What do you feel about the inclusion into adventure stories a love triangle, and why you think it appeared?
What differences does it make to the women in the tales and the knights?
Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart (French: Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette) is an Old French poem by Chrétien de Troyes. Chrétien probably composed the work (in the 1170s) at the same time as or slightly before writing Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, which refers to the action in Lancelot a number of times. The love affair between Guinevere and Lancelot appears for the first time in this poem as does Arthur's court city of Camelot.
The action centers on Lancelot's rescue of the queen after she has been abducted by Meleagant. The Abduction of Guinevere is one of the oldest motifs in Arthurian legend, appearing also in Caradoc of Llancarfan's Life of Gildas and carved on the archivolt in Modena Cathedral. After Chrétien's version became popular, it was incorporated into the Lancelot-Grail Cycle and eventually Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur.
Chrétien says he composed the romance at the behest of Marie, countess of Champagne, the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France and apparently his patroness at the time. There is reason to believe the adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere was invented wholecloth by Chrétien for the poem, but it is possible he found the episode already in whatever source material Marie provided him. The poet did not finish the work himself, leaving Godefroi de Leigni to complete the last thousand lines. There has been much speculation about Chrétien's attitude towards the poem; some scholars suggest he abandoned it because he disapproved of its adulterous subject. Additionally, he may have been uninterested by a tale thrust on him by his patroness, preferring to spend more time on Yvain. There is also speculation as to its relationship to the German Lanzelet by Ulrich von Zatzikhoven, which features the Queen's abduction but not her affair with Lanzelet, and may derive from a version of the story that predates Knight of the Cart.
The context in which Chretien wrote this work is essential in explaining some of its content. The customary legal traditions that are featured so prominently in the work were undergoing a gradual change in the twelfth century. Gratian had earlier written his 'Decretum' which helped to establish a unified canonical law. Secular law too was undergoing codification owing in part to the increasing prevalence of Roman law. Both secular and religious law can be seen in Chrétien’s work, particularly in Lancelot’s mounting of the cart and his adherence to the courtly ideals. It is particularly important to recognize the customary nature of the law that caused Lancelot to mount the cart and the decreasing prevalence of such law in Chrétien’s time.
Courtly love or "fin’ amours" was coined by the medievalist Gaston Paris in 1883 to help understand the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere in "Lancelot ou le chevalier de la cherrete." "Paris defined courtly love principally from the male lover's perspective an illicit, furtive, and extraconjecjugal liaison that placed the lover in the service of and at the mercy of a haughty and capricious lady" (Burns 28). Therefore, to define Lancelot's behavior as representative of that within the tradition of "courtly love" becomes circular. An important distinction is made between "fin’ amours" as depicted by the Troubadours of in the Occitan dialect of southern France from "amour courtois" in what is known as "Old French," coming from the literature of Northern provinces. There exists some debate as to whether the examples set by Lancelot, and others in this tradition, were actually in practice at medieval courts. One side maintains this practice did exist and the other believes that "courtly love" is a construction of the Romantics and, at best, a game to be taken lightly in medieval courts. This position can be evidenced by Chretien's treatment of the ideal in "The Knight of the Cart."
Grant, Edward. “Reason Asserts Itself: The Challenge to Authority in the Early Middle Ages to 1200.” God and Reason in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2001, 78-79
Colman, Rebecca V. “Reason and Unreason in Early Medieval Law.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4 (Spring, 1974)573-575
Chrétien de Troyes; Owen, D. D. R. (translator) (1988). Arthurian Romances. New York: Everyman's Library. ISBN 0-460-87389-X.
Colman, Rebecca V. “Reason and Unreason in Early Medieval Law.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4 (Spring, 1974):571-591.
