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Lancelot-Grail romances, dreams and visions


The Lancelot-Grail romances offer problematic instances of rewriting in their treatment of dreams: a songe or a vision recounted to an adult character about himself in the Vulgate Lancelot proper (ca. 1215–20) appears “prewritten” in a later composed romance as his mother’s or father’s dream in an enactment of the scene at or near his con- ception. In the cases under study, Queen Elaine’s dream the night Lance- lot was conceived in the Vulgate Story of Merlin (L’estoire de Merlin, after 1230) and Arthur’s dream soon after Mordret’s conception in the post-Vulgate Merlin Continuation (La suite du roman de Merlin, ca. 1235–40) resituate, or “presituate,” from the Lancelot an oneiric reference in a narrative present preceding that of the Lancelot. Thus, the first occurrence of a father’s or mother’s dream in the chronological unfolding of the cycles, in a Merlin romance, passes itself off as the originating fiction, while it is actually the offspring, so to speak, of a text composed earlier. The rewritings examined here, which we will call retrowritings, are predictive narratives that use animal symbolism to elaborate on the Lancelot’s enigmatic dreams or visions also cast in beast symbols. One of the objectives of this essay is to address the question why the authors of the Merlin and Merlin Continuation produced very different versions of significant oneiric passages from the Lancelot. Each of the retrowritings attempts to cover up its imposture of textual paternity through the strategy of relocating, in the narrative present, its variation on the Lancelot in a specific context that promises authenticity and certainty of a pseudoscientific sort for a medieval readership: the moment of origin, conception, of the character to whom the dream refers. Another objective is to identify several strategic moves whereby the retrowritings try to establish their own authority at least on a par with the Lancelot’s narration. These include the move towards voices of superior credibility in the retrowritings, transparency of meaning in their treatment of enigmatic songes, and notable adjustments in conformity with literary conventions.