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Thesis (M.A.)—University of Nebraska—Lincoln, 1939. Department of English.


Copyright 1939, the author. Used by permission.


In this study of modern English and American treatments of favorite medieval narratives, I am emphasizing those stories in verse and prose which were, as far as I can determine, most widely known to English folk during the Middle Ages (c. 500-1400 A. D.).And because certain heroes and heroines of medieval narratives have won a kind of literary immortality, I am placing stress on modern delineations of these characters.Modern, as used in this paper, indicates roughly the period spanned by Lord Tennyson and Edwin Arlington Robinson.Treatments refers to literary productions such as plays, poems, and novels.In a few instances, modern climactic versions of medieval narratives are also mentioned in this study.Musical compositions dealing with the same subject matter are not considered.

Although stories of Dierdre, Cleopatra, Siegfried, and Fridthjof form no insignificant part of medieval writings, and these personages often figure in the works of modern writers, they, obviously, do not belong to the Arthurian, Robin Hood, and Trojan legend cycles with which I am concerned and so cannot be included in this study.

The medieval narratives selected for treatment in this thesis were chosen primarily because, in every instance, well known authors have re-told them or otherwise made use of their subject matter.This survey, of course, is by no means exhaustive nor does it pretend to be even a thorough analysis of the differences between the selected legends and their modern counterparts.My procedure is to consider each medieval narrative separately, pointing out briefly its origin and character as well as can be done and then going on to indicate what use modern writers have made of it.Since as a rule each legend-narrative exploits one or two characters, for that reason it is convenient to group the various stories under the names of the characters they present.

Finally, it should be noted that I make no attempt to evaluate in a scholarly way either the original stories or the modern versions of them.In direct terms, my purpose is simply to show, first, what certain popular narratives once were and, next, what they have become.