Gawain in Wace, Lazamon, and Alliterative Morte Arturo: A Cultural Comparison

Gawain in Wace, Lazamon, and Alliterative Morte Arturo: A Cultural Comparison

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Gawain in Wace, Lazamon, and Alliterative Morte Arturo: A Cultural Comparison

Martin B. Shichtman, in his essay on Wace and Layamon, describes history as "the transcribing of the illusions of an age" (1987, 106). He states that for many scholars in the Middle Ages, translating histories was not so much a matter of setting down, word for word, what were considered to be "hard facts," but of expounding on the truths behind the material, as they were relevant to the time and audience for which they were written. This often involved the omission of some material from the primary source, the addition of new material to it, and the reinterpretation of events and attitudes expressed in the work.

The figure of Gawain throughout Arthurian literature is an interesting one; he appears in more texts as a secondary character than any other knight named, and often gains glory even at the expense of the main hero (Busby 1980, 5). The first characteristic which separates him from the other knights is his relationship to Arthur: it is usually stated that he is Arthur's sister's son, a kinship that is found from William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum Anglorum (c. 1125) and Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136) onward (Busby 1980, 31). However, it is notable that Gawain often seems more like a type than an individual; in Old French literature he is never the subject of a biographical romance, as are most of the other knights, he never has one particular lady's name associated with him, and he is frequently used as a constant against which other knights are judged, the perfect embodiment of good qualities, more a symbol of perfection than an actual person (Busby 1980, 7).

Because of this, he makes an especially good study when looking at what an author considered to be "perfection" within his society. In the various ways in which Gawain is portrayed, he often serves as a focal point from which to observe some of the cultural changes and ulterior motives present in the legends of which he is a part.

The basic story of Arthur (and Gawain) found in Geoffrey's Historia was later translated and reworked many times: by Wace in the Norman French Roman de Brut, in an Anglo-Norman fragment, by Layamon in the Early Middle English Brut, and in the Middle English Alliterative Revival piece the Morte Arthure (the AMA), among others.

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One source for these legends is undoubtedly the oral stories of Gawain, which were apparently found on both sides of the English Channel as early as 1085, and proved to be very popular. This popularity may explain his inclusion in so many works of which he is not the hero, but this inclusion may also be indicative of the manipulative use, intentional or not, of this folklore to influence the beliefs and national identities of receiving cultures. This study will deal with the works of Wace and Layamon and the AMA, and how the changes in and around the figure of Gawain from one to the other indicate cultural strife and differences.

Wace, for his Brut, finished in 1155, used as his primary source Geoffrey's Historia. He sets his tale in octosyllabic rhyming couplets, and in a language which J. S. P. Tatlock describes as "literary...not wholly of the Norman dialect, yet simple and colloquial" (1950, 466).

In the Brut, as in his Roman de Rou, Wace's sense of nationalism and the knowledge of his audience show through clearly. Tatlock writes that the Brut "was meant to appeal to insular Norman aristocrats" (1950, 467), specifically the court of Henry II, and Layamon states that Wace gave a copy of his work to Queen Eleanor. Shichtman contrasts Wace's treatment of the legend with Layamon's, and concludes that "Wace's mode of emplotment offers a powerful legitimation of the ruling-class's deeds and aspirations; this is history written for winners" (1987, 108). Wace himself even admits in the Roman de Rou that he is writing for

la riche gent,
ki unt les rentes e le argent,
kar pur eus sunt li livre fait
e bon dit fait e bien retrait.

the rich folk, who have the income and the silver, because for them are the books made and good stories told and well narrated. (Text quoted in Shichtman 1987, 109)1

Layamon's Brut, which was written for an early 13th-century Anglo-Saxon audience (1210 is the best estimate for a date, though it may be as early as 1189), has a very tragical outlook on the story, not only of Arthur, but of all men. It gives "explanations for those who have lost" (Shichtman 1987, 108). War is portrayed in general as devastating and pointless, nobody ends up happily, and Gawain is shown as both a traditional Anglo-Saxon warrior with a "fiery temper," and the "voice of religious pacifism" (Shichtman 1987, 115). The message of his life and death seems to be that even the greatest men are powerless against fate, and that there is no happiness on Earth, only in God.

