The Poet-Narrator's Address to His Lady as Structural Device in 'Partonopeu De Blois.'

By Walters, Lori | Medium Aevum, Fall 1992 | Go to article overview

The Poet-Narrator's Address to His Lady as Structural Device in 'Partonopeu De Blois.'


Walters, Lori, Medium Aevum


Partonopeu de Blois, an anonymous romance composed in the early 1180s, features a poet-narrator(1) who recounts a tale in order to win the heart of his beloved.(2) Like Le Bel Inconnu, written by Renaut de Beaujeu about a decade later,(3) Partonopeu de Blois establishes similarities and oppositions between the stories unfolding on the intradiegetic level of the plot and the extradiegetic level of the frame narrative.(4) Whereas Le Bel Inconnu ends with the narrator's unheeded offer to reverse the conclusion of the tale if his lady so desires, in Partonopeu de Blois the beloved appears to accept a similar suggestion. The female's assent affords a pretext for the prolongation of the work by a later author. The first writer and the continuator(s) employ the extradiegetic fiction of a narrator who attempts to seduce his beloved in order to structure the original narrative and the continuation of the story as it is found in some versions. In this paper I shall explore the relationship between the lyric stance of the poet narrator and the act of extending the narrative. The basically lyric construct of a man's unrequited love for a woman produces a major force fuelling the process of poetic continuation. The lady's benign glance, inviting enough to maintain her lover's interest without leading to satisfaction on the level of desire, provides a potentially infinte extension of the act of narration.

Partonopeu de Blois was a work highly regarded in the Middle Ages. Although critics in our century have given Le Bel Inconnu greater attention than Partonopeu, the latter seems to have been better appreciated in its time.(5) Anthime Fourrier, commenting on the number and diversity of translations and adaptations of the text into foreign languages, ranked it third in popularity after the Tristan and Grail romances.(6) Besides the ten Old French manuscripts of Partonopeu de Blois that have come down to us,(7) writers in nine different languages composed adaptations of the work.(8) By contrast, Chantilly, Musee Condee, MS 472 contains the single Old French copy of Le Bel Inconnu. Recastings of the latter appear in only two languages: one English and one Italian version of the romance are known.(9) In addition, around 1210 Wirnt von Gravenberg reworked major themes of Le Bel Inconnu in his Middle High German romance, Wigalois.(10) Contemporary poets also expressed interest in Partonopeu. Both the troubadour Uc Brunenc, who flourished around the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and the author of the early, fourteenth-centurn Ovide moralise mention it in their works. In his Vie seint Edmund le Rei, composed between 1190 and 1200, Denis Piramus cites the success of Partonopeu de Blois and the Lais of Marie de France in aristocratic circles.(11)

Partonopeu de Blois and Le Bel Inconnu represent an intermediate stage in the evolution of the first-person narrative between Chretien de Troyes's Lancelot and the Roman de la rose of Guillaume de Lorris. Whereas Chretien establishes implicit analogies between Lancelot's passion for Queen Guenevere and the poet narrator's clerkly devotion to Countess Marie de Champagne, the authors of Partonopeu de Blois and Le Bel Inconnu directly compare the progress of their extratextual love affairs with those of their protagonists. Guillaume de Lorris develops the procedure still further by conflating the first-person speaker and the narrated subject.(12) The poet-narrator and the protagonist are one and the same |person'; approximately five years separate the actual erotic experience from its recounting in the text. Significantly, the poet-narrator, who first tried to gain directly the affection of |her who is worthy of being called Rose', later attempts to win her through the act of telling the story of his prior amorous failure with her. In other words, his previous lack of success with his lady causes him to sublimate his desire into poetry, which he then uses in a renewed attempt to seduce her. …

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