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
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the basis of the use of dialogue, certain divisions of Chrétien's romances become clear. There are two in which love is commanded: the Chevalier de la Charrette, in which it is commanded for a woman's ego and is unhealthy and suspect; and the Gawain incidents in Perceval in which it is commanded by a lady who has suffered and who later repents of her commanding. Dialogue and monologue flourish in Cligès and yet, in spite of the many words, the only concern of the participants is bodily satisfaction. Love brings them no nearer to maturity. Finally there are two in which love is founded not on fine phrases but on the gradual evolution of mutual understanding. In both of these it is not love, courtly or otherwise, which is the prime force, but social needs and mutual help. The successful marriages are those in which the lovers do not protest too much.

Commmucation between lovers in Chrétien's romances is thus not quite so fluent as it may seem at a first reading. It would not be far from the truth to say that much of the verbalizing is noncommunication, since it consists of a series of shams, of fronts which prove to be unreal or, at best, evidence of a kind of love which Chrétien regards as unhealthy. Real communication in words is rare. None of the "true" lovers succeeds in expressing to the other what his or her feelings are. Had they been able to do so, much grief would have been averted, but the maturity which comes from suffering would not be attained. For Chrétien, the communication of real love, as distinct from the formalized games of the court, apparently came through action and through indirect communication of affection. He clearly mistrusted the rhetoric and dialectic of earlier romances as a method of representing love in its higher aspects and used them principally to parody the type of love he rejected. If we are right in assuming that he regarded married love as that which best fulfilled the aspirations of both man and woman, then we must also assume that he felt that such love needed no elaborate verbal communication. True love expressed itself in mutual trust, not in the artifices of cunningly wrought words.

Herbert Kolb, Der Begriff der Minne und das Entstehen der höfischen Lyrik ( Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1958), passim.


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


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