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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

XII. The Arthurian Legend

§ 11. Subsidiary Legends

When we pass from the metrical chronicles to the pure romances, both verse and prose, we all but part with the traditional British Arthur altogether. Not only are we suddenly transported into the“no man’s land”of chivalry, but we find ourselves surrounded by strange apparitions from regions Geoffrey and his translators never knew. In the romances, the Arthurian court serves but as a convenient rendezvous for a

  • moving row
  • Of magic shadow-shapes that come and go
  • in quest of adventures which bear little or no relation to the British king. Characters, of whom the chroniclers tell us nothing, and who were themselves the heroes of quite independent legends, now make a dramatic entry upon the Arthurian stage. Tristram and Lancelot and Perceval play parts which divert our attention quite away from that assigned to Arthur himself. Thus, a complete history of Arthurian romance involves a series of enquiries into the growth of a number of legends which have, for the most part, only the most artificial connection with the original Arthurian tradition. Some of these legends are as archaic, and as purely mythical, as the primitive fables about the British Arthur, and were probably current in popular lays long before the latter half of the twelfth century. A full account of the romances in which they were embodied and enriched during the age of chivalry belongs to the history of French and German, rather than to that of English, literature. Not until the fourteenth century do we come across a single English writer whose name is to be mentioned in the same breath with those of Chretien de Troyes and the authors of the French prose romances, or of Wolfram von Eschenbach, Gottfried von Strassburgand Hartmann von Aue. Here, only the briefest review can be attempted of the main features of the subsidiary legends which were imported, by these and other writers, into the vast Arthurian miscellany.