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The earliest examples of verse romance , a genre that would remain popular through the Middle Ages, appeared in the 13th century. King Horn and Floris and Blauncheflour both are preserved in a manuscript of about King Horn , oddly written in short two- and…. The romances of love, chivalry, and adventure produced in 12th-century France have analogues elsewhere, notably in what are sometimes known as the Greek romances —narrative works in prose by Greek writers from the 1st century bc to the 3rd century ad.

Direct connection, however, can be proved only in the case of the tale of Apollonius of Tyre , presumably deriving from a lost Greek original but known through a 3rd- or 4th-century Latin version. It became one of the most popular and widespread stories in European literature during the Middle Ages and later provided Shakespeare with the theme of Pericles. But the real debt of 12th-century romance to classical antiquity was incurred in a sphere outside that of subject matter. During the present century, scholars have laid ever-increasing emphasis on the impact of late classical antiquity upon the culture of medieval Europe, especially on that of medieval France.

In particular, it is necessary to note the place that rhetoric the systematic study of oratory had assumed in the educational system of the late Roman Empire. Originally conceived as part of the training for public speaking, essential for the lawyer and politician, it had by this time become a literary exercise, the art of adorning or expanding a set theme: They were skilled in the art of exposition, by which a subject matter was not only developed systematically but also given such meaning as the author thought appropriate.

To these embellishments are added astonishing works of architecture and quaint technological marvels, that recall the Seven Wonders of the World and the reputed glories of Byzantium.

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Yet even more important is the way in which this new theme is introduced: Thus, in what is one of the earliest and certainly the finest of the chansons de geste, the Chanson de Roland c. The new techniques of elucidating and elaborating material, developed by romance writers in the 12th century, produced a method whereby actions, motives, states of mind, were scrutinized and debated.

Old French Romances

Boccaccio in his Filostrato c. With the 12th-century pioneers of what came to be called romance, the beginnings of the analytical method found in the modern novel can easily be recognized. Where exactly medieval romance writers found their material when they were not simply copying classical or pseudo-classical models is still a highly controversial issue.

Parallels to certain famous stories, such as that of Tristan and Iseult , have been found in regions as wide apart as Persia and Ireland: Failure to maintain the essential distinction between source and parallel has greatly hindered the understanding of the true nature of medieval romance and has led to the production of a vast critical literature the relevance of which to the study of the genre is at best questionable.

Medieval French literature

Yet to most English readers the term romance does carry implications of the wonderful, the miraculous, the exaggerated, and the wholly ideal. The Chanson de Roland indulges freely in the fantastic and the unreal: It introduces fantastic elements, more especially technological wonders and the marvels of India: The fact that so many medieval romances are set in distant times and remote places is not an essential feature of romance but rather a reflection of its origins.

Similarly, historical and contemporary geography were not kept separate.

In the medieval period, myth and folktale and straightforward fact were on an equal footing. Not that any marvel or preternatural happening taking place in secular as opposed to biblical history was necessarily to be believed: He described the rise of the British people to glory in the reigns of Uther Pendragon and Arthur, then the decline and final destruction of the kingdom, with the exile of the British survivors and their last king, Cadwalader. Such themes appear in a highly rationalized form in the lays lais of the late 12th-century Marie de France , although she mentions Arthur and his queen only in one, the lay of Lanval.

At times, what seems to matter most to the poet is not the plot but the thematic pattern he imposes upon it and the significance he succeeds in conveying, either in individual scenes in which the action is interpreted by the characters in long monologues or through the work as a whole. In addition to this, he attempts what he himself calls a conjointure —that is, the organization into a coherent whole of a series of episodes.

The earliest extant French literary texts date from the ninth century, but very few texts before the 11th century have survived. The first literary works written in Old French were saints' lives. The Canticle of Saint Eulalie , written in the second half of the 9th century, is generally accepted as the first such text. At the beginning of the 13th century, Jean Bodel , in his Chanson de Saisnes , divided medieval French narrative literature into three subject areas: The first of these is the subject area of the chansons de geste "songs of exploits" or "songs of heroic deeds" , epic poems typically composed in ten-syllable assonanced occasionally rhymed laisses.

