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Publication Detail
Matters of form: experiments in verse and prose romance
  • Publication Type:
  • Authors:
    Gilbert J, Putter A
  • Publisher:
    Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date:
  • Chapter number:
  • Series:
    Cambridge Companions to Literature and the Classics
  • Editors:
    Krueger RL
  • Status:
  • Book title:
    New Companion to Medieval Romance
  • Keywords:
    literary form, Verse romance, prose romance, genre, medieval romance, octosyllabic rhyming couplet, stanza forms, metre
This chapter reviews how verse and prose romances in French and other Western European vernaculars developed through formal experimentation. Emphasizing the skill with which verse writers negotiated formal choices, the chapter analyses in detail the octosyllabic rhyming couplet that became the most common verse romance metre in several languages, before outlining the surprising variety of forms that distinguished Middle English romance. The complex relationship of form to genre – romance, epic, and lyric – in different linguistic and cultural contexts is also discussed, as is the virtuoso practice of inserting lyrics into verse romance narratives. The second half of the chapter describes the genesis and spread of romance writing in prose, now so ordinary as to seem a non-form, but once radically innovative and carrying a particular ideological freight. It analyses the ‘myth of prose’, which allowed prose romance writers to claim a truthfulness and objectivity for their form that they denied to verse. In spite of such claims, verse romance was nevertheless preferred in some languages and cultural contexts.
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