Romance (heroic literature)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as having heroic qualities, who goes on a quest. Popular literature also drew on themes of romance, but with ironic, satiric or burlesque intent. Romances reworked legends, fairy tales, and history to suit the readers' and hearers' tastes, but by c.1600 they were out of fashion, and Miguel de Cervantes famously satirised them in his novel Don Quixote. Still, the modern image of "medieval" is more influenced by the romance than by any other medieval genre, and the word medieval invokes knights, distressed damsels, dragons, and other romantic tropes. Originally, romance literature was written in Old French, Anglo-Norman and Occitan, later, in English and German. During the early 13th century romances were increasingly written as prose. In later romances, particularly those of French origin, there is a marked tendency to emphasize themes of courtly love, such as faithfulness in adversity. During the Gothic Revival, from ca. 1800 the connotations of "romance" moved from the magical and fantastic to somewhat eerie "Gothic" adventure narratives. Form
Unlike the later form of the novel and like the chansons de geste, the genre of romance dealt with traditional themes. These were distinguished from earlier epics by heavy use of marvelous events, the elements of love, and the frequent use of a web of interwoven stories, rather than a simple plot unfolding about a main character. The earliest forms were invariably in verse, but the fifteenth century saw many in prose, often retelling the old, rhymed versions. Cycles
Overwhelmingly, these were linked in some way, perhaps only in an opening frame story, with three thematic cycles of tales: these were assembled in imagination at a late date as the "Matter of Rome" (actually centered on the life and deeds of Alexander the Great conflated with the Trojan War), the "Matter of France" (Charlemagne and Roland, his principal paladin) and the "Matter of Britain" (the lives and deeds of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, within which was incorporated the quest for the Holy Grail); medieval authors explicitly described these as comprising all romances. In reality, a number of "non-cyclical" romances were written without any such connection; these include such romances as King Horn, Robert the Devil,Ipomadon, Emaré, Havelok the Dane, Roswall and Lillian, Le Bone Florence of Rome, and Amadas. Indeed, some tales are found so often that scholars group them together as the "Constance cycle" or the "Crescentia cycle"—referring not to a continuity of character and setting, but to the recognizable plot. Sources
Many influences are clear in the forms of chivalric romance. Medieval Epic
The medieval romance developed out of the medieval epic, in particular the Matter of France developing out of such tales as the Chanson de Geste, with intermediate forms where the feudal bonds of loyalty had giants, or a magical horn, added to the plot. The epics of Charlemagne, unlike such ones as Beowulf, already had feudalism rather than the tribal loyalties; this was to continue in romances. Contemporary society
The romance form is distinguished from the earlier epics of the Middle Ages by the changes of the twelfth century, which introduced courtly and chivalrous themes into the works. This occurred regardless of congruity to the source material; Alexander the Great featured as a fully feudal king. Chivalry was treated as continuous from Roman times. This extended even to such details as clothing; when in the Seven Sages of Rome, the son of an (unnamed) emperor of...