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A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes

A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes

Norris J. Lacy
Joan Tasker Grimbert
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes
    Book Description:

    Chrétien de Troyes is arguably the creator of Arthurian romance, and it is on his work that later writers have based their interpretations. This book offers both crucial information on, and a comprehensive coverage of, all aspects of the work of Chrétien de Troyes - the literary and historical background, patronage, his influence on other writers, manuscripts and editions of his work and, at the heart of the volume, major essays on his themes, techniques and artistic achievements in each of his compositions; the contributions, all from leading experts in Chrétien and related studies, have been commissioned especially for this volume and are designed to remain accessible to students while also addressing specialists in Arthurian studies and Chrétien de Troyes. They reflect the most current critical and scholarly views on one of the greatest of medieval authors. CONTRIBUTORS: JOHN W. BALDWIN, JUNE HALL MCCASH, LAURENCE HARF-LANCNER, NORRIS J. LACY, DOUGLAS KELLY, KEITH BUSBY, PETER F. DEMBOWSKI, ROBERTA L. KRUEGER, DONALD MADDOX, SARA STURM-MADDOX, JOAN TASKER GRIMBERT, MATILDA TOMARYN BRUCKNER, TONY HUNT, RUPERT T. PICKENS, ANNIE COMBES, MICHELLE SZKILNIK, EMMANUELE BAUMGARTNER

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-386-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. The Contributors
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    Chrétien de Troyes is justly considered to be the creator of Arthurian romance. Although important Arthurian texts and perhaps oral tales as well pre-dated his works, he used that material and his imagination to produce something entirely new. The episodic romance, as he developed it, was a composition centered on the Arthurian court but primarily focused on the adventures of one (or two) of Arthur’s knights, generally over a limited period of time. Chrétien also emphasized the nature of adventure – its uses and abuses – and examined the efficacy of chivalry and of the Arthurian ethic. The problems treated in his...


    • 1 Chrétien in History
      (pp. 3-14)

      A genius in creating fictional worlds, Chrétien was remarkably insulated from his own historical context.* Even his name presents a problem. Was he from Troyes in Champagne as he asserts in his first romance,Erec et Enide(vs. 9) – and this was probably the case – or was his name an ironic oxymoron, a Christian from the pagan Greek city of Troy from which the Frankish peoples claimed their mythological descent, in imitation of Vergil’s account of the origins of the Romans? His five canonical romances are relatively free of markers of place and time that point outside the text. Only...

    • 2 Chrétien’s Patrons
      (pp. 15-25)

      Chrétien de Troyes, whose contribution to twelfth-century literature is unsurpassed, wrote for two of the most notable cultural patrons of his time. Like all literary patronage in the Middle Ages, the respective roles of Chrétien and his patrons represented a reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationship. As a rule, a poet composed at the request of a patron, who in turn provided him with a reward that could take the form of gifts, monetary payment, a position within the court (e. g. clerk, scribe), or the lending of the patron’s influence to his work. Although in some instances poets dedicated works...

    • 3 Chrétien’s Literary Background
      (pp. 26-42)

      In 1170, the date commonly accepted for the composition ofErec et Enide(the first Arthurian romance), French literature began to rival literature from the Latin tradition. The defining cultural trait of the Middle Ages was, in fact, bilingualism, the coexistence of Latin and the vernacular languages. But until the end of the eleventh century, the only written language was Latin. It was the privilege of clerics to have access to learned culture, essentially represented by apologetics and literature from Latin Antiquity. And let us not forget that, during the Carolingian cultural renaissance, the growth of literature in the eighth...

    • 4 The Arthurian Legend Before Chrétien de Troyes
      (pp. 43-51)

      It is both traditional and correct to identify Chrétien de Troyes as the creator of Arthurian romance and as the writer who inaugurated a number of Arthurian motifs and themes. Those include Camelot, Lancelot, the Grail; the nature of the court and of a good many Arthurian characters; and above all, the complex quest structure resting on the opposition of public v. private responsibilities, of the individual (or couple) v. society, occasionally of love v. chivalry itself.

