Emaré


Emaré
(ca. 1350–1400)
   Emaré is an anonymous 14th-century MIDDLE ENGLISH verse ROMANCE identified by its author as a “Breton LAI.” The text survives in a single manuscript in a North East Midland dialect. Like many vernacular romances of the time, the 1,035-line poem is written in 12-line TAIL RHYME stanzas. The poem is of particular interest as a version of the popular story of the abused Constance, told by the author’s contemporaries John GOWER in his CONFESSIO AMANTIS and Geoffrey CHAUCER in The MAN OF LAW’S TALE.
   The heroine of the tale is the young and patient Emaré. Born the daughter of a widowed emperor, the beautiful Emaré unwittingly becomes the object of her father’s incestuous lust. The emperor makes her a gift of an elaborately embroidered robe that has the power to amplify her beauty, but when he attempts to seduce his daughter, she rebuffs him. The emperor retaliates by setting the maiden (still wearing her ornate robe) adrift in a rudderless boat. Eventually she lands in Galys (Wales), where she is loved by King Cador. The king marries Emaré despite his mother’s protests, and when Cador is away in battle, Emaré gives birth to his son Segramour. Through the machinations of her malevolent mother-in-law, Emaré is once again set adrift, this time with her infant son. This time she ends up in Rome, where a kindly merchant befriends her and takes care of Emaré and her child. Ultimately, she and Segramour are reunited with both King Cador and the emperor, whom they find again by chance when the two men make pilgrimages to Rome.
   Whether the text is, in fact, based on a Breton lai as the author claims is impossible to know. There is no extant French version of the tale, though the name Emaré may indeed be a form of the French word for “troubled.” One possible source for the story, particularly considering the North East Midland dialect of the tale, is an earlier 14th-century analogue by Nicholas TRIVET, who was the first to name the heroine Constance.
   Bibliography
   ■ Gibbs, A. C., ed.Middle English Romances. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1966.
   ■ Mills, Maldwyn, ed. Six Middle English Romances. London: Dent, 1973.
   ■ Osborn,Marijane, ed. and trans. Romancing the Goddess: Three Middle English Romances About Women. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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