Part of this may be an attempt to distance further the legend's current form from its earlier, pagan roots. More likely, however, it is an attempt on the part of Layamon to reassure his audience that their hardships in this world are unimportant — all men suffer, and true reward lies in God, rather than in earthly pleasures.

Also implicit in this presentation may be a desire to redefine the Anglo-Saxons' concept of themselves, in an attempt to maintain national identity in the face of Norman hegemony. Since military prowess was such an important defining characteristic of Germanic culture, the idea of the English defeat at the hands of the Normans must have been almost as devastating as the actual battle. When the defining characteristic of a people can no longer be relied upon, a new one must be found in order to maintain their national identity. In this case, there seems to be a turning toward religion, while the importance of military victory is downplayed. Another advantage of defining the English people in terms of religion would have been the fact that this also gave them a common ground with the Normans, and may have further helped to take the sting out of their conquest.

This redefining of national identity may also help to explain why Layamon's work, written in English for an ostensibly Anglo-Saxon audience, contains repeated negative references to the English.2 Layamon attempts to redefine Anglo-Saxon identity by connecting it with Norman romance tradition, rather than with Germanic culture. At the same time, however, he seems to condemn the expansionist mentality which brought the Normans to Britain in the first place. Perhaps his point of view is that, no matter how wrong they were to conquer England, the Normans are now in power, and it would be better for the English to assimilate to their ways than to continue to fight them, since war brings nothing good.

The Alliterative Morte Arthure, in a manuscript which dates from around 1440, seems not only influenced by French romance tradition, but by older epic traditions as well. Nationalism, or "national consciousness," is present to some extent in this work as in most Alliterative Revival pieces (Barron 1980), but here seems to encompass a whole conglomeration of ideals and motifs taken from the traditions of all the disparate peoples inhabiting the British Isles — from underlying Celtic myths and folktales, to Germanic epic, to Norman French chivalric tradition and French epic. Arthur's army, for example, consists of men from among all the peoples of the British Isles, but includes none from elsewhere, as it does in other works (Fries 1981, 35). Gawain himself is made to embody the qualities which a hero in each of these genres must have. He is a consummate warrior, who boasts in the face of battle, searches out adventure alone, and dies heroically fighting against terrible odds. If there is a message to be found in his life, it is that one can aspire to great things, and that heaven awaits those who serve their lord to the best of their abilities.

However, discussing the cultural reflections involved is always a difficult equation at best. In a discussion of Layamon's Brut versus the Alliterative Morte Arthure, it is especially problematic, since the later work was written during the Alliterative Revival of the fourteenth century, and the writer may have been consciously trying to emulate an Old English attitude as well as the poetic forms. The AMA, in fact, often seems to be, in its attitudes toward battle, more "Old English" than does Layamon's work, perhaps because of Layamon's attempts to distance Anglo-Saxon identity from its Germanic roots.

In all these works, the basic biography of Gawain remains mostly that found in Geoffrey: he is Arthur's nephew, the son of King Loth and Arthur's sister. He is reared by Arthur and educated in Rome, is one of (if not the) best knights in court, participates in Arthur's war against Rome, both in fighting and in an embassy to the emperor, returns with him to fight his brother Mordred, and is killed in the battle (Shichtman 1987, 107). Optional but frequently-added parts of his history include the facts that he is sent to the pope at age twelve, during the embassy to Rome he is goaded by the British knights into precipitating a conflict, and he is killed by Mordred. Layamon includes the first two of these optional tidbits, whereas the Alliterative Morte Arthure includes only the last; Wace includes all three.

