week 2: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

week 2: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

Number of replies: 19

By many scholars Chrétien is recognized as the inventor of Arthurian romance and Yvain is in many ways typical of his corpus. Some 150 years later Yvain was rendered into Middle English as Iwaine and Gawaine.
We will use a selection of corresponding passages from the French and the Middle English version to explore the core concerns of romance in general, as well as the differences in approach between Chrétien and his English "translator" (to a large extent representative of the distinction between "classical" French and English romance in general). The selected passages comprise about a quarter of the entire text.

  • I suggest you start with the plot summary to form a general idea of "what goes on and what's at stake" in the tale as a whole.
  • Then I'd like to ask you to read the first part of the English material - the build-up towards the actual Yvain story.
    You can take this as an account of a "generic knightly adventure", a foil to what happens later. Try to list your general impressions as regards dominant themes, motifs, the ways the events are presented... Choose those that you find most noteworthy for the forum, keep track of the rest for the online session.
  • Next, I'd like to ask you to compare the passages highlighted in blue in the English material with the corresponding passages in Chrétien.
    I give you two versions of translation, poetic and prosaic, to cater for diverse tastes ;-)
    1) the first, introductory passage - on Arthur, his knights, his time etc.: do the two versions emphasise the same things? If not, what's the respective emphasis in each?
    2) the central passage - Yvain coming to terms with Alundine;
        I suppose we will get here in the realm of value judgment: in your reading, is what the English version performs a streamlining or a reduction?
        How do the two versions (French/English) read? Try to describe what you value and/or dislike about either. Considering their differences, what effect or goal are they, in your opinion, respectively after?
In reply to First post

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Liana Marie Ellegate -
The introductory passage for this text is exciting and exactly what I think of when I picture an Arthurian Romance tale - it has the magical elements, the adventures for honour, the loyalty to the fellowship, and above all the display of chivalric love for the lady that becomes the object of Ywain’s affections (as well as general respect for the other maidens in the tale). As was detailed in Pearsall’s article, this introductory part of the story includes many of the key elements that identify the genre - the main themes I noted were the importance of truthfulness, an emphasis on loyalty and honour, the role love plays in guiding the actions of the characters, the adventures with the purpose of proving the knight’s honour/prowess, and the chivalric code in regard to the knights’ interactions with women. As the story continues on I think it is particularly important to keep in mind the themes of the chivalric code, love, and loyalty/truthfulness as these guide Ywain’s adventures.
Moving on to the discussion of the comparison between the English and the French, both versions start out by describing Arthur and his knights. The English version seems to focus more on the renown of Arthur’s name, and does mention the same message - that being that truth and love no longer exist in such a pure form as they did in the time of the famous knights of Arthur’s court - but it uses less damning language to do so. Instead, the overall message is portrayed in more positive terms, focusing on the positive legacy of Arthur’s knights. The French version explicitly calls out the people talking on topics they have no personal experience of, and even goes so far as to refer to them as ‘living villains’ before redirecting the focus to the honourable knights of times past.
Regarding the versions overall, I don’t particularly feel that the English version is a streamlining or reduction of the tale. It presents the tale in a different light, but ultimately communicates many of the same details. (Note: I am going to compare the poetic translation and the English as I feel the poetic wording is an important support for the emotional understanding of/connection to the tale.) I feel the French includes a bit more depth, and the wording/presentation enhances the story in a different way than the presentation of the English text does. The English does stay true to keeping some of the artistic presentation, but I feel the French text better shows the importance of the theme of love throughout. If I had to state a difference between the goals of the stories from my perception of their respective presentations, I would say that the French perhaps delves more into the emotional development of the driving force of love, whereas the English is a bit more reserved on that topic and focuses more prominently on chivalric duty/honour as a driving force. The love is there as a theme in both, but to me personally it comes across more prominently in the French version.
In reply to Liana Marie Ellegate

