Modern Theories of Romance

Eugene Vinaver, Malory (Oxford: Clarendon P., 1929), 826.2 M25Sv, and especially The Rise of Romance (N.Y.: Oxford UP, 1971), 809.02 V766r  :

        Vinaver argued that romance differs from C20 prose fiction, especially the novel, in that its plots are not unified toward a single dramatic arc of complication and closure.  Drawing on the work of Gaston Paris and other readers of the French Vulgate Cycle romances, he identified a new prose aesthetic of "entrelacemÚnt" by which episodes are woven together so that no single character's "adventures" dominate the plot.  In the early pages of Malory, the narratives Vinaver subtitles "Torre and Pellinor" and "Gawain, Ywain, and Marhalt" are excellent tiny examples of this technique.  Vinaver also pointed out two important parallel developments in Romance character and plot construction, an emphasis on the internal emotional state of certain characters which receives unusually (for Medieval narrative) intense attention from the narrator and readers.  This display of "interiority" and emotional subjectivity also may be related to developments in Medieval Christian spirituality in the period.  (The Church instituted mandatory annual or monthly confession as a requirement of the faith at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1250.

Morton Bloomfield, various articles--check MLA Bibliography!  In comparison with epic, romance episode development depends on "deep" or "vertical" or "irrational motivation."  This may reflect our lack of awareness of commonly assumed Medieval norms of behavior that we might infer from the patterns of motivation.  For instance, compare Balyn's statement that "I shall  take the adventure . . . that God woll ordayne for me" with his seemingly irresistible forward progress through his catastrophic experiences (40, also see 44).  Modern heroes might well react to any one of them by halting to speculate upon their fates, the context of their initial decisions and the changed circumstances in which they find themselves.  For Balyn, and for other knights in Malory, this is apparently impossible.  You can encounter some knights who waver (Palomides and Dindadan in the Trystram segment), but they stand out as exceptions to some kind of "adventure" rule.  Bloomfield notes the relatively flattened subordinate characters in romances which contrast with the protagonists' capacity for subjectivity, an ability to reflect upon and be changed by their experiences (within the limits of their cultural norms--see the "adventure" rule).  The quest theme is endlessly re-used to develop multiple possible combinations of characters with similar circumstances, which gives readers opportunities to compare their successes and failures.  (Medieval tournaments and jousts similarly juxtaposed nearly identical contestants in parallel tests for the judgment of spectators.)  The marvelous is a highly sought-after quality that sometimes seems to be used for sheer entertainment rather than for any obvious thematic significance, but this too might reflect our inability to detect some cultural norm of behavior now lost to Modern readers.  Finally, Bloomfield was among the earlier critics to point out the centrality of conflicting loyalties for plot (love vs. chivalric duty; blood loyalty vs. feudal vows; conflicting vows, etc.).

Johann Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages, , and especially Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (Boston: Beacon P, 1970 , 901 H911h.  Huizinga emphasized the play-spirit in Medieval narratives, especially the authors' and readers' taste for ceremony and type scenes in which people are suitably attired for ceremonial action.  "Arming scenes" and "disarming scenes" (cf. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, fyts 2 and 3) are often repeated with emphasis on the knights' rich armor and their horses' decorated trappings.  Heraldry, the vocabulary and syntax for construction of identity by symbols displayed on shields, provides the most highly evolved example of the playful representation of self by means of highly decorative visual motifs.