Several events in particular are of interest when comparing Gawain in these works: the council of British lords, Arthur's embassy to Lucius, the battles against the Romans, and Mordred's treachery.

The first section under scrutiny is the council of the British lords in response to the arrival of the ambassadors from Rome, wherein Arthur and his men are discussing the possibility of war with the Roman emperor. The first to speak is Cador, the "cuens de Cornoaille" (Wace, l. 539).3 In Wace, he gives his speech while still on the way to the giant's tower where the council takes place. His speech, together with Gawain's immediately following, presents an interesting contrast between the epic and romance values of the time. Cador, one of the older knights, says that war is to be desired,

Car oisdive atret malvestié
Et maint home a aperescié.
Oisdive met home an peresce,
Oisdive amenuise proesce,
Oisdive esmuet les lecheries,
Oisdive esprant les drueries.
(ll. 2193-8)

Because idleness attracts evil and has led to the downfall of many a man. Idleness makes men lazy, idleness whittles down prowess, idleness gives rise to acts of lewdness, idleness inflames passions.

He also speaks in condescending tones about the fact that, given leisure, young people turn to games and pleasure. He is afraid that because of this, "...par oidives et par pes/ Devenissent Breton malvés" (ll. 2191-2) (...through idleness and peace/ The Britons might become wicked). While the idea of evil springing from idleness has a Benedictine ring to it, the solution, war, is very epic. Cador says that this degeneration of the people is something he has long feared, and that the Britons have been "asleep" too long for lack of war,

Mes Damedeus, soe merci,
Nos a un petit resveilliez,
Qui Romains a ancoragiez,
De chalongier nostre païs
Et les altres qu'avons conquis.
Se Romain an aus tant se fient
Que ce facent que par brief dient,
Ancor avront Breton enor
De hardemant et de vigor.
Ja longue pes ne amerai
Ne onques longue pes n'amai.
(ll. 2206-16)

But the Lord God, by his mercy, has awoken us a little, who has encouraged the Romans to challenge our land, and (he has encouraged) the others that we have conquered. If the Romans have such faith in themselves that they do what they say in the letter, the Britons will again have honor and audacity and vigor. Never will I love a long peace nor ever did I love a long peace.

Here he expresses a point of view very similar to that shown by Roland in the epic Chanson de Roland, when he advises Charlemagne thus:

Faites la guerre cum vos l'avez enprise,
En Sarraguce menez vostre ost banie,
Metez le sege a tute vostre vie,
Si vengez cels que li fels fist ocire!
(ll. 210-3)4

Make war as you have begun doing; into Saragossa lead the army you have summoned, make siege all of your life, and thus avenge those that the felon has had killed!

And later, during the battle, he states that "Melz voeill murir qu'a huntage remaigne./ Pur ben ferir l'emperere nos aimet" (ll. 1091-2) (I would rather die than stay alive in shame. It is for striking well [i.e. fighting ability] that the emperor loves us).

This point of view is expected of an epic hero, for whom death in battle is expected and honorable, even to be desired, and the worst fate is to be seen as weak or cowardly. Leisure generally has a small part, if any, in epics, and is merely seen as the time between battles, which are the proper place for a warrior.

In Layamon's work Cador is first to speak because the others are all afraid to speak up, worried that Arthur will be angry with them. Cador, it is stated, is the most powerful noble present. Here also he speaks up in favor of war with the Romans, since idleness causes men to lose their prowess and courage. In response to this, Gawain becomes furious, and answers him:

Cador, þu ært a riche mon! þine rædes ne beoð noht idon,
for god is grið and god is frið þe freoliche þer haldeð wið—
and Godd sulf hit makede þurh his Goddcunde—
for grið makeð godne mon gode workes wurchen
for alle monnen bið þa bet þat lond bið þa murgre.
(ll. 12454-8)5

Cador, you are a mighty man! Your advice is not sound, for peace and quiet are good if one maintains them willingly — and God himself in his divinity created them — for peace allows a good man to do good deeds whereby all men are the better and the land the happier.

