Romancing Islam: Reclaiming Christian Unity in the Middle English Romances of Otuel and Ferumbras
By Andrew W. Klein
Master’s Thesis, University of Saskatchewan, 2009
Abstract: This study focuses on the peculiar success that a number of Middle English romances achieved in fourteenth-century England. The romances, Otuel a Knight, Otuel and Roland, Duke Rowland and Sir Otuell of Spayne, Sir Ferumbras, Firumbras, and The Sowdone of Babylone, are narratives about the Saracen knight Otuel or Ferumbras who convert to and fight for Christianity. Given the particular cultural preoccupation with the crusades in Europe and the common vilification of Islam throughout European literature, the popularity of a Saracen hero for the English is unexpected.
In accounting for the popularity of these figures and their tales in medieval England, I analyse through a socio-historic approach the concepts of Islam and views of conversion in medieval Europe and England, the particular resonances between English concerns and these narratives, and the converts and conversions in these romances. I approach this subject with an eye to source material from historical documents, comparing the subject matter of the romances to the preoccupations of medieval Christians demonstrated in the historical material. Through this discussion, it becomes clear that the popularity of these romances was assured because of the unwavering promotion and idealizing of the project of Christian reclamation and unification exemplified through the tales. Differently from much scholarship on romances that extensively use Saracen characters, this study demonstrates that the Saracens in these romances become less of an Other and more of a misled aspect of Christianity that must be led back to the church for the complete unification of Christendom to take place.