Grant, Edward. “Reason Asserts Itself: The Challenge to Authority in the Early Middle Ages to 1200.” God and Reason in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2001. ISBN 0521003377
Lacy, Norris J. (1991). "Chrétien de Troyes". In Norris J. Lacy, The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, pp. 88–91. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
Roquebert, Michel. "Les cathares et le Graal". ISBN 10: 2708953796 ISBN 13: 9782708953796
Hopkins, Andrea. "The Book of Courtly Love: The Passionate Code of the Troubadours". San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. ISBN 0-06-251115-7.
Condren, Edward I. "The Paradox of Chrétien's Lancelot." MLN (May, 1970): 434-453
Paris, Gaston. "Lancelot du Lac, II:Conte de la charrette." Romania 12(1883): 459-534
Burns, E. Jane. "Courtly Love: Who Needs It? Recent Feminist Work in the Medieval French Tradition." Signs 27.1 (2001): 23-57.
Chretien de Troyes. Arthurian Romances. Trans. William W. Kibler and Carleton W. Carroll. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.
The twentieth century and its aftermath have provoked new needs and wants in society. Worldwide wars and clashes of political, social and religious philosophies and the ethics of leadership have greatly impacted on people living today. In this environment, a belief in the capacity of mankind to govern itself with dignity at all levels - from the individual up to nations and beyond - is a powerful motive to reach out to the honourable Arthur and his court, but with the added requirement for hard evidence to back it up.
Two trends appear in contemporary times. One is the development of fantastic and magical themes based firmly or loosely on the Arthurian legend. Here we find T. H. White's 'Once and Future King' published in 1958, the Arthurian literary work of the twentieth century. Marion Zimmer Bradley's 'Mists of Avalon' series (1983-91) explores the conflict between Christianity and neo-paganism. Here also we find the thematic basis of epic quest fantasies such as Tolkein's 'Lord of the Rings' (1954-5), Moorcock's concept of the 'Eternal Champion' such as 'Elric' (1961-5), Eddings' guided prophesy in the 'Belgariad/Malloreon' cycle (1982-91) and Stan Lee's noble leadership in the 'X-men' comics (1963+). The other trend is the development of credible historical enquiries into the Dark Ages including the identity of King Arthur. Investigations at Cadbury hillfort and Tintagel sparked both credibility and a demand for rationality in Dark Age archaeology (Beihl 1991); critical analyses of medieval documents have been prepared, such as described in 'Historical Arthur'. At once these paired developments reflect the twentieth century desire for 'scientific truth' conjoined with a requirement for a 'mystical dimension' to provide meaning to the mundane.
The Arthurian literature has burgeoned. As a simple illustration, a list of approximately 150 novels based on Arthurian characters and themes is provided by the University of Great Falls for its Arthurian Legends subject (Bobbitt 2005). The advent of the internet has given rise to a profusion of websites, discussion groups and on-line journals devoted to Arthurian material - the annotated weblinks provided on this site provide an insight to this phenomenon.
A useful milepost for the opening of modern Arthurian literature is the publication of 'The Idylls of the King' by Lord Alfred Tennyson, appointed poet laureate in 1850. His heroic poems were a reworking of Malory, in which each of the characters or events were written as Idylls that helped the nineteenth century reader grasp the epic's great moral themes (Alfred Tennyson by Andrew Lang 1844-1912). In the twentieth century, following the advent of the Cold War, T.H. White produced 'The Once and Future King' (1958). Written at a time when the leadership of nations and the motives for war had been sorely tested over a sustained period, White "uses the Arthurian legend to illustrate a historical pride of England (and) uses this view to expose faults in contemporary society (and) sees that the Arthurian legend is not so much the glorification of one man, but the basis and backbone of an entire country" (Latil 1997). This work serves as the twentieth century's contribution to Arthurian legend, a timely reflection of the timeless theme of leadership and national identity.
