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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

§ 8. The French Romances

The full value of the Arthurian stories as poetic and romantic matter and, in particular, their possibilities of adaptation and expansion as ideal tales of chivalry, were first perceived in France, or, at any rate, by writers who used the French language. Three stages, or forms, in the literary exploitation to which the legends were subjected by French romantic writers, can be clearly traced. First comes the metrical chronicle, in which Geoffrey’s quasi-historical narrative appears in an expanded and highly-coloured romantic setting, and of which Wace’s Brut is the earliest standard example. This was the literary form in which the Arthurian legend made its first appearance in English. Next in order and not much later, perhaps, in their actual origin, come the metrical romances proper. These poetical romances, of which the works of Chrétien de Troyes are at once the typical, and the most successful, examples, are concerned with the careers and achievements of individual knights of the Arthurian court. In them, Arthur himself plays quite a subordinate part; his wars and the complications that led to his tragic end are altogether lost sight of. The third stage is represented by the prose romances, which began to be compiled, probably, during the closing years of the twelfth century, and which underwent a continuous process of expansion, interpolation and redaction until about the middle of the thirteenth century. Many of these prose romances, such as those of Merlin and Lancelot, give much greater prominence than the poems do to Arthur’s individual deeds and fortunes. The most celebrated name associated with the authorship of these prose works is that of Walter Map, who, calling, as he does, the Welsh his “fellow-countrymen,” brings Wales and the Angevin court, once more, into touch with the development of the Arthurian legend.