Cultures of conquest : romancing the East in medieval England and France
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Cultures of Conquest argues for the recognition of a significant and vital subcategory of medieval romance that treats the crusades as one of its primary interests, beginning at the time of the First Crusade and extending through the end of the Middle Ages. Many romances, even those not explicitly located in crusades settings, evoke and transform crusades events and figures to serve the purposes of the readers, commissioners, and authors of these texts. The prevalence of crusade images and themes in romance testifies to medieval Europe's intense preoccupation with the East in its multiple manifestations, both Christian and Muslim. The introductory chapter situates the Song of Roland (c. 1100) as a hybrid epicromance text that has long set the standard for modern thinking about medieval European attitudes toward the East. The following chapters, however, complicate the Song of Roland's black-and-white portrayal of Muslims as "wrong" and Christians as "right." Chapter Two, focusing on the Middle English romances Guy of Warwick and Sir Beues of Hamtoun, demonstrates the extreme "othering" of Muslims that occurred in medieval romance; but it also acknowledges the antagonism of other Christians (whether Eastern or European) in these texts. In Chapter Three, on romances with Saracen heroes (Floire et Blancheflor, the Sowdone of Babylone, and Saladin), I show how these texts reimagine the East as a desirable ally and even incorporate Saracens into European genealogies, seeking a more conciliatory relationship between East and West than is provided by the romances discussed in the previous chapter. My fourth chapter shows how gender mediates cultural contact in Melusine and La Fille du Comte de Ponthieu: women, as the cornerstones of important crusading families, were invested in crusading and were imagined as key to the success of the crusades. The epilogue offers a brief reading of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (emphasizing the "Squire's Tale" and the "Man of Law's Tale") within a long and varied tradition of medieval crusade romance. I argue that Chaucer works to replace a literary climate that idealizes violent conflict between East and West with one that imagines the possibility and desirability of commercial relationships with the East in England's future.