Here, Gawain seems to be stressing the fact that peace (kept willingly) is always preferable to war, and is a divine gift from God. Rather than being the typical point of view of a romance hero, these words would not seem out of place in the mouth of any farmer, priest, or commoner; it is the point of view of one who actually lives with the consequences of war, and not that of one who sees war as a momentary diversion until the next hunt or tournament.

Schictman (1987, 111-15) contrasts this rather sober assessment of Gawain's in Layamon of the value of peace with that of Wace's more good-humored Gawain's point of view. In both texts, Gawain views peace as a positive thing, but Wace's treatment allows for the development of chivalry and courtly living.6 This no doubt reflects to some extent the France of Wace's time, when the upper class became more educated and interested in the pursuits that increased leisure time allowed them. As the ideals of courtly behavior became popular, it was natural they should be expressed in the tales of the time, and for Wace, as for others, Gawain was the one to voice those ideals. In this scene, his key argument for leisure is that

Molt sont bones les gaberies
Et bones sont les drueries.
Por amistiez et por amies
Font chevalier chevaleries.
(ll. 2221-4)

Very good are the pleasantries and good are the dalliances. For friendships and for lady-friends knights do knightly deeds.

Essentially, he refutes none of Cador's arguments, only tells him that he is worrying himself over nothing; the peace that he fears is, in fact, a productive thing, and brings not necessarily idleness, but the chance to exercise other skills. The "geus deportable" (diverting games, l. 2202) that the young people become interested in are not a sign of weakness, but of friendship and love. This is the first time in French literature that the idea is stated that these "chevaleries" are done for the purpose of attracting the attention of women (Shichtman 1987, 112). All of these arguments essentially show Gawain as the spokesman for the ideal of courtoisie. Whereas Cador, as a man of the previous generation, speaks of the glories in war for its own sake, Gawain sees war more as a means to an end; after war comes prosperous peace ("Bone est la pes anprés la guerre", l. 2219), and a chance for leisure. Implied may also be the fact that only after war comes such good fortune; though Gawain may enjoy peace, he by no means avoids battle when it comes his way.

These two speeches taken together also offer an interesting inverse parallel to that which opens the gathering of barons in the Chanson de Roland. That episode also begins with an envoy from an opponent, and continues with the barons' reactions to the envoy. In that work, however, the elder man, Ganelon, speaks for reconciliation, while the younger, Roland, for war. In Wace the positions seem to be reversed: the older Cador defends warlike epic values while the younger Gawain those of the romance. It is intriguing to note, especially in light of other possible connections between Gawain and Roland, that in neither case does the ruler take the advice of the younger man, and in both cases he has later cause to regret it: in the Roland, Charlemagne's refusal to share Roland's point of view regarding the reconciliation attempt results ultimately in the death of Roland and many others; similarly, though perhaps less directly, in the Brut, Arthur's ignoring Gawain's point of view may be seen to lead to his attack on the Romans, which ultimately opens the way for Mordred's betrayal and the death of Gawain and many others.

After Cador and Gawain have finished speaking and the council has removed to the tower, Wace has Arthur sit and think for a while first, then address all the barons formally. His speech does not directly address either Cador or Gawain, and the focus shifts from their ideological concerns to more practical ones. Rather than worrying about whether or not he should make war on the Romans, Arthur seems to take it for granted that war is inevitable, and he simply begins his own arguments as to what should be done. His speech consists basically of legitimizing a first attack on the Romans, and he seems to eschew any thought of diplomacy, although he does in fact send an embassy, including Gawain, to the emperor later.

He begins by addressing those present, stating their position in his kingdom; one might even say, flattering them.

