Background Information on
Chrétien de Troyes's Le Chevalier de la Charrette

Chrétien de Troyes and Some Poetic Issues

Little concerning the person we call "Chrétien de Troyes" (fl. ca. 1160-1191) can be affirmed with certainty. What we know must largely be inferred from the writings attributed to him. These include five romance narratives written in rhyming octosyllabic couplets during the final third of the 12th century (Érec et Énide [ca. 1165], Cligés [ca. 1176], Le Chevalier de la Charrette (Lancelot), Le Chevalier au Lion (Yvain) [ca. 1177? 1179-80?], and Le Conte du Graal (Perceval) [ca. 1190]); a sixth narrative, Guillaume d'Angleterre, has been attributed to him by some, although many scholars find this doubtful. At least two surviving lyric songs are said to have been composed by him (if so, he is the oldest known trouvère with work closely related to that of the Old Provençal troubadours).

Certain works said by him to belong to his oeuvre--they are listed in the opening verses to Cligés--have not survived; these include, especially, a romance entitled Du roi Marc et d'Iseut la Blonde. One of the Ovidian poems given in the Cligés list appears as part of an early 14th-century compilation called the Ovide moralisé.

Of the above-mentioned titles two were left incomplete by Chrétien: the Charrette was brought to a close by Godefroi de Leigni, under Chrétien's supervision (according to Godefroi); the Graal was (almost certainly) interrupted by the poet's death.

Not only did each of our poet's works undergo copying throughout the 13th century (all eight manuscripts of the Charrette were produced in that century), they were each subject to myriad reworkings, in verse and, especially, in prose. Perceval underwent a number of "continuations" and inspired many textual "spin-offs" before the Grail story it told came to be incorporated into the vast Prose Lancelot (along with the Charrette, which constitutes the midpoint text of this great compilation). Post-World War II scholarship has demonstrated that Chrétien's oeuvre was fully integrated into the system of textual references and allusions underlying many important 13th-century texts--a series of "epigonal romances" (e.g., Fergus, Le Bel Inconnu) and a work like the Roman de la Rose (Guillaume de Lorris's Narcissus episode, as M.A. Freeman has shown, "re-reads/re-writes" Ovid through a process of refraction involving Chrétien's Blood Drops on the Snow scene in Perceval [Freeman 1976-77]). A romance composed as late as Froissart's 14th-century Méliador "revives" Chrétien de Troyes's Arthurian manner and matter, as P.F. Dembowski has demonstrated (1983).

Chrétien himself utilized a similar network of textual allusion in his own romances. Scholars interested in sources have for generations pointed to such "first-generation" romances as the romans antiques (Énéas, Troie, and Thèbes) and Wace's Brut and Rou, not to mention the Tristan corpus (especially Thomas), as constituting a kind of quarry from which Chrétien extracted materials which he utilized in his own constructions. Chrétien's bookish learning--he was clearly a clerc fully trained in the arts curriculum of his day--is evident in his love of such figures of ornamentation as adnominatio, rich rhyme, and chiasmus, and, as well, in the particularly fertile manner in which he refracted the Arthurian materials he borrowed from Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace through the lens of such works of late Antiquity as Martianus Capella's De Nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae (in Érec et Énide) or the writings of Macrobius. As he states in the Prologue to Érec et Énide, he--and he proudly names himself--and his work must be distinguished from the fragmented and vulgar tales hawked before kings and counts by uneducated minstrels.

Like Wace and Benoît de Sainte-Maure before him, Chrétien de Troyes was a court poet, that is, a clerc attached to a noble court, in his case the court of the count and countess of Champagne (and later, after the death of Henri le Libéral de Champagne, the court of Philippe d'Alsace, count of Flanders). Wace had described himself as a cler lisant, by which he probably meant a school-trained man of letters whose principal job was to praise his patrons and their lineage in vernacular narratives, as well as to provide them with spiritually edifying stories (principally, saints' lives). By Chrétien's time (the 1160s and 1170s), such values as courtoisie (courtesy and "courtliness") and fin'amor, as well as honorable chevalerie and its counterpart, learned clergie, had come to predominate in the aristocratic ideals of, first, the French-speaking English nobility and, next, the noblesse of Continental France and, somewhat later, that of Germany. It was incumbent upon the clerc to celebrate these values and to analyse them in works of narrative (and at times even in lyric song). To this end old stories of Celtic origin--Tristan and Iseut, Arthurian tales--offered a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of material, and romance narrative, a genre well conceived to explore the possible discrepancies between what appears to be so and what actually is, fastened upon them--especially in the work of Chrétien de Troyes. These stories also surely appealed to the imagination of clercs who, like Chrétien, obviously delighted in them: they must have seemed ready-made for the display of poetic fireworks to be found in all his romances--Chrétien's sheer artfulness.

Given Chrétien's apparently life-long concern with the couple formed by man and woman, with love in, as well as out of, marriage, and the relationship between such totally committed love, which he articulated as the most authentically human ideal, and divine charity, it would appear unlikely that he was indifferent to the story of Heloise and Abelard. Heloise's death took place only a few years before the date generally assigned to the composition of Érec et Énide, and her burial next to the grave of her beloved Abelard occurred at the Paraclete, a mere ten miles or so from Troyes, i.e., from one of the two major residences of the Champagne court. Might Chrétien also have been familiar with the Martianus Capella-based 12th-century Latin text known as the Metamorphosis Goliae Episcopi (ca. 1140s? 1160s?) one of the protagonists of which was Peter Abelard? As I stated earlier, Érec et Énide is structurally an imitation in Arthurian garb of Martianus's very influential prosimetrum.

