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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.

XIV. Metrical Romances, 1200–1500: II

§ 4. Oriental Fable: Flores and Blancheflour, The Seven Sages of Rome

Oriental fable appears in English romance with other effects than were obtained in the work of King Alisaunder. The more voluptuous qualities of the east, for instance, are reproduced in Flores and Blancheflour and result in a style of romance tolerably distinct. In The Seven Sages of Rome, again, the story-book is employed in oriental fashion. The heroine of the first, Blancheflour, is a Christian princess carried off by the Saracens in Spain and subsequently educated along with their young prince Flores. Childish friendship develops into love, and Flores is promptly removed—but not before his lady has given him a magic ring which will tarnish when the give is in danger. Danger soon threatens her in the shape of false accusation; but this peril, being revealed to Flores by means of his ring, is duly averted, though subsequent treachery succeeds in despatching the princess to Egypt as a slave. Thither Flores pursues her; and, by dint of bribery and strategem, he succeeds in entering the seraglio where she is detained. The inevitable discovery follows, but the anger of the emir having vanished on his learning all the circumstances, the trials of the lovers come to a pleasant end. In this work the central theme is, once again, that of love; but, in the manner of treatment, there are visible certain departures. According to western standards, the tone is, in fact, somewhat sentimental. It is felt that soul-stirring passions are not involved; the whole seems wanting in the quality of hardihood. Flores, for instance, swoons in your true sentimental fashion. He finds heart’s-ease in exile by tracing his lady’s name in flower designs. He wins his cause by dint of magic and persuasion rather than by the strength of his own right arm. An oriental colouring is also noticeable in the sensuous descriptions of garden and seraglio, as well as in the part played by the magic ring. We have here material and motives which enlarged the domain of the medieval romance, and which appealed to Chaucer when he set about writing his Squire’s Tale. In The Seven Sages of Romeother aspects of the east are duly represented. Diocletian’s wicked queen, failing in her attempt to ensnare her stepson Florentine, viciously accuses him of her own fell designs. Whereupon, Florentine’s seven tutors plead on his behalf by relating seven tales of the perfidy of woman. The queen, as plaintiff, relates a corresponding number concerning the wickedness of counsellors. The tales are told, the queen is unmasked and duly punished. In an age dedicated by the west to the worship of women we have here represented the unflattering estimate of womankind held by the east. The framework and the device of a series of tales is, likewise, oriental, and so is the didactic tendency which underlies the whole. The aim is to set forth the dangers to which youth is subject, not only from the deceit of men, but, also, from the wiles of women.