Medieval Romance: Definition, "The Three Matters of Romance," Modern Theories of Romance, and Multi-Cultural Textual Lineage of Arthurian Romance

Definition: Medieval romances are narrative fictions representing the adventures and values of the aristocracy.  Romances may be written in prose, in which case they tend to resemble "histories," with more pretense to being truthful about the past, or they may be written in stanzaic of non-stanzaic verse, in which case the narrators rarely make more than perfunctory efforts to simulate historicity.  Characters nearly always are, or are revealed to be, knights, ladies, kings, queens, and other assorted nobles.  Plots often involve conflicts between feudal allegiances, pursuit of quests (by males) and endurance of ordeals (by females), and the progress or failure of love relationships, often adulterous or among unmarried members of the court.  Romances typically stress the protagonists' character development over any minor characters, and nearly all seem like "type characters" to modern readers used to full psychological realism.  Marvels, especially the supernatural, routinely occur in romance plots, whereas they are viewed with skepticism in histories, though they also are positively necessary to saint's lives, a narrative form which resembles both histories and romance.  "Romance" is not a synonym for social behaviors leading to sexual behavior or marriage (a Mod.E. appropriation of one aspect of the genre).  "Romantic" is a term almost never used in Medieval.  Romance is an ancestor of the nove.

The "Three Matters of Romance" (and Tristan and Isolde) Modern Theories of Romance as a Genre Multi-Cultural Textual Lineage of Arthurian Romance