      However, preliminary to a study of Chrétien’s accomplishment is a review of the Arthurian legend before his time. Much of the material concerning...

    • 5 Narrative Poetics: Rhetoric, Orality and Performance
      (pp. 52-63)

      Poetics, or the art of poetry, is traditionally viewed in the Middle Ages as ancillary to rhetoric. Rhetoric in Chrétien’s times was the art of persuasion by eloquence. The rhetorical mode was used in Chrétien’s romances.¹ They were written for reading aloud, using embellishment that enhances such reading while effectively communicating a story and its lessons and setting out opposing views on issues of interest to aristocratic audiences in Chrétien’s time.² Reading aloud can, of course, be highly diversified,³ ranging from private settings like that illustrated inYvainwhere a maiden reads a romance to her parents (Yvain, vss 5358-68),...

    • 6 The Manuscripts of Chrétien’s Romances
      (pp. 64-75)

      Any examination of a medieval text should begin with the examination of the manuscripts in which it is preserved. The manuscript is our only means of direct access to the reality of the medieval text and is its only indisputably medieval witness. While we cannot with any measure of certainty reconstruct Chrétien de Troyes’sipsissima verbaon the basis of the extant manuscripts of his romances, we can at least be sure that each manuscript was for a period of time in the Middle Ages the text of Chrétien for its owners, readers and listeners. It is unlikely that these...

    • 7 Editing Chrétien
      (pp. 76-84)

      The works of Chrétien de Troyes have challenged editors for well over a century and a half, and the first to recognize the merit of medieval France’s most famousromancierwere not actually French. The honour of producing the first edition of any work by Chrétien belongs to a British woman: Lady Charlotte Guest, who produced, in 1838,The Mabinogion, Llyfr Coch o Hergest and Other Ancient Welsh Manuscripts; it contains a quite inaccurate transcription ofYvaintaken from the manuscript Paris, B.N. fr. 12560.¹ Shortly thereafter, in 1841, Adalbert Keller published fragments ofYvainand, three years later, of...


    • 8 Philomena: Brutal Transitions and Courtly Transformations in Chrétien’s Old French Translation
      (pp. 87-102)

      In the Prologue toCligés, the narrator introduces himself as author of a series of works ‘an romans’ [‘in the French vernacular’]: the ‘commandments of Ovid’; ‘the art of love’; the tale of the shoulder bite; the story of King Marc and Iseult la Blonde; and the ‘muance’ or metamorphosis of the hoopoe, the swallow and the nightingale.¹ Like the blurb for a modern book, these opening lines announce the author’s credentials and his literary preoccupations. Chrétien portrays his engagement in a process of textual transmission, known in the Middle Ages astranslatio studii, which involved the ‘translation’ or carrying...

    • 9 Erec et Enide: The First Arthurian Romance
      (pp. 103-119)

      Erec et Enideenjoys pride of place among the works of Chrétien de Troyes and in the history of medieval narrative fiction as well. First among the Champenois poet’s five Arthurian romances, it also marks a new departure in medieval vernacular narrative: it is the first Arthurianromance, in contrast with the earlierromans d’antiquité, the Latin pseudo-chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth, theHistoria regum Britanniae(c. 1137), and its vernacular avatar, theBrutof the Anglo-Norman poet Wace (1155).¹ As regards versification, like Wace’sBrutand such ‘romances of antiquity’ as theRoman de Thebes, theRoman d’Eneas, and...

    • 10 Cligés and the Chansons: A Slave to Love
      (pp. 120-136)

      Chrétien’s versatility was such that each of his romances could be said to stand apart from the others. YetCligésprobably deserves that characterization more than any other, considering its many distinctive features: the prologue vaunting the author’s achievements and the pre-eminence of France’s culture; the distinctive treatment of Arthur (a warrior) and his court (famous, but peripheral at best); the dominance of Byzantium both as background and source material; the existence of two heroes and two heroines; the unusually large proportion of passages devoted to warfare; the near disjunction between prowess and love; the preponderance of supremely rhetorical monologues...