"Baron," dist il, "qui estes ci,
Mi conpaignon et mi ami,
Conpaignon de prosperité
Et conpaignon d'aversité,
Se grant guerre m'est avenue
Vos l'avez o moi sostenue.
Se je ai perdu ou conquis,
L'un et l'autre avez o moi pris.
De ma perte estes parçonier
Et del gaaing quant je conquier.
Par vos et par vostre ajutoire
Ai ge eü mainte victoire.
Menez vos ai an mainz besoinz
Par mer, par terre, pres et loinz;
Toz tans vos ai trovez feauz,
Et an afere et an consauz.
Mainte foiz vos ai esprovez
Et toz tans vos ai bons trovez.
Les terres de ci anviron
Ai par vos an subjection."
(ll. 2231-50)

"Barons," he said, "who are here, my companions and my friends, companions in prosperity and companions in adversity, if a great war has come upon me, you have borne it with me. If I have lost or conquered, you have shared one or the other with me. You are partners in my loss, and in my gain when I conquer. Through you and your help have I had many a victory. I have led you into many a critical situation by sea, by land, near and far; at all times I have found you faithful, in action and in counsel. Many times have I put you to the test and all times I have found you good. The lands all around I hold through you in subjection."

The chief thing of note in this opening is the last sentence, with Arthur stating that he holds his lands in subjection, which becomes interesting in relation to the rest of his speech, since he says as regards the Romans' claim to tribute that

... force n'est mie droiture,
Einz est orguialz et desmesure.
L'an ne tient mie ce par droit
Que l'an a a force toloit
Bien nos loist par droit ce tenir
Qu'il suelent a force tolir.
(ll. 2281-6)

...force is never legitimacy, but rather is pride and excess. One never holds through right what one has taken away by force. We are well permitted to keep by right that which they are accustomed to take by force.

Arthur at first seems adamant about this fact when he is discussing Caesar's seizing of the land which "properly" belonged to the Britons. He refutes any claims that the Romans might have to Britain or its tribute, and appears quite angry that they would believe Britain to be theirs, simply because they conquered it once. However, given his attitude later in his speech, it would appear that his main objection is not that the Romans' claim rests on conquest, but that it rests on a conquest of some time ago. He seems to perceive, rightly so, that the Romans wish to obtain a tribute by threatening the Britons that they are unable to win in battle. The Romans, so long accustomed to being the preeminent power in Europe, cannot adjust to the idea of another powerful kingdom outside their control. They demand tribute not so much out of need for it, as out of anxiety over losing their control; being so powerful for so long, they simply assume that they are entitled to receive whatever they ask for, and that Arthur will naturally give it to them. In their arrogance, Arthur asserts, they do not fear or think highly of him. As he says, "Treü de Bretaigne avoir suelent,/ Por ce de nos avoir le vuelent" (ll. 2301-2) (They are accustomed to have tribute from Britain,/ on this account they desire to have it from us). Rather than being frightened of their retaliation, or bowing to the legendary power of Rome, he sees their message as "sorfet" (insolence) and "vilté" (baseness) (l. 2253).

Having been delivered this ultimatum, Arthur considers it to be essentially a declaration of war, and warns his barons that they must prepare; once the Romans have demanded tribute from Britain, the Romans will surely not back down, and they are a foe to be reckoned with.

Riche sont et de grant pooir
Se nos estovroit porveoir
Que porrons dire et que feron
Avenanmant et par reison.
Qant chose est avant porveüe
Mialz est au besoing maintenue;
Qui voit la saiete venir
Trestorner se doit et covrir;
Tot ansemant devons nos fere.
Li Romain vuelent a nos trere
Et nos devons aparellier
Qu'il ne nos puissent domagier.
(ll. 2259-70)

They are rich and have great power and it is necessary for us to take counsel as to what we can say and what we can do properly and with reason. When something is provided in advance it is better taken care of in case of need; he who sees the arrow coming must turn aside and cover himself; we must do the same. The Romans want to shoot at us and we must prepare so that they will not be able to harm us.

