This was an invited talk for the Maynooth Medieval and Renaissance Forum (NUI Maynooth, 2009). It was long. It’s OK, it was meant to be and that was what was requested, that was the form and format. It includes a lot of words and a lot of wordiness about these words, because it’s a close reading. Mainly of what Gaston Paris has to say—that being the point and purpose—but also a fair amount of what Chrétien de Troyes has to say.
(And not because I talked too much, for too long, and people failed to shut me up: I do not do that because it is mean, rude, obnoxious, arrogant, inconsiderate, disrespectful, and a disgrace to The Profession. Also because I despise people who go over time. And people who talk badly. And people whose idea of a “talk” is to read out a written paper that was meant/written for, you know, solitary silent reading; that having been said, the piece below is somewhere between my (then) Super-Formal-Serious For Reading style, and my For Talking To/With Other People style. And though I get grumpy about this sort of thing—especially given the physical pain of having to sit still, ideally on a badly-designed chair, through a bad talk badly delivered—I am not a complete misanthrope, I do like some human beings.)
The eponymous hero of Chrétien’s Lancelot / Le Chevalier de la charrette has previously been interpreted as perfect knight, perfect lover, both, and neither; fatally flawed, supremely human, or both; and a problematic and downright troubling representative / representation of a courtly ideal. While “courtly love” will become the topic of a long-running modern literary debate – with an ever-growing field of enquiry – its origins and the first modern expression of the idea lie with the Lancelot and its immediate contemporary cultural context: the essay that sparked the debate being “Études sur les romans de la Table Ronde: Lancelot” by Gaston Paris, in Romania 12 (1883). Over the last 125 years, Paris’ work has suffered misreading, rereading, and rejection; but is currently in process of rehabilitation, by Karl D. Uitti through the 1980s, and with Ursula Bähler’s Gaston Paris et la philologie romane (Paris: Droz 2004) – well-received and much-reviewed over the last three years.
This paper is a reading of Paris’s essay and of Chrétien’s Lancelot, so as to ascertain what truths may be recovered or discovered from primary sources and first principles. A second intention is showing where the “courtly love debate” now stands. Having been tied to developments in various theoretical -isms along its historical course, Medieval literary criticism is returning now to its sources but in a renewed state as “New Philology” and, indeed, even influencing the mainstream of literary theory.
The main part of this paper examines courtly love in Chrétien’s Lancelot: instances thereof, its different types of expression, and analysis and interpretation in the light of contemporary intertextual context, bearing in mind a multilingual literary culture. The reading refers particularly to Occitan influences (canso, tenso, novas – especially the judici d’amors), and investigates how far the idea of love in the Lancelot signals a biculturalism that has moved into full cultural infusion and conflation. An epilogue in guise of conclusion shows how the idea of courtly love next evolves (in French romance, but with its main continuations being in Catalan poetry). (more…)