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Derived from the Medieval Latin word romanice, ‘in the Roman language’. The word roman in Old French was applied to the popular courtly stories in verse which dealt with three traditional subjects: the legends about Arthur, Charlemagne and his knights, and stories of classical heroes especially Alexander (see Matter). English correspondents, almost always translations, are found from the 13th cent. onwards. Some of the most distinguished include King Horn, Havelok, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Orfeo (see also Breton Lays). They usually involve the suspension of the circumstances normally attendant on human actions (often through magic) in order to illustrate a moral point. From the 15th cent. onwards English romances are mostly in prose, and some 16th‐cent. examples were the inspiration for Spenser and Shakespeare (Pandosto by R. Greene was used by Shakespeare in The Winter's Tale). A new interest in the medieval romance (in writers such as Sir W. Scott and Keats) contributed to the naming of the 19th‐cent. Romanticism, though the term was also used to embrace some sentimental novels from the 18th cent. onwards, as in the Mills and Boon romances of the modern era.

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