More than one hundred chansons de geste have survived in around three hundred manuscripts. Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube in his Girart de Vienne set out a grouping of the chansons de geste into three cycles: A fourth grouping, not listed by Bertrand, is the Crusade cycle , dealing with the First Crusade and its immediate aftermath. Jean Bodel 's other two categories—the "Matter of Rome" and the "Matter of Britain"—concern the French romance or roman.

Series Introduction

Around a hundred verse romances survive from the period — By the late 13th century, the poetic tradition in France had begun to develop in ways that differed significantly from the troubadour poets, both in content and in the use of certain fixed forms. The new poetic as well as musical: The best-known poet and composer of ars nova secular music and chansons of the incipient Middle French period was Guillaume de Machaut.

Most historians place the origin of medieval drama in the church's liturgical dialogues and "tropes". Mystery plays were eventually transferred from the monastery church to the chapter house or refectory hall and finally to the open air, and the vernacular was substituted for Latin. In the 12th century one finds the earliest extant passages in French appearing as refrains inserted into liturgical dramas in Latin, such as a Saint Nicholas patron saint of the student clercs play and a Saint Stephen play.

An early French dramatic play is Le Jeu d'Adam c. A large body of fables survive in Old French; these include mostly anonymous literature dealing with the recurring trickster character of Reynard the Fox. Marie de France was also active in this genre, producing the Ysopet Little Aesop series of fables in verse.

Medieval French literature - Wikipedia

Related to the fable was the more bawdy fabliau , which covered topics such as cuckolding and corrupt clergy. These fabliaux would be an important source for Chaucer and for the Renaissance short story conte or nouvelle. Old French was constantly changing and evolving. However, the form in the late 12th century, as attested in a great deal of mostly poetic writings, can be considered standard.

The writing system at this time was more phonetic than that used in most subsequent centuries. The phonological system can be summarised as follows: In Old French, the nasal vowels were not separate phonemes but only allophones of the oral vowels before a nasal consonant. In addition to diphthongs, Old French had many instances of hiatus between adjacent vowels because of the loss of an intervening consonant. Manuscripts generally do not distinguish hiatus from true diphthongs, but modern scholarly transcription indicates it with a diaeresis , as in Modern French:. Old French maintained a two-case system, with a nominative case and an oblique case , for longer than did some other Romance languages like Spanish and Italian.

Case distinctions, at least in the masculine gender , were marked on both the definite article and the noun itself. In later Old French, the distinctions had become moribund. As in most other Romance languages, it was the oblique case form that usually survived to become the Modern French form: There are some cases with significant differences between nominative and oblique forms derived from Latin nouns with a stress shift between the nominative and other cases in which either it is the nominative form that survives or both forms survive with different meanings:.

In a few cases in which the only distinction between forms was the nominative -s ending, the -s was preserved in spelling to distinguish otherwise-homonymous words. As in Spanish and Italian, the neuter gender was eliminated, and most old neuter nouns became masculine. Some Latin neuter plurals were reanalysed as feminine singulars: Latin gaudium was more widely used in the plural form gaudia , which was taken for a singular in Vulgar Latin and ultimately led to modern French la joie , "joy" feminine singular.

Nouns were declined in the following declensions:. Class I is derived from the Latin first declension. Class Ia mostly comes from Latin feminine nouns in the third declension.

Style and subject matter

Class II is derived from the Latin second declension. Class IIa generally stems from second-declension nouns ending in -er and from third-declension masculine nouns; in both cases, the Latin nominative singular did not end in -s , which is preserved in Old French.


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The classes show various analogical developments: Class III nouns show a separate form in the nominative singular that does not occur in any of the other forms. Regular feminine forms of masculine nouns are formed by adding an -e to the masculine stem unless the masculine stem already ends in -e. Adjectives agree in terms of number , gender and case with the noun that they are qualifying.