Malory and His European Contemporaries: Adapting Late Medieval Arthurian Romance Collections

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The late-medieval adaptions and compilations of the Arthurian story are a European phenomenon that has sparked both mystification and controversy. Often dismissed as nostalgic recreations that attempt to halt the literary tide, these ambitious projects saw adaptors from across Western Europe combining a vast array of prose and verse sources from different languages into encyclopedic narrative chronologies of King Arthur and his court. Ranging from ornate verse adaptations to heavily condensed prose works, the resulting texts reflect a process of translating, cutting and arranging Arthurian material into new literary incarnations, which nonetheless retain recognisable versions of the Arthurian story. This study re-evaluates Malory's Morte Darthur and four broadly contemporary European romance collections, including Jean Gonnot's French manuscript, Ulrich Fuetrer's German Buch der Abenteuer, the Dutch Lancelot Compilation, and the Italian Tavola Ritonda, in the context of this adaptive process. In doing so, it investigates how the adaptors respond to the shared structural and stylistic challenges of incorporating new material into the well-known story of King Arthur and comes to intriguing conclusions about the ways in which the narrative demands of late Arthurian adaptations invited authors to populate the Arthurian court with new and more complex protagonists. Miriam Edlich-Muth currently teaches Old and Middle English language and literature at the University of Cambridge.