As the listing of his works at the start of Cligés suggests, Chrétien was poetically very conscious of his overall narrative oeuvre. This self-consciousness takes the form of many networks of intertextual responses within the body of his romances when considered as a whole. Thus, Cligés constitutes both a response to Érec et Énide and a development of it. Together, these two romances prepare the way for the next coupling of romances: Lancelot and Yvain, which expand upon the duo made up of Érec and Cligés. In a quite authentic sense, the Conte du Graal both summarizes and goes beyond the four romances preceding it. What may be termed the dynamics of translatio (introduced in the Prologue to Cligés) pervades Chrétien's narratives every bit as much as the principle of conjointure adumbrated in the forematter to Érec et Énide.

The poetico-textual relationship obtaining between the Chevalier au Lion (Yvain) and the Chevalier de la Charrette (Lancelot) furnishes a stunning example of Chrétien's artistic complexity and genius. These two romances mirror each other: Lancelot--the Chevalier de la Charrette--begins with a classic romance-type Prologue (of the sort described by Edmond Faral [1924]), Yvain--the Chevalier au Lion--starts in medias res. Gauvain is unable to come to Lunete's defense in Yvain because he is off looking for Guenevere in...Lancelot; in the beginning of Lancelot Arthur does not abandon his dinner-guests as he had done at the start of Yvain. Chrétien confides the finishing of Lancelot to Godefroi de Leigni; his name surfaces at the very decidedly ended Yvain. Both romances respond to the Tristan story: Yvain learns (albeit with supreme difficulty) to take his love and his marriage seriously, realizing that being with Laudine and in her service constitutes his only means of avoiding madness; Lancelot grasps that only unswerving and entirely "unreasonable" devotion to Guenevere can authentically underpin his knightly vocation, even if this devotion entails his losing battles to lesser knights in tournaments. Both of these romances underscore the game-playing that underlies the passion of Tristan and Iseut for one other. Finally, each in its own way, the two narratives locate genuine chivalry in the heroes' dedication to the lady with whom they form a couple. The intrepid bravery of corage is inextricably linked to the cuer seen as the locus of love.

As a mirror is tied to what it reflects, even in those aspects which seem to cause the two romances to differ from one another one notes links binding them. Love in Yvain is associated with growth, change and hope; in Lancelot love is static and, to all intents and purposes, hopeless--a disaster waiting to happen. Yvain winds up leaving Arthur's court, definitively; Lancelot is chained to that court because of his love for the queen. The contrast is further borne out in the attitudes expressed by the two romances in respect to both writing (clergie) and chevalerie. The poetics of the Charrette depends on an explicit literariness (clerk and patron, both named; topics of source and authority; romance thematics, as, for example, the adulterous, or "courtly," love of Lancelot and Guenevere; identifiable "courtly" genres, such as the alba-like night of love experienced by Lancelot and Guenevere). Such "literariness," when found in the Chevalier au Lion, is either gently mocked (as during the Ovidian scene of Yvain's falling in love with the widow of the man he has just killed) or otherwise made the butt of irony (e.g., Calogrenant's perfect romance-style narrative of his knightly...failure). In Yvain the poetics of explicit literariness finds itself replaced, so to speak, by an implicit literariness.

Although there is much learned debate as to the date(s) of composition of these two romances, recent studies have argued convincingly (1) on behalf of a simultaneous composition (they were designed to be read together, as a kind of narrative counterpoint to one another); and (2) for a rather detailed sequence of episodic composition (e.g., the story of Lancelot takes place, so to speak, after Gauvain's visit, with Arthur, to Laudine's castle, in Yvain). The implications of these conclusions are poetically important (as well as being founded in quite plausible fact). One implication of significance is that, while both Lancelot and Yvain stand on their own feet as independent and well-structured narratives, together they constitute a "narrative coupling" which adds up to more than the sum of both taken individually: the "coupling" (which also has obvious thematic significance) constitutes a kind of "super romance."

Let me give a single example of what I am driving at. In order to grasp the sense of how the Charrette fits into Chrétien's on-going meditation on the amour passion question exemplified in the mid-12th-century poems concerning Tristan and Iseut, it is essential--or so I believe--to understand the system of Tristan references in Le Chevalier au Lion (e.g., Yvain's stay with the Hermit and his meeting the lion call to mind Tristan's sojourn in the Forest of Morois and his encountering there his faithful dog Husdent) as well as Gauvain's advice, after Yvain's marriage, to the effect that in order truly to merit the love of his bride (and lady), Yvain ought to leave her (for tournaments). Madness (folie) in Yvain constitutes a comment on Tristan's "unreasoning" passion; it is identified with the self-destructiveness of that passion, for in his madness Yvain has lost everything, including all semblance of chevalerie. Meanwhile, in the Charrette Lancelot's love for the queen is decidedly not a form of folie. On the contrary, it constitutes a higher form of reason even as Love claims Lancelot's allegiance against Reason. Like Yvain, Lancelot comes to his senses, but he does so when he finally understands that he has betrayed his love by ever so briefly hestitating before climbing into the infamous cart. For Lancelot the "higher reason" of Love is superior to the kind of common sense reason embodied by Gauvain, just as Yvain's devotion and chivalric service to his wife are superior to gratuitous and vainglorious triumphs in tourneys. Chrétien appears to be saying here that Tristan's amour passion is not to be confused with the "higher reason of Love," that, in some fundamental manner, the couplehood of Tristan and Iseut is ill-formed, even deficient. (It is perhaps King Mark who loves most nobly in the Tristan story--who loves both his wife and his poor nephew. One is left to wonder at what Chrétien's Del roi Marc et d'Isalt la blonde--the lost Tristan narrative mentioned in Cligés-- might have actually been about.) At any rate, not only is intertextual reading of this sort demanded by the two romances in question, it also frees us from the constraints imposed by such scholar-critics as have elaborated theories concerning Chrétien's "doctrine" (or "anti-doctrine") of "courtly love": "doctrine" is not at issue here, rather what is significant (and fascinating) is poetic articulation.

