Paul Vincent Rockwell

title.none: Dover, ed., A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle (Paul Vincent Rockwell)

identifier.other: baj9928.0411.017 04.11.17

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Paul Vincent Rockwell, Amherst College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Dover, Carol, ed. A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. Series: Arthurian Studies, vol. 54. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003. Pp. xiii, 267. $85.00 0-85991-783-5. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.11.17

Dover, Carol, ed. A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. Series: Arthurian Studies, vol. 54. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003. Pp. xiii, 267. $85.00 0-85991-783-5. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Paul Vincent Rockwell
Amherst College

The editor of this collection bills the work as "the first comprehensive volume devoted exclusively to the entire Lancelot-Grail Cycle" (xiii). This might seem to some scholars an exaggeration, if one considers the notable collection of articles published by William Kibler in 1997, entitled The Lancelot-Grail Cycle: Text and Transformations. But it is certainly accurate to say that such volumes are few and far between. One of the reasons for this curious fact is that no true critical edition of the entire Old French cycle was available to scholars of Arthurian literature until recently. Although Pauphilet's highly regarded edition of the Queste del saint graal appeared as early as 1923, no modern critical edition of the Estoire del Saint Graal was complete until Jean-Paul Ponceau published one in 1997. Scholars were constrained by the limitations of H. Oskar Sommer's outdated 1913 edition of the series of books that he called the Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances. This unfortunately included material that more properly belonged to the Post-Vulgate cycle and did not meet the editorial standards of the modern critical edition. The series of works that Dover classifies as the "Lancelot-Grail Cycle" consists of the Estoire, the Merlin, the Lancelot (known variously in the critical tradition as the Lancelot en prose or the Lancelot propre), the Queste, and the Mort le roi Artu, all of which now exist in excellent critical editions.

The name of the cycle is a modern one that requires some qualification, since it is not entirely clear from the manuscript evidence during what time period this collection of romances was considered by medievals as a whole. Although they were all written in the first decades of the thirteenth century, most scholars accept the notion that at one point in the development of the cycle the last three works existed as a trilogy to which the Estoire and the Merlin were added as prequels. Moreover at a subsequent point, a Suite was added to the Merlin that was inserted into the cycle between this work and the beginning of the Lancelot en prose. It is possible that, as Elspeth Kennedy argues in a chapter devoted to this subject, a non-cyclic prose Lancelot was written prior to the composition of the cycle, which served as its point of departure. Subsequent rewritings of the works in the cycle resulted in an entirely independent set of romances that constitutes what Fanni Bogdanow calls in another chapter the Post-Vulgate Roman du Graal. This series was presumably completed no later than 1240. In short, the manuscript tradition of the series of romances known as the Lancelot-Grail Cycle is extremely complex. More than one hundred manuscripts containing various combinations of the works in question exist today. They exhibit so much variance that the picture of the cycle that appears in the modern critical editions necessarily glosses over a manuscript tradition that from the very start was in remarkable flux. This in itself is a testament to the interest of these works among contemporaries, as generations of scribes, even during the period of the first printed books, continued to appropriate the material and edit it repeatedly in a heavy-handed fashion.

These considerations aside, as one can surmise from the chapters dedicated to these works'many avatars, the Old French Lancelot-Grail Cycle ranks as one of the most important monuments of medieval literature and certainly warrants its own companion volume. This Carol Dover has compiled with the help of some eighteen scholars who contributed chapters on aspects of the cycle that reflect that own particular expertise. The collection begins with a section dedicated primarily to considerations that arise from the manuscript tradition. Richard Barber opens the volume with an introduction to the notion of chivalry and the influence of Cistericianism on the literary production of the day. Kennedy and Bogdanow dedicate their chapters to an etat present of their research on the manuscript issues that they have been exploring throughout their careers. Richard Trachsler reflects on the artificial distinction between romance and the historical texts of the period and presents plausible explanations for the choice to write the cycle in prose. Despite that choice, he sees the prose Lancelot as a continuation of the works of Wace and Chretien de Troyes.

