Session 32: Ystafell 8
Middle Breton literature and modern interpretations

Chair: Sarah Corrigan

King Dioscorus's conscience: a unique concept in the Breton An buhez sante Barba

Sonja Schnabel
Philipps-Universität Marburg

The Middle Breton mystery play An Buhez sante Barba 'The Life of Saint Barbara' is transmitted in three print versions dated to 1557, 1608 and 1647. It is a unique piece of art for which the author has drawn on a multitude of sources. My paper will concentrate on the figure of Barbara's father, who emerges as an unusually complex and contradictory character for a Medieval play. One feature of the Breton play is especially intriguing. It includes a unique episode the structure of which is familiar from the genre of morality plays. Dioscorus' conscience (appearing as a character) and Beelzebub both attempt to influence him when he is about to kill his daughter. The two medieval French plays about Barbara do not contain this scene. Using these as well as a late-fourteenth century Latin Life of Barbara by John of Wakkerzeel as comparative background, my paper will illustrate king Dioscorus' personality and draw attention to the features of the Breton play that lend the king a depth of character that distinguishes it from the other medieval versions of Barbara's legend.

Dialectal traits in the Middle Breton verse literature

Myrzinn Boucher-Durand
Harvard University

Were there dialects in Middle Breton, or were there none, as has been argued by Emile Ernault? In the intricate literature of the period, rhymes and religion seem to be central to the message--indeed, there can sometimes be up to five different internal rhymes in some poetic lines, showing that assonance, alliteration and the alignment of sounds in general was a central feature of poetic composition. And yet sometimes there are no end-rhymes. How can such an otherwise rhyme-focused tradition, obviously crafted with great care, seemingly forgo rhymes in some instances? Could it be that they were meant to be read with a specific accent in mind whereby they would rhyme? And are those rhymes we are missing the echoes of dialectal traits? I will argue that the occasional absence of rhyme in Middle Breton is not a mistake or lack, but rather can be understood through the lens of dialectology as the traces of existing dialects in the literary language, notwithstanding the highly standardized nature of the latter. I pay particular attention to where the texts were copied or printed and to the provenance of the texts, when it can be ascertained.

What’s new in Ker-Is, so far this century

Matthieu Boyd
Fairleigh Dickinson University

The legend of Ker-Is, the drowned city, is a monument in the literary landscape of Brittany: the subject of everything from Middle Breton mystery plays to modern screenplays. Almost every major Breton writer in history has touched on it somehow. I have been studying the legend for many years. The results of this research were published most recently in Fabula 54.3-4 (2013), 235-62. Since then the legend has continued to develop and diversify in interesting ways. This paper discusses recent trends in the reception and retelling of the legend, inside and outside Brittany, in genres from children’s literature to graphic novels, and offers selected close readings of the most influential and unusual items arising this century, with an eye to what we might expect to see develop in the future.