This is a study of four colossal medieval works - the Cycle de Guillaume d'Orange, the Vulgate Cycle, the Prose Tristan and the Roman de Renart - which are normally considered separately. By placing them side-by-side for analysis, Luke Sunderland is able to argue for an aesthetic of cyclicity that cuts across genre. He combines detailed readings of the narrative infrastructure of each cycle with attention to the shifts and transformations that come with successive acts of rewriting.
Old French Narrative Cycles focuses in particular on revisions and controversies around heroic figures, arguing that competition between alternative heroes within these texts makes them a discourse on heroism. Using a theoretical framework deriving from Lacanian psychoanalysis, the study reveals anxieties surrounding the hero's relationship to the "good": the hero oscillates between support for moral ideals and subversive assertions of freedom that can lead to evil and death. Ultimately, it is contended that the instability of the hero as conduit for morality produces textual confusion and generates the myriad differing versions of these vast and perplexing works.
LUKE SUNDERLAND is Lecturer in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Durham.