William Langland Reads Robert Grosseteste
While scholars of PPl have long been aware of its debts to continental French texts and traditions, little work has so far been done on the poem’s relationship to insular French literary culture. L was familiar with a substantial corpus of Anglo-French homiletic verse, allegorical writing and biblical paraphrase, much of which was produced during the thirteenth century. In this chapter, Watson reads passūs B.16/C.18-B.20/C.22 to reveal L’s sustained engagement with this tradition, and in particular with Robert Grosseteste’s allegorical romance Le Chasteau d’amur. L borrows and reimagines a series of local motifs from the Chasteau, but he also takes inspiration from the way Grosseteste’s poem subordinates narrative to exposition, and from the fluent way it moves between different modes, turning from expository narrative to exemplary similitude to pictorial allegory as it recounts biblical history. Although L was profoundly sceptical about the thirteenth century pastoral project that gave rise to texts like the Chasteau, he still took inspiration from the “obstinate theological optimism” that he found in Grossesteste’s work, and in particular from Grosseteste’s sense of “the importance and vitality of the natural (‘kynde’) order” (154-5). Reading L’s engagement with the Chasteau “[opens] a window onto the poem’s sense of its place in a continuing tradition of English pastoral literature with which it has a typically tortured but also an engaged, admiring and largely constructive relationship” (145).
The French of Medieval England: Essays in Honour of Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, ed. by Thelma Fenster and Carolyn P Collette (Cambridge: Brewer, 2017), pp. 140-56