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The Relationship(s) between (and in) Chretien's Lancelot and Yvain: Chretien's Concept of Love.

The Relationship(s) between (and in) Chretien's Lancelot and Yvain: Chretien's Concept of Love.

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Ciar Boyle-Gifford. Originally submitted for TSM Ancient History and Archaeology / English Literature at Trinity College Dublin, with lecturer Alice Jorgensen in the category of English Literature
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Ciar Boyle-Gifford. Originally submitted for TSM Ancient History and Archaeology / English Literature at Trinity College Dublin, with lecturer Alice Jorgensen in the category of English Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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- 1 -
This paper takes the romances of 
Le Chevalier de la Charrete
) and
Le Chevalier au Lion
) by Chretien de Troyes and explores the relationship between them
both in theintertwined histories of their conception, and in their subject matter. We attempt to show that thecircumstances surrounding their creation integrally influenced their content
with the result thatwe might only fully understand the meaning of each with proper understanding of the other. Wehave reached this conclusion based on the premise that the central idea explored in each is that of love - a premise that is argued in opposition to
Diverres’ claim that chivalry is the predominant
theme. Accepting this premise allows us to consider Yvain as providing a moral parallel for the storyof Lancelot
since we establish that the two stories are actually written simultaneously. Ourargument is that given his explicit reference to the strong influence of his patroness, Marie deChampagne, over the meaning and content of 
, and his reluctance to finish the storyhimself, along with its general incongruence with the mores of his other romances, we mayconceivably read his portrayal of adultery here as an uncomfortable one. We take then, his morecomfortable rendering of married love in
as a deliberate comparison, and furthermore we takeclues in the text of 
to support our conclusion
that Chretien is using Yvain to clarify hisaccount of love after the confusion of Lancelot. While in
love and marriage are forced intoopposition, in
these concepts are shown to be ideally matched. Chretien is full support of Loveas an ideal, and never criticizes it
but the complexities of its manifestation in a social setting suchas the court can undermine its value. The tension between courtly duties and romantic/marital isexpressed in both tales
but we can see that the more complete and rounded conclusion of Yvain is
a greater reflection of Chretien’s attitude than that of Lancelot, and perhaps
intended as a standardby which to view both tales. Important to our evaluation is the judgment implicit in the text uponthe behaviour of the two knights, as expressed through irony, humour and even conspicuous silenceon the part of the narrator.
The Relationship(s) Between (And In)
: Chrétien’s
Concept of Love.
Written in France in
the 1170s, Chrétien’s
are two among his five Arthurianromance poems.
It has been argued that all five constitute an “Arthuriad” –
that is, five episodes ina single cohesive work, whose meanings ought to be judged in relation to each other and as a group,in addition to interpreting them individually (Maddox 1991, 119). Further, we will see in this essaythat
share an even closer link than this, within that wider framework: we willconsider just what the historical relationship between the two is (within the text and without), andhow this must necessarily affect our judgment of their respective meanings. We will focus our
Incidentally, it should be noted that we will be considering a prose translation of Chrétien’s original work
(Troyes, Chretien de. Arthurian Romances. Translated by William W. Kibler. London: Penguin, 1991), and assuch we will avoid drawing conclusions from too close a reading of syntactical/vocabulary choices, etc.,preferring a more thematic approach.
- 2 -attentions closely on the theme of love, taking this to be the key theme explored in both, as well asin fact, the most illuminating point of comparison between them.Though the events of 
are not mentioned in
in reading
, we become aware thatthe adventures of our heroes are in fact overlapping in time.
explicitly refers to the action of 
several times. First, Lunete tells us that Gawain, riding after Meleagant and Guinevere, isthus unavailable to defend her from charges of treason, despite their avowed friendship (Troyes1991, 341). In
Yvain’s next adventure
, Gawain again cannot
defend his sister’s family
against Harpinthe giant, for the same reason (Troyes 1991, 344). Finally, when Gawain appears we are told herecently returned with the queen, and
Lancelot remains in Meleagant’s prison
(Troyes 1991, 354).Internally, then, Lancelot and Yvain are linked because
Guinevere’s abduction