From this speech, one might expect that Arthur would seek to consolidate his current holdings, and wait for the Romans' first move. He continues, however, with a tirade about the ill-treatment the Britons have had in the past at the hands of the Romans. Reminded of the wrongs that have been done to his kinsmen in the past, Arthur affirms that

Tant les devons nos plus grever
Et plus nos ont a restorer;
Ces devons haïr ques haïrent
Et ces laidir qui les leidirent.
(ll. 2293-6)

We have so much the more right to make them suffer and they the more to make restoration for; we have the right to hate those that hated them [our ancestors] and to mistreat those who mistreated them.

Thus having validated his animosity toward the Romans, he continues working himself up, turning their own arguments against them. In their fear of Arthur's expansion and desire for revenues from his lands, the Romans unwittingly hand Arthur the very thing he needed in order to attack Rome itself: an excuse. In attempting to validate an old claim to his lands, they remind Arthur of his own ancestors' claims to Roman lands, of which he speaks at some length:

Belins, qui fu rois des Bretons,
Et Brennes, dus des Bergoignons,
Dui frere, de Bretaigne né,
Chevalier vaillant et sené,
A Rome alerent se l'asistrent,
Asaillirent la se la pristrent;
Vint et quatre ostaiges pandirent
Si que tuit lor parant les virent.
Qant Belins d'iluec repeira,
Rome a son frere comanda.
Lairé ester Brenne et Belin
Si parleré de Costantin:
De Bretaigne fu, filz Heleinne,
Cil tint et ot Rome an demeinne.
Maximian, rois de Bretaigne,
France conquist et Alemaigne,
Mongeu passa et Lonbardie,
Et de Rome ot la seignorie.
Cil furent mi parant prochain;
Et chascuns ot Rome an sa main!
(ll. 2307-26)

Belinus, who was king of the Britons, and Brennius, duke of the Burgundians, two brothers, of Britain born, knights valiant and wise, went to Rome and besieged it; they assaulted and took it; they hanged twenty-four hostages so that all their relatives saw it. When Belinus returned from there, he entrusted Rome to his brother. I will now leave off speaking of Brennius and Belinus to speak of Constantine: from Britain he was, son of Helena, Rome he took and it belonged to him as his own domain. Maximianus, king of Britian, conquered France and Germany, he passed the Alps and Lombardy, and had the lordship of Rome. These were my close kin; and each one had Rome in his hand!

For these reasons, which are clearly instances of lands held by right of conquest, Arthur states that "... altresi doi ge Rome avoir/ Com il Bretaigne, par reison,/ Se nos as ancessors gardon" (ll. 2328-30) (by the same token should I have Rome as they Britain, by reason, if we keep solidarity with our ancestors). He goes on to conclude that since the Romans have been unable or unwilling to protect the lands which he has taken, they therefore belong to him, and if the Romans wish to come and try to take them from him, "... ait tot qui avoir le puet,/ Altre droiture n'i estuet" (ll. 2345-6) (... let him have everything who is able to have it, no other legitimization is necessary), and "Qui tot porra prendre, si prenge!" (l. 2356) (Let him take all who is able to!).

Thus he ends his speech, which began by refuting the right of possession by conquest, with a very confrontational and proprietary statement, one that is much more indicative of, and true to, the attitudes of the time, particularly in a Normandy which had less than a century before considerably enlarged its own territory by taking England and holding it by right of conquest. Perhaps significantly, Layamon's Brut, although using Wace as its primary source, does not end Arthur's speech on such an emphatic note, but rather has him stating that "...nu we scullen cunne wham hit Godd unne" (l. 12533) (...now we shall know to whom God grants it [the land]). To a ruling class that held so much of its authority over conquered lands, however, Arthur's monologue must have seemed both stirring and proper. It spoke to an audience that Shichtman characterizes as "anxious that its own status should be endorsed" (1987, 110), for here was the perfect endorsement: a British hero, seen as a symbol of both British and English nobility, co-opted into professing the Norman mindset. Whether this was a conscious attempt on the part of Wace and other writers or not, the fact remains that taking over the folklore of those they had conquered, and using it to bolster their right to that conquest, was probably an extremely effective means of promoting their agenda, while at the same time building a new nationality which was more Anglo-Norman than Norman.

