The Three Romances of the Mabinogion, Geraint, The Lady of the Well (or Owain) and Peredur, are three Arthurian tales that were copied down sometime in the 12th and 13th centuries. They are similar to the 12th century metrical romances of Chrétien de Troyes, Erec et Enide, Yvain and Perceval, written in Old French and intended for court entertainment. But the Welsh tales also have significant differences that suggest a complex history.
Each of them is set in the imagined kingdom of the emperor Arthur and his queen, Gwenhwyfar, and relate the adventures of a knight of the court who must learn the lessons of chivalry. But whereas Chrétien de Troyes stories are focussed on entertainment and intrigue, the Welsh storytellers took a different approach, stressing the mythology and symbolism of their tradition.
It’s for this reason the Welsh romances are fertile ground for the study of Celtic myth and reveal much about the storytelling tradition that gave us other great classics such as The Four Branches of the Mabinogi and Culhwch and Olwen. They suggest that medieval Welsh audiences expected a symbolic and mythological depth to their stories that wasn’t necessarily present in the Old French versions.
Chrétien de Troyes was clearly drawing on ancient Celtic tradition when he created his tales, perhaps that of both the Welsh and the Bretons. But for whatever reason, he appears to have left out the more significant aspects of Celtic myth. As these stories were returned to Wales, they were renovated by the Welsh storytellers, reinvigorated with their native mythology and reconstructed so as to express the same symbolic depth as the other great classics of the Welsh tradition.
Dr Gwilym Morus-Baird completed his studies at Bangor University School of Welsh in 2011 with a dissertation on the bardic tradition of Medieval Wales. He has worked as a research fellow at the Library of Congress, Washing DC and has taught on courses in several different establishments. In recent years he has focussed on developing his own courses and running workshops for organisations and at festivals.
This course is currently made up of 3 chapters, containing 10 separate videos on different topics, and has a total running time of 4.8 hours. The monthly subscription includes access to a live weekly Q&A with Dr Gwilym Morus-Baird, and to the private Facebook Group. New videos are added to the courses every week.
Before you begin . . .
Please get yourself a decent translation of The Mabinogion. The translation I suggest is by Sioned Davies (OUP 2007). There is also Kindle edition.
Audible have released an audiobook version of Davies’ translation, but it’s narrated by someone who can’t pronounce the Welsh names properly (don’t ask me why, please complain to them), so you can use it as a quick reference but don’t use it as a pronunciation guide. Also, please don’t use the Lady Charlotte Guest translation that’s freely available online.
The course begins with The Lady of the Well, so please read that story before you begin. I’ll prompt you throughout the course to read the other tales.
Please do get in touch if you have any questions or comments.