Bullish on Love and Adventure: Chivalry as Speculation in the German Arthurian Romances

Article excerpt

Adventure and love are speculative in the modern sense. In the romances of Hartmann von Aue and Wolfram von Eschenbach, they tend continually to be oriented towards a conclusion or closure that has not yet occurred, a final result that has not yet been established, a game that has not yet been decided, as this essay endeavors to show. (WH)

Nearing the end of his joint adventures in the company of his wife Enite, Hartmann von Aue's Erec catches sight of the castle Brandigan, which will be the site of his last and greatest challenge called joie de la curt (Joy of the Court). By this point, Erec has seemingly done all he needs to do to reconstitute the honor he had lost due to an overly strong amorous and erotic attachment to Enite and a resulting neglect of chivalric action. It has long been considered that this final adventure is intended to provide a succinct version of Erec and Enite's own story.1 Mabonagrin, the knight against whom Erec will contend, has isolated himself from the court because of a vow he has made to his beloved lady to remain with her forever in a secluded garden. Despite numerous differences, the situation of Mabonagrin and his lady reflects the earlier one of Erec and Enite in the important respect that an excess of amorous desire deprives the knights of their status and court society suffers on account of the loss of its best knights. This final and perhaps most significant adventure of Hartmann's version of the story of Erec and Enite, considered the first truly Arthurian romance in Germany, has also to do with something else that is clearly quite important in the thinking of a knight such as Erec, above and beyond the specific thematic and structural role played by joie de la curt in this particular romance. The specific aspects of the adventure at joie de la curt-which most notably include the great fame and reputation of the opponent against whom Erec has the opportunity to fight-give it an irresistible allure. Erec's chivalric companion Guivreiz does his best to dissuade Erec from riding on to Brandigan and what Guivreiz feels will be a fatal adventure, and later even the King of Brandigan himself acts against his own self-interest (i.e. because the defeat of Mabonagrin would bring about his return to the social life of the court) in trying to talk Erec out of undertaking the adventure (for example, by providing the details of the demise of the many knights before him who have dared to undertake it). All of this, however, only increases Erec's resolve. Erec reveals his state of mind and how he regards the unexpected possibility of this adventure with words that could be taken as the exemplary casting of chivalry as speculation:

'ich weste wol, der Sæ lden wec

gienge in der werlde eteswâ,

rehte enweste ich aber wâ,

wan daz ich in suochende reit

in grôzer ungewisheit,

unz daz ich nû vunden hân.

got hât wol ze mir getân

daz er mich hât gewÎset her

dâ ich nâch mÎnes herzen ger

vinde gar ein wunschspil

dâ ich lützel wider vil

mit einem wurfe wâgen mac.

ich suochtez unz an disen tac:

gote lop, nû hân ichz vunden

dâ ich wider tûsent phunden

wâge einen phenninc.

diz sint genæ declÎchiu dinc,

daz ich hie vinde ein sæ lic spil.' (ll. 8521-38)2

[I knew well that the Road to Salvation passed somewhere in the world, but I did not know exactly where, so in great uncertainty I rode out seeking until I found it here. God has treated me well by directing me here, where I may find, according to my heart's desire, the ideal game in which with one throw I can wager a little to win a lot. Until today I have been seeking it. Praise God, now I have found it, where I can wager a penny against a thousand pounds. It is a fortunate thing to find such a game here.]3

This consideration, important enough that Erec elaborates on it for another thirty-seven verses (ll. …