Chrétien de Troyes
ChrÉtien de Troyes
A Writer of Romance.
Chrétien de Troyes is the best known of the writers of Arthurian quest romances, especially those telling the love story of Lancelot and Queen Guinevere. He is one of the few early medieval authors whose name has independent corroboration. Nothing is known of his early life and connections, except that he mentions that Marie de Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, was a patron who provided him with elements of the story of Lancelot and the Cart, and that the count of Flanders, Philippe d'Alsace, provided him with the narrative elements of his Grail story. Chrétien was a popular author in his own time and after, with anywhere from seven manuscripts of his shorter romances to fifteen of his Grail story surviving, an unusually high number for a secular author.
Arthurian and Antique Subjects.
Chrétien's works include Erec et Eneide; possibly the "antique" Philomena from Ovid's Metamorphoses and some adaptations of Ovid's two treatises on love; Cligès, a romance with an Eastern or Byzantine theme; Lancelot, Yvain or the Knight of the Lion, and Perceval or the Conte de Graal. A work sometimes attributed to him was a saint's life called Guillaume d'Angleterre. As medieval romances go, most of Chrétien's works are relatively short at about 7,000 lines (the Graal is about 10,000 lines) and though episodic, have more shape than many examples of the genre. Chrétien's poems were adapted or translated by writers of later romances and serve as the genesis of the Arthurian romance down through its final phase in the work of the Englishman Sir Thomas Malory.
Chrétien is one of the first medieval "self-conscious" authors, writing prologues for his romances in which he comments on his works in the style that is later associated with Dante's Vita Nuova. He often enters into the narratives, remarking on characters and actions as well, and even speaks of the structural elements of romance. His poems explore chivalric values, "mésure" (measure or balance in human behavior), and the inevitable conflict between love and the quest for los or pris (chivalric reputation). This is especially evident in the Arthurian romance Yvain or the Knight of the Lion, built on the motif of the "rash vow." Yvain kills Esclados the Red, the husband of Laudine de Landuc, in combat by a mysterious spring in the forest. Falling in love with the new widow, he wins her hand and marries her. But his companion Gawain persuades him to leave his new bride and go in search of adventure at tournaments. He vows to his wife he will return in one year but fails, and she repudiates him. He then goes mad in the forest, where he meets a helpful lion. Eventually, he wins Laudine back, but the poem points up well the difficulties and conflicts between domesticity with a beloved and the attractions of knight errantry.
Jean Frappier, Chrétien de Troyes, the Man and His Work.
Trans. Raymond Cormier (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1982).
Norris J. Lacy, The Craft of Chrétien de Troyes; An Essay on Narrative Art (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1980).
Leslie T. Topsfield, Chrétien de Troyes; A Study of the Arthurian Romances (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1981).