Le Chevalier de la Charrette (Lancelot)

The Manuscript Tradition

As noted previously in this Introduction, the Chevalier de la Charrette has survived either in "complete" or in fragmentary form in some eight 13th-century manuscripts. Let me provide a brief description of each (I am using W. Foerster's sigla for all of these except for MSS G and I which were unknown to him). Line numbers given below refer to Chrétien de Troyes, Le Chevalier de la Charrette (Lancelot). Ed. Alfred Foulet and K.D. Uitti. Classiques Garnier (Paris: Bordas, 1989):

Manuscript and Editorial Issues

The 13th-century copyists of Chrétien de Troyes appear to have recognized his own claim to writerly authority as expressed in the Prologue to Érec et Énide (vv. 9-17, 23-26) and elsewhere in his work. As we noted, the scribe of MS F calls specifically on Chrétien's testimony with respect to the veracity of Wace's account of Arthur's splendor by inserting his five romances in the midst of his copying of Wace's Brut. Meanwhile, Guiot, after copying Yvain (which closes with the narrator's stating Chrétien's authorship of the romance), inserts lines describing himself as he who "wrote" (escrist '[physically] set down in writing') "it" (i.e., the Chevalier au Lyeon). However, to the despair of not a few modern editors, the scribes' recognition of Chrétien's authority did not extend to their copying mechanically the text of their exemplar(s). Each felt free to modify the exemplar he used in order to serve the intention with which their work of copying was identified. Constraints of space preclude our examining in detail these intentions, but they must be kept in mind by the modern reader whose sense of the book differs radically from medieval bookishness. Here are several of the most common of the "liberties" taken by scribes:

Following upon W.J. Jonckbloet's "painstaking" (Foerster, p.ii) edition of MS C (Le Roman de la Charrette d'après Gauthier Map et Chrestien de Troyes [The Hague: Belinfante, 1850]) and P. Tarbé's Le Roman du Chevalier à la Charrette, in the Collection des Poètes de la Champagne antérieurs au XVIe siècle, 7 (Reims, 1849)--an edition of MS T (which the editor mistakenly believes is MS B.N. fr. 794 and from which he suppresses some 560 lines), Wendelin Foerster's editio mayor of the Charrette, Christian von Troyes, Sämtliche erhaltene Werke. IV. Der Karrenritter (Lancelot) und das Wilhelsleben (Guillaume d'Angleterre) (Halle: Max Niemeyer), appeared in 1899 (reprinted in 1965, in Amsterdam, by Éditions RODOPI). Adhering, though not invariably and automatically, to the Lachmannian principles current during the second half of the 19th century, according to which the best method to achieve a text approximating the lost Urtext of a Classical or medieval author consists in establishing a stemma representing the textual relationship obtaining between the surviving manuscripts. Thus the tradition is broken down into manuscript "families," and when the reading offered by a majority of the families differs from that of the minority this majority reading is what must be printed. The modern edition so conceived corresponds to no medieval reality, rather it seeks to recreate an ideal, without, however, giving free rein to the modern editor's "subjective" taste.

The method is highly interventionist; the copyist is judged by how closely he hews to what, in the editor's judgment, his author "wrote." All editorial "subjectivity" is to be eschewed. The editor is supposed to be restrained, and to operate "scientifically," thanks to his rigorous method, and to be protected by it. Yet, as Joseph Bédier amusingly pointed out in his essay on Jean Renart's Le Lai de l'ombre (1928), self-styled Lachmannian practitioners in Old French almost exclusively wind up presenting bipartite stemmas. This is precisely the case of Foerster's Charrette stemma (p. ix of his edition), with MSS C and T belonging to family alpha, MSS V, F, and a subset gamma (composed of MSS A and E), making up beta. Meanwhile, because Chrétien identifies himself as hailing from Troyes, in Champagne, Foerster saw himself as authorized to make the language of his edition conform to what he and his philological science deemed to be authentic (and pure) champenois during the second half of the 12th century--a kind of Champagne Bühnensprache.

Roques's editions of Chrétien de Troyes carry the Bédierist viewpoint to the extreme: to all intents and purposes they are but punctuated printings of Guiot--the text judged by him (because of its clarity and its age, presumably) to be the "best." By giving the world Guiot, Roques believed that he was, at least, offering his reader an "authentic medieval text," not the hodge-podge he judged Foerster's edition to be. (Some 20th-century Franco-German intellectual rivalry and acrimony are also involved here, one senses. To state, as Roques did, that Foerster's editions are "peu critiques" is surely a mark of prejudice.)

Though literarily far more satisfactory than Roques's editions, those of Foerster are virtually useless linguistically. Not only does one not know when the form used is that employed by Chrétien, one is not even always sure whether the scribe uses it. The form may well be merely Foerster's invention.

Curiously, though, both Foerster's method and that of Roques led to each one making the same error. I refer to the Charrette Prologue vv. 10-13 which, in Foulet-Uitti, read:

			Que ce est la dame [Countess Marie] qui passe
			Totes celes qui sont vivanz,
			Tant con les funs passe li vanz
			Qui vante en mai ou en avril.

