ones. First, the word "tva" in line 915 ("tva grete horse") means "two," but the variant does not appear in the glossary with the normal "twa." Meanwhile, the commentary on line 1046 could use a little clarity. Hanna rejects earlier editors' translation of the phrase "with light nor with levin" as "with either scorn or contempt," giving strong philological evidence for this rejection. But the alternative he suggests, "Nor look upon my (shamed) corpse with a light" omits a meaning for "levin," and so the reader must resort to the glossary, which defines "levin" as "lightning flash." It would seem that such a different meaning for this word deserves a slightly fuller commentary in the notes, or at the very least, in the proposed translation for line 1046. But these are trivial corrigenda to what is clearly an important, thoughtful, and up-to-date edition that will attract scholars invested in the textual witness of medieval Scottish culture.



1. Hanna also consults the edition of Gologras prepared for the TEAMS series, which is also geared towards classroom use; see Thomas Hahn, ed., Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales (TEAMS Middle English Text Series), pp. 227-308 (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995).

2. "The verb, DOST Forse v., normally means 'to exert oneself, to strive'. The editors take this usage as unique, 'to enforce, press strongly', and, whilst one can certainly agree that the sense is unusual, a more pointed definition is possible. Arthur seems to say that, as opposed to merely a verbal profession of amity, Allyns makes a legitimate offer of action; thus the sense may be closer to that usual than DOST acknowledges: 'that exerts/expresses itself through action.'. Such a translation may imply that a preposition (in?) has been lost after the verb" (52). Cf. also Hanna's comment on "counter" in l. 953 (72).