and subsequentrescue in
are clearly happening
at the same time as Yvain’s
adventures.The chronology of events becomes somewhat more confused in the real world. In explicitlyreferencing the action of 
initially appears to have been written after that tale.However, there are some indications to the contrary. Kibler has argued that the behaviour of Sir Kayin
, (i.e. eliciting of a
‘rash b
from Arthur to risk
the queen’s safety, described as “proud,rash and foolhardy”
(Troyes 1991, 209)) is best understood with a prior knowledge of his arrogantwords in
, mocking Calogrenant and our hero (Troyes 1991, 297-302). Moreover, the apparentmarital (and sexual) delight
of Guinevere and Arthur’s relationship at the beginning of 
appearsawkward once her adulterous love is understood from
(Kibler 1991, 8)
These observationsimply that the early part of Yvain actually predates much of Lancelot, contrary to first impressions.We are left with an image of Chrétien vacillating between the two works: beginning with
, heinterrupted the work to attend Marie de Champagne
’s commission of 
, before abandoningthe project to Godefroy de Lagny as Lancelot is walled into the tower (Troyes 1991, 294) andreturning to
- then probably back to
to compose the tournament scenes hoping to
better integrate Godefroy’s contribution
(Kibler 1991, 8).If we accept this account , we must adjust our interpretation of these works to acknowledge theproximity of their relationship. If these works were created simultaneously, it seems likely that theconcerns encoded in them would be interconnected. Perhaps with study of their shared themes, oneromance might cast light upon the other, that
we might better understand the author’s position on
the relevant issues. Thus we might more profoundly understand the meaning of the poems
in thisessay, specifically regarding the nature of love.
- 3 -
Le Chevalier de la Charrete
tells the story of Lancelo
adulterous affair with Guinevere. As Nobleobserves,
for them “
there is no question of marriage,
and there cannot be”
(Noble 1982, 63).
Lancelot’s love
is extra-marital, contrary to the mores of ordinary society: it is what Paris termed
‘courtly love’
(Kay 2000, 81). Indeed, Zaddy measured it against the phenomenon described in
The Art of Courtly Love
(Capellanus 1969), a roughly contemporary text (Zaddy 1973). Capellanus
describes ‘courtly love’ as
true love existing between courtly individuals, distinct from any obligationto matrimonial doctrines. It outlines the features of the true courtly lover, and indeed, Lancelotconforms almost exactly to them: he
is “
constantly and without intermission possessed by the
thought of his beloved”
(Capellanus 1969, 187), for example. Capellanus
’ description
essentiallyamounts to a non-marital love
centred upon the sight of one’s beloved,
overwhelms one’s
 thoughts and desires, and renders all earthly possessions worthless by comparison. Certainly, thesetraits are precisely manifested in La
ncelot’s behaviour at various stages in the narrative. At
one stagehe becomes so fixated on the distant sight of Guinevere that when she disappears from view hecontemplates suicide (Troyes 1991, 214). His constant thoughts of Guinevere sometimes render himoblivious
he finds himself unhorsed by a knight who had several times warned him not to pass,simply because he was too pensive to hear (Troyes 1991, 217). He happily discards the beautifulcomb he finds, valuing instead
the few strands of Guinevere’s hair found wrapped in it
(Troyes 1991,225).
Evidently, Lancelot is in love’s power
- but also demonstrably empowered by it: uncomplaininglyaccepting from Gawain the more treacherous route into Gorre, he crosses the impossible Sword-Bridge while Gawain fails even on the easier route. Furthermore once he arrives to challengeMeleagant for Guinevere, and sees his love, he is (eventually) inspired so that he triumphs despiteserious pre-existing wounds (Troyes 1991). Through love, he exceeds the capabilities of any manwithout such inspiration, even the great Gawain (Noble 1982, 73), or imposing Meleagant. It is lovethat saves Guinevere, proving itself a greater force than all the kni
ghts of Arthur’s chivalric court.
Indeed, his love for Guinevere even takes on a grand, pseudo-religious air, both explicitly andsymbolically. Chrétien tells us that upon entering her room to consummate their love Lancelot
“bowed low and adored her, for in no holy relic did he place such faith”
, and upon leaving herassumes
true martyrdom
’. T
he sacrifices he makes for love are manifest in the wounds he suffersfrom the Sword-Bridge, on his hands and feet
symbolic of 
Christ’s stigmata.
 Modern views on the doctrine of courtly love have focused on its socio-historical importance. Kayargues that the literature of courtly love was the expression of social anxieties inherent to court life
specifically tensions between lay and aristocracy in the developing twelfth century French court

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