When Arthur concludes his speech, having segued into the claim on Rome and his intention to make war, Layamon states that while "Summe hit þuhte heom god; summe hit mengden heore mod" (l. 12539) (To some of them it seemed good; it troubled the minds of others). While no specific naming of these "others" is given, one can easily assume that one of these is Gawain. However, the very fact that some of Arthur's best knights disagree with him is something not touched on in either Wace or the AMA.

In Wace, the others continue on in the same vein as Arthur, rationalizing their claim to Roman lands, and eagerly anticipating the spoils to be had. In Layamon, on the other hand, they offer their military support, but they speak only of the aid they will bring to the battle, how many men, and other considerations. There are no great boasts of what they intend to accomplish, and little rationalizing. The mood here, as in the rest of the work, seems fairly serious, and the Germanic idea of boasting about one's accomplishments, real or intended, is notably missing.

In the Alliterative Morte Arthure, Gawain is conspicuous in this scene only by his absence: he is not even mentioned as being present at this council. With his omission, there is no one to answer Cador's saber-rattling; all of the lords present speak for war. Arthur praises Cador's speech, and even though he also states that "...thou countez no caas, ne castes no forthire,/ Bot hurles furthe appon heuede, as thi herte thynkes" (ll. 261-2) (You [Cador] don't assess circumstance or consider deeply, but hurl out of your head what your heart thinks), it is clear that he considers this a positive quality. After Cador's and Arthur's speeches, all the other versions have the kings of various realms, followed by Arthur's knights, pledge their support to him. Here, however, there is in addition extensive boasting: each man engages in an extended monologue stating publicly what he will do in battle against the Romans: seize their banner, run through their ranks, etc. The language and form of these boasts is best represented by Sir Lot's speech:

Me likez þat sir Lucius launges aftyre sorowe;
Now he wylnez þe were, hys wanedrethe begynnys,
It es owre weredes to wreke the wrethe of oure elders!
I make myn avowe to Gode, and to þe holy vernacle,
And I may se þe Romaynes, þat are so ryche halden,
Arayede in þeire riotes on a rounde felde,
I sall at þe reuerence of þe rounde table
Ryde thrughte all þe rowtte, rerewarde & oþer,
Redy wayes to make, and renkkes full rowme,
Rynnande on rede blode, as my stede ruschez.
(ll. 383-92)7

I like it that Sir Lucius longs for misery; now that he wants war, his woes shall begin. It is our fate to avenge what vexed our ancestors. I give my word to God and to gracious Veronica that if I see the Romans, styled so renowned, arrayed in rich pomp on a broad battlefield, I shall ride for reverence of the Round Table right through their ranks, rearguard and all, preparing a path for my men pressing after, my horse running in red blood as it rushes on.

Most of the others also begin by stating how glad they are for this opportunity to fight the Romans; they proceed to make some derogatory remark about Roman pompousness, then make a boasting oath of what they will do in battle, all of which oaths are later fulfilled. The attitude of these knights is more what one would expect of the heroes of an Old English or Old French epic, the literature of the warrior class: anxious for bloodshed, boasting of their deeds, and desiring nothing more than a death in battle, especially if they fail their lord. In complete contrast to Gawain's speech in the Brut, these viewpoints could hardly come out of the mouths of anyone but bloodthirsty warriors. Whereas Layamon again seems determined to place distance between the knights' individual contributions and the outcome of the battle, the AMA makes the two things integrally connected: having made these epic boasts in public, they must fulfill them and defeat the Romans, or be shamed.
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