This book is a detailed study of a small group of Middle English romances which concern themselves with the sin, repentence and atonement of their heroes. Despite being few in number they form a coherent and distinctive group and have never previously been studied in association with each other. The main point to emerge from the study is that in this closely related group of texts, the kind of penance experienced by the heroes and its treatment by the authors reflects archaic traditions and views at variance with the contemporary teaching and practice of the Church and that this surprising departure is largely determined by the nature of the kind of literature to which the poems belong - romance. The four poems - "Guy of Warwick", "Sir Ysumbras", "Sir Gowther" and "Roberd of Cisyle" - have suffered adverse reactions from scholars and critics over the years. The main reason for this is the widely held view that religious subjects are somehow inappropriate for romance, and that therefore poems which are clearly religious and didactic are not really romances but something else. This is a controversy with which every student of medieval romance must come to grips.
This book explores the question of whether the writers of these four poems consciously exploited the literary conventions of a certain kind of "romance" in order to teach their moral lessons, and if they did, how they went about it. It is therefore important to discuss the question of generic terms and definitions and to reach some understanding of what a romance is and the extent to which new poems are entitled to be considered as romances.
`fascinating discussion of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ...a most readable and informative book ... with some ingenious and memorable images
Elizabeth Archibald, Times Literary Supplement
`Andrea Hopkins has turned her doctoral thesis into a most readable and informative book, spiced with apposite citations from non-medieval literature ... and with some ingenious and memorable images.'
Times Literary Supplement
`Lucid and persuasive study... It achieves considerably more than just a thorough analysis of four particular poems. In defining their common subject it offers valuable insights into the nature of Middle English romance in general'.
Dieter Mehl, Notes and Queries Dec 1991.
'lucid and persuasive study ... Her book is all the more convincing in that it does not claim too much and openly concedes that there are other valid ways of classifying these tales ... it offers valuable insights into the nature of Middle English romance in general.'
Dieter Mehl, University of Bonn, Notes and Queries, December 1991
'This study fills a noticeable gap in present critical studies of mediaeval romance ... eminently readable'
'a gentle and insightful examination of four romances relying for their plots upon the heroes' undergoing some form of extreme penance'
J.G. Lidaka, West Virginia State College, Review of English Studies, Vol. 44, No. 176, November 1993
Penance - a brief history; "Guy of Warwick"; "Sir Ysumbras"; "Sir Gowther"; "Roberd of Cisyle".