THIRTEENTH- AND EARLY FOURTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLISH SHORT VERSE ROMANCE AS MIRROR OF MORALITY
PURDON, LIAM OLIVER
Doctor of Philosophy
The didacticism of thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century vernacular poetry and vernacular, Latin and macaronic pastoral manuals and exempla books, and the obvious inclusion of hagiographical and homiletic material in verse romance itself invite the study of early Middle English verse romance--namely, King Horn, Floris and Blancheflour, Havelok the Dane and Amis and Amiloun--as another literary means by which moral theological instruction was disseminated to the ecclesiastical community and laity. Like contemporary didactic literature, short verse romance treats the subjects of sin, virtue and penance; like the structure of contemporary philosophico-theological studies, the thematic relationships between the romances suggest a vernacular mirror of morality. Floris and Blancheflour and Amis and Amiloun develop allegories of the concept of sin, which involve a presentation of condition and process. The former is represented in demonstrations of disobedience, inverted proper hierarchal moral order, the desire for perverse self-exultation, the motif of the trial, the motif of exile and the motif of both mental and physical disease. Recalling familiar allegorizations of the Fall, the process of sin that these two romances develop introduces the stages of suggestion, delight and consent as well as analysis of the moral struggle involved in the act of volition which leads to the debasement of reason and the loss of the "true being" of the will. While Floris and Blancheflour delineates the tripartite process, Amis and Amiloun examines the entire process, emphasizing the significance of the concept of the defects which predispose one to the commission of sin. King Horn and Havelok the Dane develop allegories of the concept of moral excellence. Included in these allegories are actual and symbolic representations of cardinal and theological virtue. Included also is the study of the process by which one attains release from the condition of sin. In both poems the first stage of this process appears in the attainment of knowledge and experience of sorrow. The second stage involves the strengthening of the soul through the practice of cardinal virtue. The final stage appears in the attainment of the principal characters' disposition for good. While King Horn examines the entire process, Havelok the Dane focuses on the attainment of the specific theological virtue of hope. In addition to presenting examinations of virtue and sin, verse romance also develops an account of the sacrament of penance. The acts of the proximate matter of this sacrament, which appear most often, are contrition or "interior penance" and confession. The act of satisfaction is also an integral part of some works, appearing in their conclusions. The form of the sacrament receives minimal treatment. No significant character plays the role of ecclesiastical confessor. Thus, thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century English short verse romance is a literary form which treats the propaedeutics of moral theology. Its thematic relationship to contemporary philosophico-theological treatises and vernacular, Latin and macaronic didactic literature thus provides yet another instance of the effect that encyclopaedism had on the literary art of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.