Films and television productions relating the Arthurian legend were greatly affected by White, and the visual media have yielded The Sword in the Stone (1963), Camelot (1967), Merlin (1976), Excalibur (1981), The Fisher King (1991), First Knight (1995), The Mists of Avalon (2001) and King Arthur (2004). At the time King Arthur (2004) was in post-production, a review of that movie (Houston n.d) examined the impetus behind the prolific Arthurian story-telling, the "wonderful mixing of magic, God, and kingly power".
White's Arthurian cycle comprises five books (Nevitt 1996), the first four bound as 'The Once and Future King'. 'The Sword in the Stone'is about Arthur's childhood, his tutelage by Merlyn, the coming of his kingship and rivalry with Lot; 'The Queen of Air and Darkness', concerns the rival house of King Lot, his wife Morgause, and sons who love their mother despite her evil; 'The Ill-Made Knight' concerns Lancelot and his love dilemma involving Guenever, Arthur's young wife; 'The Candle in the Wind' follows Arthur's bastard son, Mordred, who comes to Camelot with the purpose of bring about Arthur's downfall, manipulating the unresolved love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot and Guenever. The plotting brings about a war that no one wants except Mordred, and the book ends on the battle's eve. 'The Once and Future King' finishes here. Then as now, the reader is confronted with the inevitability of war as the consequence of a lack of vigilance, thoughtless selfish actions and the manipulation of circumstances by ill-doers. The last book, 'The Book of Merlyn', is a separate volume in which Arthur is revisited by Merlyn together with a host of magical animals from his now distant childhood; it is book about hindsight.
Romances of Arthur
The Legend of Arthur became widely distributed across Europe during the twelfth century and inspired writers across the continent. In 1155, Wace opened the second half of the twelfth century with his poetic version of Geoffrey's Historia, introducing medieval concepts and formalising Arthur's court. The elaboration of the Arthurian history and its literary development into the Arthurian Romance can be traced (Phillips and Keatman 1992, pp.10, 202-203) by the stepwise addition of content, concepts and style through the following century. Already from the works of Geoffrey and Wace had Arthur's magical sword, the mystical Isle of Avalon, Merlin the magician, Arthur's beautiful wife Guinevere and steadfast knight Gawain become integral to the stories; as the romances developed so too did the Arthur's entourage burgeon.
Chrétien de Troyes wrote five Arthurian stories in France between 1160 and 1180 (Comfort 1914). In this period in France the romance genre was replacing the older heroic epic as the favourite form of entertainment among the aristocracy. Classical antiquities such as the Aenead and the Iliad were being transformed to long poetic chivalric adventure tales and in this environment the stories of Arthur and the marvellous Celtic world came to grip the imagination of both audience and author alike (Owen 1975). In these Arthurian Romances were introduced the characters Perceval and Lancelot of the Lake, who appear to be based on folk-heroes from France (Phillips and Keatman 1992, p.33), and Camelot as the name of Arthur's court made its appearance.
Robert de Boron of Burgundy wrote an Arthurian trilogy in the late 1190s that interpolated into the Arthurian romances the powerful theme of the Holy Grail, firing the imagination with the presence of the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper. Layamon shortly afterwards rendered the Arthurian story into English and transformed Arthur to immortality with the promise of his return from the Isle of Avalon. The Arthur stories entered into German around the same time with two poems by Hartmann von Aue (1200) and Wolfram von Eschenbach's epic, Parzival (1205), and by the centenary of Geoffrey's Historia in 1235, an Arthurian compilation called the Vulgate Cycle had been prepared.
The Arthurian Romances remained popular throughout medieval Europe, with Arthur the feudal king resident in castle Camelot with his Lady Guinevere and his knights in shining armour. In 1470 Sir Thomas Malory completed his Le Morte d'Arthur (Vinaver 1971; Cowen 1969). With this work a new style was developed in the telling of the Arthurian stories, for the earlier romances that were written as an ever unfolding and inter-relating poetic 'tapestry' were broken into a series of self-contained readable and intelligible prose stories (Vinaver 1971). The transition of style was accompanied with the technological development of the printing press, and in 1485 Le Morte Darthur was published as a series of twenty-one books by Caxton to celebrate 'King Arthur, which ought moost to be remembred emonge us Englysshemen tofore al other Crysten kynges' (Vinaver 1971, p. vi; Cowen 1969, p. 3).