Part II is dedicated to the art of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle and serves as a good introduction to the actual works in question. It begins with a chapter by Douglas Kelly, in which he examines the notion of a cycle in relation to the aesthetic prescriptions of Horace and in particular how the cycle's articulation of "branches" emphasizes the "pruning" of irrelevant material. Carol J. Chase provides the introduction to the Estoire with attention to the role of the Joseph of Arimathea character throughout the cycle. She notes with interest that whereas Joseph is considered Lancelot's ancestor in the prose Lancelot, this is not the case in either the Queste or the Estoire. Giving a thorough overview of the manuscript tradition and the sources for the romances in question, Annie Combes treats the Merlin and its Suite. Her chapter provides a helpful outline of what the author(s) of these texts added to the tradition of the Merlin character and a clear presentation of the issues surrounding the representation of narrative voice in these works. Carol Dover presents the prose Lancelot, affirming her belief in the "architect" model of composition first proposed by Frappier and showing support for Annie Combes's response to Kennedy's hypothesis concerning the existence of a "non-cyclic" Lancelot. Matilda T. Bruckner also treats the prose Lancelot and focuses on the implications of its near line-by-line rewriting of Chretien de Troyes's Chevalier de la Charrette in one of its principle branches. Emmanuèle Baumgartner distills an incredible amount of scholarship into a short chapter on the Queste that would provide any teacher of this text at the graduate or undergraduate level with excellent introductory reading for his or her students. Norris J. Lacy presents the Mort with special attention to the notion of mescheances in the representation of the cause-effect relationships that determine its plot structure. Part II ends with an examination by Alison Stones of manuscripts representing the first 150 years of illumination of the romances in the cycle. This chapter offers a wealth of interesting information for manuscript scholars, but relatively little conclusive synthesis of the data. It would perhaps have been more appropriately grouped with the essays in Part I. As a whole, Part II could be used without regrets among the required readings of an undergraduate course dedicated to Arthurian romance. It would serve as a good introduction for graduate students who are reading portions of the cycle for the first time.

By contrast, Part III contains much material that would be of interest to scholars of Old French literature who have not yet ventured into the avatars of the cycle written in other languages. It would be of less interest to students who are engaged in a first read of the cycle itself. Helen Cooper summarizes the influence of the cycle on Malory and his predecessors. Attention is given to the octosyllabic Of Arthur and of Merlin, the alliterative Joseph of Arimathie, the stanzaic Morte Arthur, and the Scottish Lancelot of the Laik, in addition to the works of Malory. Donald Hoffman compiles and discusses all the known allusions to the cycle in the Italian tradition leading up to Boiardo. Hans-Hugo Steinhoff describes fragmentary adaptations and translations in German that date from the mid-thirteenth century and provides some interesting speculation on why there was such little apparent interest in the cycle in medieval Germany. Michael Harney examines the cycle's Spanish legacy with particular attention paid to the implications of the Zifar and to translations and adaptations in Spanish that are based on the cycle and on the Post-Vulgate texts. Haquira Osakabe presents the Portuguese Demanda do Santo Graal and concludes that it is based on the Post-Vulgate cycle. Frank Brandsma outlines the rich tradition of Dutch and Flemish texts that were inspired by the Vulgate. These include fourteenth-century fragments from the Middle Dutch prose Lancelot, the rhymed adaptation known as Lantsloot vander Haghedochte, the verse Lanceloet-Queeste-Arturs doet written by a Flemish poet, as well as the better-known, 87,000-line Lancelot compilation, which was composed during the first decades of the fourteenth century. Roger Middleton turns his attention to the fortunes of manuscripts of the cycle in England and Wales. A final chapter, written by Carol Dover, summarizes the influence of the cycle on modern cinema.

Despite some unfortunate lacunae in the bibliography and the index, this volume can be considered a success that provides useful material for students and scholars alike. It is warmly recommended for university and college libraries and should be considered by instructors of Arthurian materials for inclusion in their introductory course readings.