WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?
Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.
HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?
Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!
(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)
THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:
Recommend a classic from the Middle Ages.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. If you know very little about medieval literature, you’re probably familiar with The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, King Arthur, and Robin Hood. All of these I do, in fact, recommend, although I admit it took me a while personally to warm up to The Canterbury Tales and appreciate them, and I literally studied medieval literature in grad school. So they’re worth reading, but you don’t have to start there, and I wouldn’t sweat it if they’re not your thing. Also, there is the small problem that there isn’t really an original/definitive King Arthur OR Robin Hood tale. There are just a lot of stories from different authors and years during the Middle Ages, so if you’re interested in these things, you have a lot to choose from. Have at it. (The more obscure the stories are, however, the less likely there will be a modern English translation of it.)
For King Arthur (and his knights) stories, check out:
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
- “Yvain, or The Knight with the Lion” by Chrétien de Troyes (or the YA graphic novel!)
- The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth
- The Alliterative Morte Arthure
- The Stanzaic Morte Arthure
For Robin Hood stories, check out:
The Less Obvious
Silence is the story of a girl who is secretly raised as a boy because the king has decreed that women can no longer inherit, and her parents want her to have their estate after they die. Silence wrestles with her identity throughout the story, knowing she has the body of a woman but recognizing that she acts like a man and enjoys playing a male role in society. Nature and Nurture get into some heated arguments over what makes someone’s gender.
The Lais of Marie de France by Marie de France
A collection of twelve short stories recorded by Marie de France and translated into prose. The stories are classic lais Marie heard told during her lifetime, often featuring brave knights, lovely ladies, and a bit of magic.
The Song of Roland
An 11th century epic poem that takes place during the reign of Charlemagne. It tells the story of Roland, who is guarding Charlemagne’s rear as the army departs Spain, how his stepfather betrays Charlemagne and the Franks, and how he pridefully refuses to call for aid as he and his party become overwhelmed by enemy forces.
Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer
A classic love story that has been told and retold (Shakespeare wrote a play, too), featuring star-crossed lovers during the Siege of Troy. If you thought Chaucer only wrote The Canterbury Tales, you’ll be pleased and surprised by the nuance with which he tells the story of Troilus and Cressida and how they fall in love and experience tragedy.
Amis and Amiloun
In this medieval romance, two knights (unrelated but very similar in appearance) swear a troth plight to be true to each other in wrong or right. The ethicalness of this oath comes into question when Amiloun agrees to fight as Amis in a trial by combat—where Amis is clearly in the wrong and deserves to lose. As a result of his decision, Amiloun is struck with leprosy, but is this a punishment from God or simply a trial he is willing to endure for his love of Amis? And is there anything Amis can do to repay him?