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Valeriia Kliuieva -
I agree on many aspects.
Additionally: the English version starts with the mentioning of the God and he is mentioned in later passages, while the French translation spares it (maybe somehow connected to the use of the damning language, but I might be mistaken).
One of the important, in my opinion, moments of the romance is breaking the promise by Ywaine (similar element is present, for example, in the romance "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"), with the following restoring of the balance.
In reply to Liana Marie Ellegate

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Ivana Turusová -
I also agree with what you say. My first thought about this epic poem was – it is a perfect example of a High Middle Age romance. The story contains a king, a heroic knight, a fight of honor, fair maidens and love as big as the universe. I do believe that honor and love are the most important themes. The honor is presented in many ways – Sir Ywain’s determination to avenge the honor of a humiliated friend, Lunet’s decision to behave honorably and repay Sir Ywain’s attention, Alundyne’s refusal to marry Sir Ywain at first because that would dishonor her dead husband. Or, I wonder if we could say that all of these examples are rather examples of loyalty. Honor and loyalty are two completely different values for me, yet in this story they seem almost interchangeable.
The author definitely puts forward a lot of good qualities of a person as you mentioned, and surprisingly it reminded me here and there of a fairy tale - a heroic and loyal knight fights the enemy who humiliated his friend, wins and when he finds himself in trouble, a warm-hearted maiden (who almost has a role of a fairy godmother) helps him to escape punishment an win the heart of a lady he fell in love with, with a kingdom on top of that. In the excerpt, those who seems to be an enemy of some sort get punished - Sir Ywain mortally wounds the former king for humiliating Sir Colgrevance and also unhorses Sir Kay for his mockery.
To compare the introductions, I don't see many differences concerning the poems. I feel like the English version praises the king a little bit more than the French one (which focuses on virtues of people overall). With the prosaic version, it seemed to me a little bit distant, like it told the same story but without engaging the real emotions that were expressed in the poemic versions, it didn't catch my attention as much as the poems. To be honest, that was a proof for me that the Arthurian romances should remain in the form of a poem since they affect me in greater depth.
In reply to Ivana Turusová

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Valeriia Kliuieva -
It is not surprising, that you have discovered there qualities of a fairy-tale, it is quite to expect, because those are features of a typical romance, the ones you have listed. It is already not as deathly dangerous, as epic, and, unlike epic, it contains love which is depicted in this exaggerated way, with reducing a lady to the perfect qualities you can imagine etc.
I indeed agree with you on the prosaic version being a bit distant, but this is normally due to the prose and word choice.
In reply to Ivana Turusová

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Helena Znojemská -
Two points I'd like to react to:
1) the linking of honour and loyalty - could we say that this means that there is a rather larger social aspect in a knight's sense of integrity than the individual focus (emphatically Ywain's personal maturation) would lead us to expect? This is related to Pearsall's characterization of Arthurian romance in general and Chrétien's Yvain in particular.
2) what seems to challenge your assessment of the form of romance is the wholesale shift of the genre from verse to prose in the 13th (France) and subsequent centuries (elsewhere). But you are right that both Chrétien and the Middle English poem virtually carry you forward with the speedy pace of the verse.
In reply to Liana Marie Ellegate

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Helena Znojemská -
Thank you, Liana, for your commentary.
I have to say, though, that I got a bit lost as to what specific passage you were commenting on when you referred to the "introductory passage" - was it the general introduction setting the scene in Arthur's court, or also the account of Calogrenant's adventure?
The magical elements would suggest the latter, but what you write about the central role being given to the issues of honour and "truth", integrity, seems to point to the former. Finally, the issue of chivalric love only comes to the fore with Yvain, and especially his journey of repentance and regeneration - love doesn't play a role in either Calogrenant's adventure or the initial stage of that of Ywain.
I absolutely agree with your observation that the French source focuses more centrally on love - we can see that already in the introductory passage, where the talk, in the English Arthur's court, is about valour and prowess, while it is specifically about love in the French.
In reply to Helena Znojemská

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Liana Marie Ellegate -
I am sorry for the confusion - I should have labeled it more clearly. I was referring to the summary and the lead up to Ywain's adventures in the English version as those were the first things I read. I definitely should have separated my reactions better. Chivalric love absolutely only applies to Ywain - looking back I put 'chivalric code guiding the knights' interactions' as a more general statement because of the end of the summary where Gawain also agrees to be a champion for a lady in battle to protect her interests, so I meant it in the way of his actions being chivalric in their goal to protect and honour the lady but not necessarily in the context of love.
In reply to Liana Marie Ellegate

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Helena Znojemská -

OK, thanks for the clarification - yes, that makes perfect sense.