We translate these lines into Modern French as follows:

			Que c'est la dame qui surpasse
			Toutes les autres en ce monde,
			Tout comme sur les effluves du sol l'emporte la brise,
			Qui souffle en mai ou en avril.

To all intents and purposes the text of both Foerster and Roques is the same as Foulet-Uitti, with the exception of v. 12, which both give as: "Tant [Foerster]/si [Roques] con li funs passe les vanz." Funs is viewed as the subject of passe and, by extension, that of vante; vanz is the plural direct object of passe. Here are the readings provided by those manuscripts of the tradition that give the text of the Prologue:

		MS C: Si con lifuns passe les uanz
		MS E: Tant comme lifeuz passe les venz
		MS G [unknown to both Foerster and Roques]: Tant com le fu 				passe li uens
		MS T: Tant com li funs passe liuenz

MSS C and E furnish substantially the same reading--the reading printed by both Foerster and Roques. However, MS G clearly places fu in the oblique case: it is the object, not the subject, of passe; uens, meanwhile, is unmistakably the subject of both passe and uente. Moreoever, MS G's li uens rhymes richly with the previous line's uiuans. The same rich rhyme occurs in MS T, where it is difficult to ascertain which--li funs or liuenz--is the subject of vente: there are two nominatives in MS T, which makes no grammatical sense. Yet, MS T offers the editor an interesting key. If the scribe (or his exemplar) was confused by the syntactic reversal of what, by the mid-13th century, had become "normal" French word order (subject-verb-object)--a reversal rendered possible by Chrétien's strict adherence to the two-case system of Classical Old French--and consequently wrote li funs because it "belonged" in the subject position, he nevertheless remained sensitive to Chrétien's predilection for rich rhyme, and therefore duplicated the vivanz:liuenz construction (note that liuenz is written as a single word and therefore even more closely parallels uiuanz). Meanwhile, the scribe of MS E, also misled by the syntactic reversal, was very possibly also confused by a funs 'smoke(s)' appearing as something superior to "winds" (as the Countess was superior to the other ladies); feuz 'fire' seemed better to him as designating what had to refer to the Countess. (It is also not unlikely that fu 'fire' made better sense to the copyist of MS G than the oblique fum 'smoke'--or perhaps he merely neglected to add a titulus over the u.) All the manuscripts (except for MS G) give a final sibilant to the word printed as les funs by Foulet-Uitti; in Old French this -s or -z could indicate either a nominative singular or an oblique plural (cf. li murs/les murs), which probably further confused our scribes in that the word order would therefore have even more strongly suggested a nominative singular.

With his customary fidelity Roques follows MS C; no explanatory note is deemed necessary. It was his translator, Jean Frappier, who found himself obliged to provide a way out. This was done with verbal sleight-of-hand, i.e., by translating funs as "zéphyr." This special, beautifully named wind is not like other winds, it is implied, and consequently the Countess/other ladies comparison redounds to the benefit of the Countess. Frappier obviously could not accept Foerster's convolutedly justified translation of funs as something equivalent, and etymologically related, to Modern German Föhn, the term indicating a nerve-wracking wind that blows in present-day Switzerland and Bavaria, but is unheard of in Champagne. Foerster, faced with two manuscripts (MSS C and T) giving funs, with only one (MS E) giving lifeuz, put his method to work and chose li funs. Had he known of MS G's le fu, he might well have chosen differently.

We have mentioned the rich rhyme vivanz:li vanz. Deserving of note also is the chiasmus present in vv. 10-13: a1=la dame qui passe; b1=totes celes qui sont vivanz; b2=les funs; a2=li vanz qui vante. This figure is destroyed by Foerster's and Roques's misreading, just as the rich rhyme was. Finally, the second comparison involving the Countess and other ladies (queens), like the first, involves items of the same order of things that possess different values: the gemstone (=the Countess) is worth more than lesser stones--pearls and sards (=queens)--but all these are nonetheless precious stones. The breeze that blows in May and April--the warm Spring breeze (=the Countess)--is superior to the funs. Does funs correspond to the smoky fireplaces used to heat castles during the winter months? Might it stand for the misty effluvia emanating from the wet ground at sunrise during the same winter season? No clear solution presents itself, but it nevertheless seems likely that whatever funs designates specifically, its meaning ought to be related to what the Spring breezes do better than what it does.

Both poetically and semantically, then, funs as an oblique plural is preferable to funs as a nominative singular. On grounds similar to the ones just invoked, and in many other cases, the Foulet-Uitti edition has emended its base manuscript, MS C; it has done so in an effort to reproduce as closely as possible a text approximating what Chrétien de Troyes actually wrote. However, because the modern printed edition by definition remains a static, even monumental creation, even the most successful edition necessarily fails to incorporate the dynamic dimension of medieval textuality. At best, it succeeds in furnishing a handy approach to a medieval text, no more, although it can (as in the case of Foerster's editio major of Chrétien's romances) provide a treasure-trove of important information.

The locus desperatus just examined points to one of the scholarly and pedagogical advantages of our "Charrette Project." Our database furnishes instant and, we trust, accurate access to the quasi-totality of the Charrette manuscript tradition. Thanks to the SGML transcriptions it is searchable and amenable to the application to it of diverse programs--linguistic, poetic, cultural. Its hypertext structure enables rapid comparisons, checking against the various manuscript texts, and armchair correction (or emendation) of printed editions. Perhaps most significant of all, provided it is used imaginatively, it may well lead to new kinds of philological understanding--a clearer grasp of medieval textual and authorial authority, a deeper comprehension of medieval poetico-literary process, and innovative ways of approaching the myriad phenomena of Old French as a language of literary articulation.

