Karl Steel's Reviews > The Middle English Breton Lays: The CA. 1518 Translation and the Middle Dutch Analogue, Mariken Van Nieumeghen

The Middle English Breton Lays by Carolyn Wheat
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's review
Aug 19, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: medieval, books_i_taught
Recommended for: medievalists, fairy tale enthusiasts
Read in August, 2007

A good collection, although one that's been done before in various forms (see the volumes by Mills and Rumble). The TEAMS series is always to be commended for being inexpensive and for the straightforwardness of its notes and introduction. That said, I would have liked to see stronger gestures towards resistant readings of these tales, and all the TEAMS volumes could use even more apparatus, as they're going to see a lot of use in undergrad classrooms. Primarily, they need pronoun charts (as a work like Sir Gowther takes a lot of effort to navigate otherwise).

Orfeo is of course the star, with Gowther behind it, but I rec teaching Emare and Sir Cleges. The former is long, but it's easy (i.e., highly repetitive) Middle English, and the second is good for introducing students to genre (since it combines two--quasi-bourgeois advice literature and rolicking physical humor (is that a genre?)--strangely).
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Norma (new)

Norma I came across the tale/poem of Sir Gowther, have been working with it online while I wait for the copy I ordered from TEAMS, intent on creating a storytelling (i.e. oral tradition) version of it. Middle English is navigable, more so after reading Chaucer, but also have a daughter doing post-grad work in medieval studies (every bit helps). But I'm curious about your mentioning "more resistant readings of these tales" and whether you have written anything in that vein about them. So far I've only found on Google Neil Cartlidge in the Saunders publication, though will do more hunting. As you might imagine, a modern telling of a story written as a poem in the Middle Ages presents considerable challenges, even when the text itself is comprehended.

Karl Steel Happy to help, Norma. For my own work on Gowther, and, with the first post, a guide to the best critical work on the poem, see



message 3: by Norma (new)

Norma I've had a look, even passed on the URL to my daughter, and from first look -- these are truly helpful posts: lots of references in Karl's, and then I'm really taken with your observations about the significance of the penitence and about the greyhound: "Gowther has found, with this dog, another way of being" -- which inspires me to want to explore further (and I have some material here somewhere) the significance of animal "helpers" in legend, poetry, narratives, from that period, beyond the symbolic, but in cultural context. Suddenly I'm reminded of the French film La Sorciere -- alas I lent it to someone who never returned it! -- in which the noble greyhound plays a significant role, and is, as I recall, canonized for his virtue. I'll read and think on what you have sent me, and my TEAMS copy of The Middle English Breton Lays just arrived in the mail in time for me to take it with me to Maryland and a storytelling master class. I'll keep you posted about responses to the story. Profound thanks for all this.

message 4: by Norma (new)

Norma Sorry -- had the writers of the posts confused in my haste: YOU'RE Karl . . . . in any case: all of the comments and references invaluable.

Karl Steel You're most welcome Norma. Best of luck with your project, and I'll be interested to see what you come up with. Interestingly enough, my interests have turned increasingly to such helpers: in Yvain, chiefly, but also in a few other places (see the Dog of Antioch story for more on this).

I'm reminded of the French film La Sorciere -- alas I lent it to someone who never returned it! -- in which the noble greyhound plays a significant role, and is, as I recall, canonized for his virtue.

For more on this story, the classic work is Jean-Claude Schmitt's The Holy Greyhound: Guinefort, Healer of Children since the Thirteenth Century

message 6: by Norma (new)

Norma I thought you might like to know -- and be garlanded with gratitude -- for the links you provided me to your entries at In the Middle, especially your Gowther comments and the bibliography. I've enjoyed some happy hunting, having found and bought used/fine copies of the Cohen, Salter, and Classen books, plus located for online reading the papers by McGregor and Cartlidge. The remaining titles are all available from University of Toronto's libraries, and until I get a reader's card and possibly also permission to use the library of the Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies, I can rely on my daughter's borrowing privileges (she's in the Masters program at the Centre for Medieval Studies). I'm becoming absorbed in the material, continuing to develop the Gowther tale, and gave a first telling in Maryland with very useful response and feedback. one listener was singularly unimpressed with the women in the tale, and that spurs me on as well. I'll continue to check your web site of course, but meanwhile wanted you to know that your emails bore fruit (an odd image, that).

Karl Steel So glad to hear it! By all means, keep me updated.

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