The Challenge of the Medieval Text: Studies in Genre and Interpretation

By W. T. H. Jackson; Joan M. Ferrante et al. | Go to book overview

12 Problems of Communication
in the
Romances of Chrétien de Troyes

IT IS A NOTORIOUS FACT of the literary history of the Middle Ages that the heroes of the national epics are inarticulate. They are, apparently, incapable of conducting rational conversation with their fellows, for their speech consists of rather lengthy statements of policy, gasconades about deeds either past or contemplated, or mere statements calculated to keep the action going. It is perhaps -not too much to say that Charlemagne's problems in the Chanson de Roland stem from his inability to obtain a consensus from men who were incapable of nice argumentation or even a true exchange of ideas, and that much of the obscurity of the Nibelungenlied owes its origin not to a contamination of sources but to the incapacity of its characters to handle even the simplest of subordinate clauses.

How different is the romance! Facundia, the power of smooth and polished speech, is of the very essence of the characters. They are engaged in constant discussion not only of their own actions and reasons for action but also of the theoretical principles that guide their conduct. If there is no one available for such discussion, the characters are perfectly happy to talk to themselves, with a generous infusion of such abstractions or mythological beings as love, Cupid, their own hearts, their own eyes, and above all sorrow. Needless to say, the principal topic of their dialogues and monologues is love.

The earlier romances are instructive on the subject. Vergil has little to say on the love affair between Aeneas and Lavinia, and that little hardly

-185-

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