The Episodes (as given in Foulet-Uitti)

1. (vv. 1-30) Prologue: Chrétien states that he has received the subject and the idea for his romance from Countess Marie de Champagne.

2. (vv. 31-198) The rash boon: King Arthur loses his Queen to the evil knight Méléagant because he had rashly promised his seneschal Keu that he would give him anything in his power to give. Keu demands the right to defend Guenevere; he fails in this task.

3. (vv. 199-322) The abduction of the Queen: With great reluctance Guenevere departs with Keu; Gauvain leaves in order to look for them. En route he encounters Keu's horse and another knight who seeks Guenevere. The other knight is Lancelot du Lac (whose name, however, is not revealed until v. 3676).

4. (vv. 323-586) The infamous cart: After the slightest hesitation Lancelot climbs into a cart of the sort used to transport criminals and driven by a dwarf. Joined by Gauvain, the three arrive in a town where Gauvain is fêted but Lancelot is mocked as the "knight of the cart." At the residence of a young lady who offers hospitality to the two knights, Lancelot successfully undergoes the test of the flaming lance. On the following day he observes the passage of a troop that includes Méléagant, Guenevere, and a wounded knight (Keu).

5. (vv. 587-713) The two perilous bridges: Lancelot and Gauvain encounter a maiden who describes to them two bridges which lead to the Kingdom of Gorre, the Sword Bridge and the Underwater Bridge. The two companions take leave of one another.

6. (vv. 714-937) The Knight of the Ford: Lancelot defeats a knight who has been posted in order to defend a ford against all comers.

7. (vv. 938-1292) The Immodest Damsel: Lancelot spends the second night of his quest in the castle of a maiden who vainly seeks to seduce him (and who may well be a fairy).

8. (vv. 1293-1511) Guenevere's comb: Riding side by side, Lancelot and his previous night's hostess find a comb in which are entwined a few shimmering golden hairs. When he is informed by the maiden that the hairs are Guenevere's, Lancelot almost faints with emotion.

9. (vv. 1512-1840) The importunate suitor: Approached by a young knight who demands that he deliver over his companion, Lancelot refuses; but no combat ensues.

10. (vv. 1841-2022) The prophetic tomb: Still in the company of the Immodest Damsel, Lancelot reaches a monastery in the cemetery of which he discovers the tombstones of Yvain, Gauvain and his own. The last of these stones bears an inscription stating that he who lifts up this slab will free the captives taken from Logres to Gorre. Lancelot lifts up the stone without any difficulty. He and the Immodest Damsel go their separate ways.

11. (vv. 2023-2266) The rocky passage: Lancelot spends his third night at the dwelling of a vavassor whose two sons ask to join him. On the morrow they force their way through a narrow, rocky passage.

12. (vv. 2267-2518) The revolt of the people of Logres: Lancelot and his two companions take part in a battle waged against the inhabitants of Gorre by the people of Logres.

13. (vv. 2519-2955) Punishing an arrogant knight: In the evening of the following day Lancelot is obliged to fight a knight who insults him with extreme arrogance. At the insistent request of a maiden who claims to have been betrayed by the knight, Lancelot beheads him and offers the severed head to the offended maiden.

14. (vv. 2956-3155) The Sword Bridge: On the fifth day of his quest Lancelot arrives finally at the Sword Bridge--a bridge consisting from end to end of a sharply honed blade. Crawling along this blade and suffering many wounds, he reaches the opposite side of the river.

15. (vv. 3156-3490) Bademagu and Méléagant: Both the father and the son witness Lancelot's extraordinary exploit. King Bademagu deeply admires Lancelot's bravery; Méléagant is angry at his adversary's success.

16. (vv. 3491-3941) Lancelot combats Méléagant: While Guenevere looks on, Lancelot combats Méléagant; he comes close to losing because he cannot stop gazing upon her, but he collects himself in time. Bademagu is obliged to ask Guenevere to intercede on behalf of his son so that he may be spared death.

17. (vv. 3942-4124) Guenevere's coldness: To everyone's great surprise Guenevere refuses to meet with Lancelot. Later she explains that she cannot forgive his hesitation in climbing into the cart, since doing so would (presumably) bring him more quickly to her aid.

18. (4125-4414) Lancelot attempts to hang himself: Lancelot departs in search of Gauvain. Rumors of his death reach Bademagu's court; Guenevere is struck to the quick by this news. Her pallor and her stricken state give rise to the news that she has died. When Lancelot learns this, he attempts suicide. But when he learns that the Queen is still alive, his hope is rekindled.

19. (4415-4920) The night of love (Méléagant's accusations): Guenevere explains to Lancelot the reasons for her previous coldness toward him. She grants him a rendez-vous for the following night. On the morning following the night the lovers spend together Méléagant discovers bloodstains on the Queen's sheets. These stains are caused by Lancelot's bleeding after he has bent open the bars on the windows of Guenevere's bedroom, but Méléagant falsely ascribes them to the wounded Keu who, he says, has committed adultery with the Queen.

20. (vv. 4921-5063) Lancelot combats Méléagant a second time: Guenevere swears that she has not committed the crime of which she has been accused, and she asks Lancelot to defend her honor. The ensuing judicial combat is interrupted by Bademagu.

21. (vv. 5064-5378) Lancelot's disappearance: Once again Lancelot departs in search of Gauvain. A wicked dwarf causes him to fall into the hands of Méléagant. Meanwhile, having received a counterfeit letter ostensibly written by Lancelot affirming that he has returned to Arthur's court, Guenevere, Keu and Gauvain leave for Logres.

