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do you find that there is a great, unifying action or struggle which dominates everything else? Do you not, instead, find that, though there might have been abundant reasons for such a struggle, the author has been content to focus our attention only on the experiences of individual knights and ladies instead of making the big, heroic national story the main thing? Can you see now just what prevents the different Hiawatha poems from becoming a great epic? Are we interested in Hiawatha for himself, or because he is furthering a great national struggle? •
2. It may prove interesting for you to read "The Rape of the Lock," or parts of it, outside of class, in order to see how Pope imitates the characteristics of a great epic, but makes everything ridiculous because so petty. Here the struggle is over a lock of hair which a young noble of Queen Anne's court cuts off, at a ball, from a young lady's head. The weapons used in the struggle are "killing glances," frowns, and piercing words. The supernatural beings who control the situation are not gods and goddesses, but tiny creatures-the sprites, nymphs, salamanders, and
1. Before going on to the next chapter, review what you have learned about the great epic as a type. Do you think you will be able to recognize the type and to prove why a poem is, or is not, a great epic? 2. What general information regarding the epics of the world have you gained? 3. Have you enjoyed this work? If you have, you have made good progress, because, aside from Shakespeare, King David, and the three great writers of Greck tragedy, the greatest writers of world literature are to be found among the epic poets.
THE METRICAL ROMANCE
Characteristics of the Metrical Romance. The metrical romance is a long, rambling love story in verse. It is the type of literature most characteristic of the Middle Ages, "when knighthood was in flower," and hence it is filled with the ideals of that time. Chivalry, romantic love, and religion predominate. Wonderful and impossible adventures are set forth. Everywhere is there much more of fancy than reality. The characters are always high born. In the older romances, in that magic "Once upon a time," the mailed knight sallies forth to do mighty deeds. He has taken upon himself the sacred vows of knighthood-to right wrongs, "uphold the Christ," do courteous, brave deeds, and, so far as lies in his power, to further the cause of truth, honor, and freedom. He is also anxious to increase his fame as a knight, and to win the favor of the beautiful lady of his choice. The love element is especially strong in the romance. Many of the adventures related are undertaken in the interests of some beautiful distressed maiden, and the happy marriage of the knight and lady is usually the culmination of the story. The metrical romance pictures beautiful scenes, personages, or events. There is much of color and pageantry. There are spectacular and gorgeous court scenes, tourneys, and gay processions of knights and ladies who, dressed in suits of forest green, go a-maying or follow the hunt. The hideous element is also to be found in the form of some wicked magician or ugly monster that must be overcome by knightly valor. The theme of the metrical romance is not so noble and stately as that of the great epic. Although the supernatural element is prominent in all the older metrical romances, it disappears in the more modern ones. The latter are true to the type, nevertheless, since they are long, rambling love stories in verse, in which the imagination is given such play that we feel the events depicted are removed from the life we see about us. An effort is usually made to give these events the appearance of truth, but their improbability is none the less apparent.
The Earlier Romances in England.-About the time of the Norman Conquest of England, the metrical romance was the most popular form of literature on the continent of Europe. Consequently, the Normans carried this type with them to England. The chief romances of the time were grouped into five great collections or circles of stories, centering around (1) King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, (2) Charlemagne and his Paladins, (3) Robin Hood and his Merrymen, (4) Alexander the Great, and (5) the old heroes of the Trojan war. Of these groups the first has the greatest interest for us since the Arthur stories have been told and retold by so many of our later writers.
One of the most interesting of the earlier metrical romances is "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," which dates from about the middle of the fourteenth century. Students who have read Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" will be interested in the story of this old romance since it tells the adventures of a knight of the Round Table. The story is briefly told in prose in Moody and Lovett's A History of English Literature, pp. 26-28; Long's English Literature, pp. 57-58; The Cambridge History of English Literature, Vol. I, pp. 364-365; Ten Brink's English Literature, Vol. I, pp. 337-347.
After taking up the story as outlined in one of the above references, read the following passages from "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as put into modern verse by Miss Jessie L. Weston:
DESCRIPTION OF THE GREEN KNIGHT
All green bedight that knight, and green his garments fair;
With costly fur and fair, set on good cloth and wide,
1 Used by special arrangement with the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Company From Miss Weston's Chief Middle English Pocts.
'Twere hard to tell the half, so cunning was the wise
A green horse great and tall;
In broidered bridle all
"Nay, here I crave no fight, in sooth I say to thee.
For lack of strength no man might match me in this hall!
So valiant of his hand, of blood and brain so bold,
Yet respite shall he have
The Green Knight on the ground made ready speedily.