My dissertation responds to the work of Derek Pearsall, John Thompson, Julia Boffey, Phillipa Hardman, Susanna Fein, Murray Evans, and others regarding “miscellanies” and the influence of manuscript contexts on reception. These scholars have shown how productive it is to consider compilation rationales and to read texts against one another. Their studies have raised important questions, one of which is whether romances could offer pious reading. However, few have dealt with how precisely romances can be pious. Some scholars have argued that they cannot be. What I accomplish is a foray into the history of pious reading of romance, focusing on the transmission of seminal texts in their manuscript contexts and the treatment of significant theological ideas.
In chapter one, I explore the Middle English Ywain and Gawain, a translation of Chrétien de Troyes’s Chevalier au Lion. As I show, based on an analysis of the accompanying texts, many of them catechetical and devotional, Ywain and Gawain likely functioned as a complex, extended exemplum in its manuscript, modeling the steps of penance as well as the ascent of the soul by marked gradations of love. In chapter two, I then look at several of the Old French manuscript contexts to establish a history of the narrative’s reception, and I likewise consider a neighboring tradition in the distinctive Middle Welsh Owain.
Chapters three and four treat Guy of Warwick. In chapter three, I examine the transmission of the Anglo-Norman text and reevaluate the place of Guy in the Auchinleck Manuscript in light of this and the company of another work—the homiletic Speculum Gy de Warewyke. Almost no one studies the Speculum, but what I show in chapter four is that these two must be considered together. The Early Modern Irish Beathadh Sir Gyi o Bharbhuic, a translation of a lost Middle English version, combines the two. In order to understand the reception of these texts, the use of miscellanies, and to better grasp medieval reading practices, I show that we have to do two things: pay attention to material context and be open to questioning the secularity of medieval romances.