22. (vv. 5379-6076) The tourney at Noauz: With the connivance of his jailer's wife (the jailer is Méléagant's seneschal), Lancelot participates in a tourney presided over by Guenevere. He easily overcomes all his opponents. In order to reassure herself that he is really Lancelot and that he loves her, the Queen orders him to let himself be defeated by all his adversaries. To everyone's surprise, Lancelot obeys her.

23. (vv. 6077-6166) Lancelot imprisoned: Keeping his promise to his jailer's wife, Lancelot returns to Gorre. He is locked up in a specially walled up tower where he is to be kept in perpetuity. (It is at this point that Godefroi de Leigni takes over writing the romance.)

24. (vv. 6167-6393) Bademagu counsels his son: Méléagant refuses to listen to his father who advises him to make peace with Lancelot.

25. (vv. 6394-6728) Lancelot's liberation: Bademagu's daughter (to whom Lancelot had presented the head of the arrogant knight) searches for and finds the tower in which Lancelot is imprisoned. She frees him and nurses him until he recovers his strength.

26. (vv. 6729-7119) The death of Méléagant: For the third time Lancelot meets Méléagant in one-on-one combat. He defeats him and cuts off his head.

27. (vv. 7120-7134) Epilogue: Godefroi de Leigni informs us that he has composed the final sections of the Charrette with the full approval of Chrétien de Troyes.

Likely Sources

Next to the Tristan relationships already alluded to above (and which pervade the corpus of Chrétien's entire romance production), other sources and/or intertextual allusions abound in this corpus. One more specific Tristan reference in the Charrette deserves mention however. Thus, the motif of a queen carried off against her will because her royal husband has granted a don contraignant, or "rash boon," and returned to her place at court by a courageous knight may be found in Thomas's Tristan et Iseut (ca. 1165-70), where the queen is named Iseut, the king is called Mark and the knight is Tristan. Like Tristan, Lancelot is, of course, in love with the queen whom he rescues.

Scholars interested in Celtic myths and stories have paid serious attention to the obviously Celtic atmosphere permeating the Chevalier de la Charrette--for example, the Lake Fairy who raised Lancelot and who intervenes in Chrétien's story via the magically protective ring she had given her protégé; the mysterious land of Gorre to which Guenevere and other captives from Logres are brought; and Guenevere's abduction by Méléagant, son of the King of Gorre, Bademagu. The Vita sancti Gildae (by Caradoc of Lancarfan) recounts how a certain King Melvas carried off Guennevar, the wife of King Arthur. But Melvas himself returns Guennevar to her husband, thanks to the intercession of Saint Gildas--the same Gildas who composed the De excidio Britanniae (ca. 540s), which covers the period of British history corresponding to the time of King Arthur--and the abbot of Glastonbury (Glas=Voire, Gorre?, cf. Tristan's Glass Palace to which he promises to take Iseut--a kind of Celtic Other World). So far the Celtic pickings would seem to be rather slim.

However, if one examines another Celtic tradition (as expressed in both Wace and his source, Geoffrey of Monmouth, in the Historia regum Britanniae [ca. 1136]), namely that of the betrayal of King Arthur by his nephew Mordred with whom Guenevere has an adulterous affair, one might understand Lancelot as constituting a response to this "historical" account: whereas both Geoffrey and Wace stress the equivalence of treason and adultery, Chrétien appears to go out of his way to downplay that equivalence. In the Charrette there is no mention of Mordred at all, nor does Chrétien's Lancelot aspire to Arthur's throne. However, both Geoffrey and Wace underscore Arthur's bumbling incompetence and foolishness, and this, rather than the treasonable nature of Guenevere's and Lancelot's love, is what Chrétien also accentuates. Lancelot is the queen's lover (like Tristan), but it is he who accomplishes the extraordinary prowess of bringing her back to her husband's court. His chivalry--in battle as well as in love--restores order to the badly damaged Kingdom of Logres.

To put the matter succinctly, the triangle present in Geoffrey and Wace is composed of an heroic Arthur betrayed by his queen and Mordred, who take advantage of his weakness, whereas in the Charrette Mordred is replaced by an entirely faithful Lancelot who undoes the result of a don contraignant borrowed by Chrétien de Troyes from Thomas d'Angleterre.

As for the restitution of the queen to her royal husband, there is more to that than can be accounted for simply by remembering the romance of Tristan and Iseut.

Around the year 1200, the Middle High German clerc named Ulrich von Zatzikhoven composed a romance entitled Lanzelet. According to Ulrich himself, his work was a translation of a French romance (welschez buoch) that had been brought to the court at which he resided by a traveling French-speaking English knight. This French source, unfortunately, has been lost. But just as it is possible at least partially to reconstruct many lost episodes from the Tristan et Iseut of Thomas d'Angleterre by referring to the Middle High German version of this poem by Gottfried von Straburg, so, logically, one might venture to reconstruct Ulrich's French source, the Proto-Lanzelet--a poem which may well have antedated the Chevalier de la Charrette and, consequently, could have been known to Chrétien.

Scholars have long noted certain similarities in detail between Chrétien's poem and Ulrich's Lanzelet--the protagonists' names, for example (we recall that the Charrette is the earliest recorded instance of the name "Lancelot" in Old French); the fact that Lanzelet, like Lancelot, was brought up by a Lake Fairy; and, above all, the particular that on two occasions Lanzelet intervenes on behalf of Queen Guenevere, once even freeing her from captivity and bringing her back to King Arthur's court. But these similarities were seen to be outweighed by significant differences between the two poems in tone, spirit, and theme. Since Ulrich proclaims insistently his stringent fidelity to the welschez buoch mentioned above, it was felt that his source could have been neither Chrétien's romance nor a source utilized by Chrétien. Lanzelet is redolent of masculine barracks humor--salacious, at times fabliau-like in its treatment of female characters, whereas Lancelot is nothing if not courtois and chivalric in its attitude towards women, even in the case of the Immodest Damsel.