In reply to First post

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Michaela Válková -
I agree with Liana that the English material gives an impression of an Arthurian Romance tale. The themes are those of honour, revenge and love. Honour seems to be the main driving force behind all male characters’ decisions. At the beginning, Sir Colgrevance gets himself into trouble because he goes searching for adventures which lead him to battle the knight who defeats him. It was his search for adventures through which he was supposed to gain honour and respect that brought him his misfortune.

Sir Ywain embarks on his quest purely for the purpose of avenging his cousin. The need to bring back honour to his family forces him to seek the knight who defeated Sir Colgrevance and fight him himself. He does so and he wins, earning the honour and respect. This leads to the most intriguing part of the story: the love story resulting in Ywain’s marriage. What we would consider to be a romance tale today would probably be a story between Ywain and Lunet. Lunet is the one risking her life protecting Ywain. However, it is Alundyne, the lady of the castle, who Ywain marries in the end. The hierarchy and responsibility seem to be the actual driving force, not romantic love. Alundyne does not marry Ywain because she would be taken by him; she seems to do so as he would be a good match to help her defend her lands and people against Arthur. Possibly the strangest moment is when Lunet is persuading Alundyne to marry Ywain by telling her that he is a better man than her late husband because he was the one to defeat him.

“Do you believe that the flower of chivalry died and was buried
with your lord?
God forbid!
There are others as good and better.”

This short passage, which seemed almost ironic to my modern self, seems to show that honour and responsibility were valued above love in the first part of the tale.

Concerning the ways the events were presented, I found the stories within a story format interesting. We find ourself in front of the Arthur’s chamber only to be taken on an adventure by Sir Colgrevance. Then, we find ourselves back in the present, but the action moves forward thanks to the story we have just been told.

To compare the two texts (I have chosen the prosaic translation), the French text seems to be more focused on love as we know it whilst the English one emphasises mainly duty and honour. However, the characters in both versions do not differ that much: Ywain represents a valiant knight in both of them. One more element I enjoyed in both texts was the interaction between Alundyne and Lunet which were not filled with pathos but rather with rational discussion on how to deal with their current situation.
In reply to Michaela Válková

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Jáchym Hájek -

I agree with Michaela on many of the key elements, and I would also add that relating to honour and chivalry, it is those virtues that set the story in motion as well, because they are what compels Sir Colgrevance to go on with his story, lest he insult the Queen. He is shown very much unwilling to continue with a story of his own defeat in front of her, but Kay's merciless remarks compell him to go on, to stay truthful and honourable.

Ad honour, however: Ywain breaks his promise, as we've learnt in the summary, but so does Lady Alundyne at first, becoming angry with Lunet when she promised not to, although she changes her ways quickly so the main point of the promise, her love for Lunet, remains upheld. It was, in any way, an interesting tiny bit of the story and, much like Michaela, it made me consider Lunet as a love interest for Ywain, much more, as she seems at times more honest and honourable than Alundyne.

Something I've found rather curious was the character of the gamekeeper. I was surprised to see him being rather helpful to Sir Colgrevance and apparently Ywain, too, as so much emphasis is put on his ugliness and, as is often the case with romances or fairy-tales, which can share certain elements, such ugliness usually equals a degree of evil. This, however, does not seem to be the case here, unless we consider him attempting to get the knights to fight.

I absolutely agree with the comparison between the two texts, and it was also interesting how the French text glosses over some of the things that were more prominent in the English one, and then dwells for much longer on other passages - for example the fight scene between Ywain and the knight seemef to me longer in the French text, focusing on different aspects of the fight itself and making it much more alive with the description of the fierceness of it, and also the scene with the portculis trapping Ywain was very different - and slightly more judgmental towards Ywain for charging so quickly into the enemy territory, where the English text praised him for his bravery.

