Arthurian romances by Chrétien de Troyes, William W. Kibler, Carleton W. Carroll

By Chrétien de Troyes, William W. Kibler, Carleton W. Carroll

Fantastic adventures abound in those courtly romances: Erec and Enide, Cligés, The Knight of the Cart, The Knight with the Lion, and The tale of the Grail.

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Chrétien also informs us in this passage that he composed a poem ‘Del roi Marc et d’Iseut la blonde’. As far as we know, this was the first treatment of that famous Breton legend in French. Chrétien does not tell us whether he had written a full account of the tragic loves of Tristan and Isolde, and scholars today generally agree that he treated only an episode of that legend since Mark’s name, and not Tristan’s, is linked with Isolde’s. But we are none the less permitted to believe that he is in some measure responsible for the subsequent success of that story, as he was to be in large measure for that of King Arthur.

794 and 1450, that contain pseudo-historical accounts of ancient history, to which the Arthurian material was purportedly linked, or in manuscripts containing a wide variety of other courtly romances. His unfinished The Story of the Grail is found most frequently with its verse continuations (see Appendix). From manuscript evidence we know that both The Story of the Grail and The Knight of the Cart were left unfinished by Chrétien. Many believe that he abandoned The Knight of the Cart because he was dissatisfied with the subject matter, which may have been imposed on him by his patroness, Marie de Champagne; and most critics accept that The Story of the Grail was interrupted by Chrétien’s death, or by that of his patron, Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders.

Erec, like the other romances that followed with the exception of Cligés, was arranged around the motif of the quest. In each of his romances Chrétien varied the nature and organization of the central quest. In Erec it is essentially linear and graduated in structure, moving from simple to increasingly complex and meaningful encounters. But already in Erec Chrétien was experimenting with a technique for interrupting the linearity and varying the adventures, a technique he would employ with particular success in The Knight with the Lion and The Story of the Grail, and which would be used extensively in the prose romances: interlacing.

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