When one recalls the statement made by Chrétien in the Prologue to Érec et Énide (vv. 19-22) in which he fulminates against those minstrels and storytellers who make their living in the courts of counts and kings by "corrupting" and "fragmenting" their narratives, and provided that one remembers some of the differences between Chrétien's bele conjointure and the surviving, 13th-century Welsh story of Gereint (a likely avatar of the source of Chrétien's story), it is not unreasonable to posit the existence before Chrétien's Charrette of an Old French tale concerning Lancelot that was known to everyone in court circles as well as primitive in the manner in which Gereint appears to offer a rawer version of Érec et Énide. The early version of a Lancelot--what might be labelled the Proto-Lanzelet--of which Ulrich's Lanzelet was a manifestation would constitute to Chrétien's Charrette something poetically akin to what an Old French antecedent to the Welsh Gereint would have been to Chrétien's Érec et Énide. Our Proto-Lanzelet is merely hypothetical, of course, but it does correspond to what Chrétien had outlined as being his practice in his first surviving romance.

Lanzelet's delivrance of Guenevere from captivity testifies in the poem concerning him to his almost foolhardy courage: he rushes in where those more experienced than he fear to tread, but he succeeds! To be sure, Lancelot also accomplishes what others--Kay and Gauvain--fail to do, but his success attests to something more than bravery: the deepest, most selfless kind of love; a sense of honor that derives from his being utterly at the service of his Lady.

Thus, to put it simply, Chrétien's use of his sources is consistently dynamic. He blends his various sources into building blocks which he rearranges--adopting them, dissociating them, and responding to them--and which he utilizes in the construction of his work. The construct itself obeys and serves an overarching design. The key term here is "construction." It may well be to this concept that Geoffroi de Leigni refers when, in the Epilogue to the Charrette, he states that he has "continued" Chrétien's work, with Chrétien's entire approbation (and, one assumes, under his surveillance): Mes nus hom blasme ne l'an mete / Se sor Crestïen a ovre, / Car ç'a il fet par le bon gré / Crestïen, qui le comança (vv. 7127-29).

Marie de Champagne

The opening lines of the Charrette describe the work as having its genesis in Countess Marie de Champagne's wish that Chrétien de Troyes undertake to compose a romance for her. What he will do in that romance corresponds to her explicit desire. She is his locus of invention, a fact that he acknowledges in v. 26: Matiere e san li done et livre (v. 26). His own work will consist in applying himself--his diligence and his intellectual capacity (sa painne et s'antancion).

It would be highly otiose to try and summarize the great deal that has been written concerning the words matiere and (especially) san. Let us take simply matiere to mean 'subject-matter,' or 'story matter.' (In Old French matiere was used often in reference to a kind of generic subject-matter, as in matiere de Rome or matiere de Bretagne--stories of Classical Antiquity or Arthurian tales.) Meanwhile, san is more difficult to pin down. (For reasons of homophony and grammar Old French manuscripts frequently conflate, or mix up, sens<Lat. sensus and san<Frk. *sin [?], but usage in the time of Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France distinguished between them.) Frappier translates san as 'idée maîtresse,' something close to what was labelled above "overarching design."

In the Introduction to our edition of the Charrette Alfred Foulet and I proposed that what, in all likelihood, the Countess asked of Chrétien was that he take up the story of the Proto-Lanzelet--the somewhat bawdy and raucous story of the maturing of a youth whose prowess on the field of battle matched his luck in decidedly uncourtly dalliances with maidens and ladies (e.g., Lanzelet's love-making with the highly sexed daughter of a baron who had provided him with hospitality for the night). Chrétien was to refashion this story, however, and focus on the knight's rescue of the queen (this is but one of a series of episodes loosely strung together in Ulrich's romance); and the knight was to be depicted as totally devoted in love to Guenevere. In short, the Countess wished Chrétien de Troyes to "Tristanize" the Proto-Lanzelet story. The matière was to be derived from the Proto-Lanzelet but it was to be entirely transformed by the san which Marie wanted to impart to it. The principle of conjointure (as in Yvain) was once again to be applied in this transformation just as Chrétien had applied it in Érec et Énide--by celebrating the couple formed by Lancelot and Guenevere and by elegantly recasting the language and the ambiance of the source.

Foulet's and my proposal remains, of course, an hypothesis, no more. However, it does possess the merit of simplicity, and, I believe, it corresponds fairly closely to Chrétien's manner. Furthermore, although on the surface perhaps it constitutes a constraint, the Countess's comandemanz, as worked out with supreme artifice by Chrétien de Troyes, provided him with the material for the creation of one of the most fertile masterpieces of classical Old French literature--a creation still very much alive in the Western memory.

Without belaboring the point, we might note the parallelism between Chrétien's avowed painne et antancion in the clerkly service of his Lady, Countess Marie, and the trials and determination evinced by the chivalric Lancelot in his knightly devotion to Queen Guenevere. A certain equivalence is adumbrated between clerkly service (clergie) and chevalerie, both placed, so to speak, at the feet of an admirable and fully meritorious Lady. The effect in both cases is hyperbolic, giving a somewhat humorous cast to the romance, which, however, does not really counter the real seriousness and devotion with which the two ladies are being served. Hyperbole exists alongside authentic devotion and, with Chrétien's artistry, is made to support it, not detract from it.