In reply to Jáchym Hájek

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Helena Znojemská -
Good point about the gamekeeper, Jáchym - has anyone else considered his role in the plot?
In reply to Michaela Válková

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Helena Znojemská -
Just one question to what you suggest, Michaela: is Alundyne's motivation in marrying Ywain treated differently in the English and the French version (I'm alluding to the marginal role of love and emotions in general in Alundyne's decision as you describe it)?
In reply to First post

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Adéla Zeimannová -
The introduction feels like a traditional beginning of a romance. It introduces the main heroes and their companions using usual characteristics of romance narratives, like chivalry, honor, heroism, and love. Arthur is hailed as the greatest king of all, surrounded by his loyal knights who are more courteous and chivalrous than the rest. However, not much of their actual deeds is said in the introduction and most of the events, deeds and behavior are presented as facts.

To compare the English and the French versions, the French one seems to emphasize the virtues that Arthur and the knights possess, like courtesy, bravery, generosity, and honor. These are in the author’s words qualities that many now talk of but do not have and only falsely boast about. He criticizes this and highlights the knights’ greatness in comparison. The English version is very similar but not as critical and seems to highlight Arthur and his deeds more, in addition to mentioning the names of Ywain and Gawain, emphasizing their position in the story. Also, as Liana pointed out, it seems that the French version seems to present love as a motivation for the heroic deeds while the English one focuses on the heroic deeds themselves, highlighting chivalry and bravery.

In general, the English version seems to be more simplified, the author omits longer descriptions, resigning to just a few lines, while Chrétien gives detailed accounts of the characters, of their feelings, of the battle itself (the English version describes the battle in a ruffly 23 lines while Chrétien writes around 58 lines to describe the same scene.) It seems that the English version is changed to cater to its audience, highlighting the supernatural elements (the description of the giant or the appearance of the knight by casting water on a stone which prompts a great storm) and simplifying or omitting long descriptions of settings, characters’ looks etc. I agree with others that the French version seems to highlight courtly love and generally seems to use more stylistic devices, catering to the French audience who were probably used to more sophisticated stories.
In reply to Adéla Zeimannová

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Helena Znojemská -
Okay, Adéla, so that would seem to suggest you see the English version as a reduction of the French source, leaving out the "fancy stuff" and focusing largely on the plot, am I right?
In reply to First post

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Kateřina Mudrová -

As has been mentioned above, the text is an excellent representation of the core features of (Arthurian romance). The story begins at the court (and goes a full circle, ending back where it began) at the moment of a great feast (often specifically Pentecost) and the plot is initiated by a telling of a story. All characters are adorned with the characteristic praised in social circles based around chivalry. The king and his knights are wise, brave, loyal and ready to risk their lives for their king or a lady in distress, but as we see in the case of Ywain, also to simply prove their worth. The primary virtue which guides the behaviour of the knights is honour (and a resulting need to keep any promise given or avenge any insult against themselves and those close to them). The motif of a castle or a chapel in the middle of wilderness is not uncommon in Arthurian romance, as well as the combat with its mysterious master and a the knight’s subsequent romantic interest in its lady (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). The motif of mysterious wanderer (or other creature) who navigates the knight as well as the magic elements, namely a protective item given by a lady in secret, can also be listed as one of the traditional motives of romance.

Between the English version and prose Chretién, the earlier gives a general, yet quite detailed introduction to the court, presenting the “Arthurian era” as one the reader should look up to, but not necessarily one vastly superior to the author’s present, while he also pities the general abandonment of courtly love and the associated values (“for truth and love are lost, and men practice another craft”). The French version (of the intro), on the other hand, aims to be overtly instructive. The introduction skips over the vast majority of the opening episode and instead, focuses explicitly on pointing out the decline in morals and values. We learn nothing of Calogrenant telling of his tale, instead, we skip straight into the moment when Ywain sets out to avenge him. The opening section is narrated in a way suggesting the reader already knows the outline of the story.