Throughout the Arthurian Romances endured the theme of love and its consequences; of the values placed on honour and loyalty and the devastation wrought upon the kingdom by its betrayal, 'Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world' (Lawlor 1969). The Arthurian Romances concern the human condition, and of the need for vigilance in our actions, and for this the Romances endure. Caxton made this clear in his preface to Malory (Cowen 1969, p. 4), 'Do after good and leave the evil ... beware that we fall not to vice ne sin, but to exercise and follow virtue'. That these themes were true to the individual as they were to the survival of nations was exemplified by the fate of the vaguely known yet 'excellent king, King Arthur, sometime king of this noble realm, then called Britain'. The great but doomed kingdom, lost in the dark past, once held and will always hold the lessons we must never forget.
The Time and Place
Arthur is remembered in legend as a great Celtic leader who fought against the Saxon invaders of Britain in the Dark Ages. But what does this mean? What was Britain like in that time and how did the people think, live and believe? Above all, what were they fighting for - what were they defending?
Britain flourished as a Celtic land for centuries in the first millennium BC, and shared with the other Celtic lands of Europe an extensive trade with the Mediterranean. The rise of Rome and its Empire saw the Celtic world subsumed, and Britain suffered first incursion by Caesar in 55BC, then invasion in AD49 and the foundation of Roman Britain. That transition was traumatic and deadly - the revolt of Boudica stands testament to this time (In Boudica's footsteps 2002) - but once established provided four centuries of development to Britain as an integral province of the Empire. Trade, commerce and urbanised life became the way of life for the British in the empire. Towns and cities grew, and beyond them the villas where grain and cattle were managed.
After centuries of dominance, the threat of invasion on the Empire was felt in Britain as it was elsewhere - particularly from Germanic tribes to the east and Pictish tribes to the north. Strong defences were prepared along the coast in the south and east (Richmond 1963, p.60), and Germanic foederati - hired forces - were employed in the defence of the province (Snyder 1997; Wacher 1975, p.413), but around AD410 Roman rule was withdrawn (Ellis 2003, p. 218; Greene, 2001) and the province was open to attack. Saxons from the north of Germany were ready to take Britain and make it their own, but an attack of deadly consequence also came from disease and in the fifth century the towns and cities of Britain became afflicted by an epidemic introduced from the Mediterranean around AD443-5 (Edens 2003) through trade routes and causing devastation in the towns such that "the majority of the towns had ceased to function by the middle of the fifth century" (Wacher 1975, p. 421). The defendable towns became death-traps and the Saxons invaded the south-east, with a pattern of occupation indicating the avoidance of the towns - and disease - and the destruction of the villas to deny supply: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to the "worthlessness of the Britons and the excellence of their land" (Killings, 1996).
In the west lay a solution to the British dilemma - the south east saw the abandonment of the Romano-British culture (Wacher 1975, p.413) and Viroconium, at the western end of Watling Street, was refurbished (Phillips and Keatman 1992, p. 142). Iron Age hill forts were also refortified as strongholds (Snyder 1997; Wilmott 2002), while many nearby towns left in a state of decay or desertion (Wacher 1975, p. 416). The famous 'Cadbury Hill' in Somerset is an exemplar of a re-occupied hill-fort (Ashe 1995, p.4) as highlighted by the excavations (Alcock 1995; Green 1998). These settlements remained defendable and provided a place to regroup and defend. In the west a new Celtic landscape was developed by the people of Britain. From here they readied themselves to retain what was theirs - their lands, their culture and their heritage - and defeat the advancing Saxons. Here, in the real chance of success, rose legendary Arthur.