    • 11 Le Chevalier de la Charrette: That Obscure Object of Desire, Lancelot
      (pp. 137-155)

      Lancelot is a name that still reverberates for the modern public with the intensity discernable in his medieval reception from the moment Chrétien’s romance launched him into Arthurian history in the provocative guise of the Knight of the Cart. Efforts to understand what makes him such a compelling figure lead inevitably to the question of desire, Lancelot’s for Guenevere, of course, but also our desire for him, the desires of so many inside and outside the romance world, which Chrétien has crystallized around the hero himself. InLe Chevalier de la Charrette, Lancelot generates a magnetic field of erotic potential...

    • 12 Le Chevalier au Lion: Yvain Lionheart
      (pp. 156-168)

      As King Arthur celebrates Pentecost, one of his knights, Yvain, overhears a cousin, Calogrenant, narrating an adventure in which he had lost face. Yvain at once vows to avenge him and precipitately leaves court for the scene of the adventure, a magic fountain in the forest of Brocéliande. He defeats the defender of the fountain, Esclados le Ros, and pursues the mortally wounded knight to his castle, where he promptly falls in love with the knight’s widow, Laudine, whom he persuades to marry him through the ingenious help of her quick-witted handmaiden Lunete. Nosooner has the wedding taken place than...

    • 13 Le Conte du Graal: Chrétien’s Unfinished Last Romance
      (pp. 169-188)

      Chrétien’s commentary in the prologues and epilogues of his last three romances reveals a shifting perspective with respect to his primary protagonists. In earlier works they are referred to in ways that eventually give rise to eponymous titles: ‘Cil qui fistD’Erec et d’Enide’ [The one who wrote about Erec and Enide],¹ and, in reference toCligés, ‘Un novel conte recomance / D’un vaslet qui an Grece fu / Del linage le roi Artu’, vss 8–10 [begins a new story about a youth descended from King Arthur who lived in Greece], where the metonymic circumlocution reflects the narrator’s plan...


    • 14 The Continuations of the Conte du Graal
      (pp. 191-201)

      Left unfinished, theConte du Graalwas soon provided with its first continuation. The last lines of Chrétien’s romance virtually cry out for a sequel, since the narrative breaks off in mid-episode: a squire, entrusted by Gauvain with a message for Arthur, has just arrived at court in Orcanie. It is easy enough to imagine what is to follow: the happiness of the royal couple when they hear that Gauvain is well and the departure of the court for the Roche de Champguin where Arthur’s nephew is to face Le Guiromelant. However, beyond this imminent turn of events, theConte...

    • 15 Medieval Translations and Adaptations of Chrétien’s Works
      (pp. 202-213)

      Chrétien’s romances enjoyed a huge success almost immediately after being written. They were copied, imitated, transposed, quoted broadly and consistently throughout the thirteenth century in French-speaking domains. Two of them, theChevalier de la Charretteand theConte du Graal, were used extensively (with major adjustments) in the Arthurian prose cycles. The transposition of theCharretteinto the proseLancelotespecially testifies to the perfect familiarity with Chrétien’s romances shared by prose writers and their audiences. But this familiarity also meant that French writers did not try to adapt themstricto sensu

      The situation was quite different outside France, where...

    • 16 Chrétien’s Medieval Influence: From the Grail Quest to the Joy of the Court
      (pp. 214-228)

      From the very beginning ofErec et Enide– ‘Un jor de Pasque, au tens novel, / A Caradigant son chastel / Ot li rois Artus cort tenue’ [One day at Easter, in the new season, King Arthur held court in his castle of Caradigan]¹ – Chrétien de Troyes plunged the Arthurian world, which Geoffrey of Monmouth had conceived in historical terms, into the realm of fiction. The mention of Arthur and his court, the choice of a ‘cyclical’ feast day, the evocation, shortly thereafter, of the unusual custom of the hunt for the white stag, the hierarchical list of the knights...

  8. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 229-234)
  9. Index
    (pp. 235-242)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-246)