Concerning the later passage, while the storyline remaining largely the same, in the French version, it is secondary to the emotional life of Ywain and the lady. The narrator expands not only on the lady’s  grief, but primarily on Ywain’s frustrated love, elaborating on his inner thoughts and using every single instance he appears to express how unbearably love-sick the knight is. Probably the most interesting difference is the lady’s change of heart/mind after the confrontation with Lunet (including the lady’s argument with herself). While in the English version, the change seems to be a result of considering what would be the most reasonable next step for a widow in her position, the French version illustrates a much more unlikely and drastic change (Thus, by her own arguments she succeeds in discovering justice, reason, and common sense, […] and by her own efforts she kindles her love). The prose Chretién version, overall, seems expanded in terms of emotional depth of the main protagonists’ and the core story of Ywain itself, instead of digressing from the story to discuss details about the Arthurian court. The language and structure of the opening section, as well as Ywain’s journey to the castle are notably simplified, allowing the “love-story” play the prime, as was suggested by the introduction.

 
In reply to Kateřina Mudrová

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Helena Znojemská -
I have to correct one important misperception - the bits from Chrétien are only selected scenes designed to illustrate the differences in the TELLING rather than the STORY between the French source and the English redaction. To give the whole of Chr´étien - even if so far we've only looked at the first part of the romance - would just be too much; his version is twice the length of the English text.
I put this as a suggestion for general discussion (during the online session) - did you see more of psychological acuteness (to use Pearsall's phrase) or of potential irony in Chrétien's account of Yvain's and Laudine's meditations on their "impossible" love? How did it read?
And did you think why the English version refrains from exploring Alundyne's falling in love with Ywain?
In reply to First post

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Valeriia Kliuieva -
Some brief thoughts:
While comparing English version to French, I got a feeling that English one resembles an epic. It is indeed more dedicated to the deeds, than the French one, where another aspect lies in the focus. Which is not a surprise, for Chretien usually emphasized emotions, one of the reasons he was popular.
It is a free translation (which is quite typical for the time) and therefore some passages sound completely differently.
“She spoke to him graciously: “Sir, by St Michael, this is poor lodging! Your life is in danger, for you have slain my lord.”
vs.
“When she saw my Lord Yvain She was also dismayed at first: ‘Surely, sir knight, this is the worst Time’ she said,’ to enter here. If any other should appear You will be done to death, For my lord breathes his last breath, And you it is that wrought the deed.”
Overall, the French version is way more poetic (meaning, it uses more tropes), and the passages are sometimes extended to a great length.
At the same time, one finds “My Lord Yvain” in the French version, that gives a feeling of a concern of the author or some kind of sympathy towards the main character (but I might be reading too much from it).

A woman gives him a magical object to save his life - this is not unusual for romances, maybe here is also stands for the power of woman (like e.g. in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight")
In reply to First post

Re: Chrétien and its English redaction - the concerns of romance

by Simona Sailerová -
Apart from what has already been mentioned, the English introduction adds a reflection on storytelling and truthfulness – the current tales that men tell are just empty words that sound good but are not based on reality, whereas old tales are claimed to be truthful. Colgrevance also begins his tale with a reflection on storytelling but instead of speaking/writing he focuses on the audience and the part they play when a story is told. He himself is the narrator of his own story and, presumably, is trustworthy, but he also makes demands on his audience and stipulates his conditions for telling his tale: “If you will listen to me | with understanding hearts and ears, | I will tell you tidings…” [138-140]. He adds that “words fare as does the wind | unless men bind them in their heart” [143-4] etc. Chrétien is even more elaborate on this point, emphasizing the need for genuine understanding. This is what he criticizes in the introduction: because chivalric values (being courteous, brave, generous, honourable) have been mostly deserted at his time, it is not possible to truly understand love. Therefore, when men speak of it, they make a mockery of it because they do not know what it really is. The lack of truth in words is simply a consequence of the lack of understanding. The English introduction does not make this connection explicit and it suggests a deliberate deception rather than ignorance: “They use words to make things seem | true and stable, but it is all but fable” [37-8].