Wace (c. 1115 – c. 1183) was an Anglo-Norman poet best known for his versification of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, commonly known as the Roman de Brut, but also for other long poems such as the Roman de Rou, a verse history of the Dukes of Normandy, and lives of Saint Margaret and Saint Nicholaus. His name is sometimes given as Robert Wace, but there is little evidence for the Robert.
Wace was born in the island of Jersey. Little more is known of his life beyond what Wace himself tells in his Roman de Rou (as translated by Eugene Mason):
If any one should ask who said this, who put this history into the Romance tongue, I say and will say to him that am Wace of the island of Jersey, which lies westward in the sea, and is part of the fief of Normandy. In the island of Jersey was I born, and to Caen was I taken when a little lad, where I was put to the study of letters. Thereafter I studied long in [the Île de] France; and after I returned from France I lived a long time at Caen. I busied myself with making books in Romance; many of them I wrote, and many of them I made.
Wace often used the title Maistre (‘Master’), which may suggest he was a teacher.
Roman de BrutEdit
Wace generally follows Geoffrey closely, but his poem is about twice the size of Geoffrey’s work. Wace amplifies Geoffrey's scenes with extra dialogue and description so that one might see it before. One example often noted is that Geoffrey merely mentions that Arthur set sail for Gaul, but Wace gives a vivid picture of the activities of carpenter and shipmen in the harbor and the deeds of the sailors on board the ships.
Wace also modifies some of Geoffrey’s Arthurian details. While Wace knew that he was supposed to be adapting a history not a romance, he seems to have let his knowledge of current Arthurian romances influence him.
Wace omits entirely Geoffrey’s long prophecy of Merlin to Vortigern, claiming he does not understand it. Wace changes Merlin's interpetation of seven beams of light seen in the sky from Geoffrey’s explanation that it denotes seven descendants of Arthur’s sister who will rule over Britain, one after the other. Wace, realizing that this is not what happens later in the tale, instead says it signifies the many heirs that Arthur’s sister will bear to her lord. Wace may have known traditions, like those in later romances, which give brothers to Gawain.
Where Geoffrey had Merlin transport the stones from Ireland using clever devices and machines, Wace's Merlin mutters words which make the stone light enough to be handle.
Wace also omits Geoffrey’s confused account of Gawain’s parentage according to which Gawain is mostly said to be Arthur’s sister’s son, but sometimes said to be the son of Arthur's aunt. Wace only includes the version in which Gawain is Arthur’s sister’s son. Wace also removes any reference to Mordred being Gawain’s brother. Mordred remains Arthur’s nephew, but Wace keeps silent about whether that makes Mordred to be Gawain’s brother, or only a first cousin.
Wace softens Arthur's character, removing references to Arthur cruelly harassing the Scots and destroying Norwegian cities and softens Geoffrey's account of Howel’s devastation of Gascony. In Geoffrey, during the final battle in the Roman war, Arthur kills a man or a horse with each blow. Wace’s Arthur only kills men.
To the King of the Orkneys and the King of Gothland who voluntarily submit to Arthur, Wace adds a third king, King Rumarolt or Rummaret of Geneland (perhaps Vinland or perhaps Wendland).
According to Geoffrey, at the time when Arthur conquered Norway for Loth, Gawain was only twelve years old and living in Rome in the service of Pope Sulpicius to whom his father, King Loth, had sent him. According to Wace, Gawain takes part in the invasions of Norway, freshly come from serving Pope Sulpicius, being already a knight, and wearing armor given him by the Pope. Also, after the Cador’s speech in favor of war, Wace adds a speech of Gawain favoring peaceful times.
Wace introduces Arthur’s Round Table, not found in any earlier work. In this account, Arthur made the Round Table “so reputed of the Britons.”
Geoffrey Gaimer was the author of a verse history in two parts: L’Estorie des Britons based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia and L'Estorie des Engles telling of the English kings from early times until the Norman conquest. But the first half of the work has not been preserved. Instead, in surviving manuscripts, Wace’s Brut appears in its place, presumably because most found it to be preferable.
Many other fragments of verse translations of Geoffrey into French have been found. But only scattered fragments. Wace’s version alone was commonly copied.
Roman de RouEdit
According to Lawman, the Roman de Rou]] was commissioned by King Henry II of England. A large part of this work concerns William the Conqueror and the Norman Conquest. The Roman de Rou was relatively far less popular than the Roman de Brut.
- See Roman de Brut#References:
- Roman de Rou:
- Ed. Holden, J. (1970–1973). Roman de Rou, 3 vols. Paris.