Brief Bibliography

General Studies (books)

Dembowski, Peter F. Jean Froissart and His "Meliador." The Edward C. Armstrong Monographs on Medieval Literature, 2 (Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1983).

Faral, Edmond. Les Arts poétiques du XIIe et du XIIIe siècles. Recherches et documents sur la technique littéraire du moyen âge. Bibliothèque de l'École des Hautes Études, 238 (Paris: Champion, 1924).

Frappier, Jean. Chrétien de Troyes: l'homme et l'oeuvre (Paris: Boivin, 1957 [1969]).

Kelly, Douglas. Chrétien de Troyes: An Analytic Bibliography. Research Bibliographies and Checklists (London: Grant and Cutler, Ltd., 1976).

Kelly, Douglas, ed. The Romances of Chrétien de Troyes: A Symposium. The Edward C. Armstrong Monographs on Medieval Literature, 3 (Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1985). This work contains the following essays: "Chrétien de Troyes: The Narrator and His Art" (Douglas Kelly); "Érec et Énide" (Edward J. Buckbee); "Cligés" (Michelle A. Freeman); "Le Chevalier de la Charrette (Lancelot)" (Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner); "Le Chevalier au Lion (Yvain)" (Karl D. Uitti); "Le Conte du Graal (Perceval)" (Rupert T. Pickens); "On Editing Chrétien's Lancelot, Chrétien's Indebtedness to the Alexandre décasyllabique" (Alfred Foulet); Selected Bibliography (Sandra Ihle).

Köhler, Erich. Ideal und Wirklichkeit in der höfischen Epik: Studien zur Form des frühen Artus- und Graldichtung. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, 97. 2nd ed. (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1970). French translation: L'Aventure chevaleresque: Idéal et réalité dans le roman courtois: Études sur la forme des plus anciens poèmes d'Arthur et du Graal. Trans. Éliane Kaufholz (Paris: Gallimard, 1974).

Loomis, Roger Sherman. Arthurian Tradition and Chrétien de Troyes (New York: Columbia University Press, 1949).

Micha, Alexandre. La Tradition manuscrite des romans de Chrétien de Troyes. Publications Romanes et Françaises (Paris: Librairie Droz, 1939 [rpt. Geneva: Droz, 1966]).

Topsfield, Leslie. Chrétien de Troyes: A Study of the Arthurian Romances (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

Uitti, Karl D. (with Michelle A. Freeman). Chrétien de Troyes Revisited. Twayne's World Author Series (New York: Twayne, 1995).


Freeman, Michelle A. "Problems in Romance Composition: Ovid, Chrétien de Troyes, and the Romance of the Rose," Romance Philology 30 (1976-77) 158-68.

Ménard, Philippe. "Note sur la date du Chevalier de la Charrette," Romania 92 (1971) 118-26.

Ollier, Marie-Louise. "The Author in the Text: The Prologues of Chrétien de Troyes," Yale French Studies 51 (1974) 26-41.

Reid, T.B.W. "Chrestien de Troyes and the Scribe Guiot," Medium Aevum 45 (1976) 1-19.

Uitti, Karl D. "Autant en emporte li funs: Remarques sur le Prologue du Chevalier de la Charrette de Chrétien de Troyes," Romania 105, nos. 2-3 (1984) 270-91.

Studies of Individual Romances (Books and Articles)

Baumgartner, Emmanuèle. Chrétien de Troyes: "Yvain," "Lancelot"--la charrette et le lion. Études Littéraires (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1992).

Chaurand, Jacques. "Quelques réflexions sur l'hyperbole dans le Chevalier de la Charrette," in Études de langue et de littérature du moyen âge offertes à Félix Lecoy (Paris: Champion, 1973), 43-54.

Frappier, Jean. Étude sur "Yvain," ou le "Chevalier au Lion" de Chrétien de Troyes (Paris: Société d'Édition d'Enseignement Supérieur, 1969).

-------. Chrétien de Troyes et le mythe du graal: étude sur "Perceval," ou le "Conte du Graal" (Paris: S.É.D.E.S., 1972).

-------. "Le Prologue du Chevalier de la Charrette et son interprétation," Romance Philology 93 (1972) 337-77; response to Jean Rychner, "Le Prologue du Chevalier de la Charrette," Vox Romanica 26 (1967) 1-23.

Freeman, Michelle A. The Poetics of "Translatio studii" and "Conjointure": Chrétien de Troyes's "Cligés." French Forum Monographs, 12 (Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1979).

Kelly, Douglas. "Sens" et "Conjointure" in the "Chevalier de la Charrette" (The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1966).

Maddox, Donald. Structure and Saving: The Systematic Kingdom in Chrétien's "Érec et Énide." French Forum Monographs, 8 (Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1978).

Paris, Gaston. "Études sur les romans de la Table Ronde. Lancelot du Lac, I. Le Lanzelet d'Ulrich de Zatzikhoven; Lancelot du Lac, II. Le Conte de la charrette," Romania 10 (1881) 465-96; 12 (1883) 459-534; 16 (1887) 100-01.

Pickens, Rupert T. The Welsh Knight: Paradoxicality in Chrétien's "Conte del Graal." French Forum Monographs, 6 (Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1977).

Uitti, Karl D. "Vernacularization and Old French Mythopoesis, with Emphasis on Chrétien's Érec et Énide," in Rupert T. Pickens, ed. The Sower and His Seed: Essays on Chrétien de Troyes. French Forum Monographs, 44 (Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1983), 81-115.

22 January 1997