Lancelot, or, the Knight of the Cart

Lancelot, or, the Knight of the Cart

Lancelot, or, the Knight of the Cart

Lancelot, or, the Knight of the Cart

Synopsis

In this verse translation of Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot, Ruth Harwood Cline revives the original story of the immortal love affair between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, a tale that has spawned interpretations ranging from Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur to Lerner and Lowe's Camelot.

By remaining faithful to Chrétien's highly structured form, Cline preserves the pace, the pungency of proverbial expressions, and the work's poetical devices and word play in translating this archetypal tale of courtly love from Old French into modern English. Cline's introduction--containing a description of Arthur in history and literature, a discussion of courtly love, and an account of the continuations of the story of Lancelot and Guinevere--makes Lancelot an ideal classroom text.

Excerpt

Writing an introduction to a romance by Chrétien de Troyes is always challenging. Virtually nothing is known about the poet’s life. Yet he dominates French literature of the twelfth century as Shakespeare did English literature of the sixteenth century. Chrétien was a writer of genius who drew upon various materials: Celtic tales and legends, classical myths, Christian themes, early histories of Britain, and the love songs of the troubadours, and created major works of literature with vivid characters and well-constructed plots whose influence has radiated over the centuries. A comprehensive study of his works requires the space of a library, not an introduction, and virtually no statement can be made about his romances without arousing intense and informed scholarly debate. Yet many English readers are unfamiliar with Chrétien’s Old French works. They are more likely to have read Chrétien’s fifteenth-century English successor Malory and are unable to situate Chrétien in the traditions of the twelfthcentury courts over which Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie of Champagne presided in France. Some genuinely believe that Chrétien’s Arthurian romances describe a united kingdom of Britain, ruled by King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in turreted Camelot, that surely must have existed in history because it has existed so long in literature.

Chrétien’s romance of Lancelot and Guinevere seems the place to discuss the historical and literary Arthur because of this character’s position as the husband of the heroine. It is also the place to note that before Chrétien wrote this romance there was no known story of Lancelot and Guinevere, no reference in history or literature to a love affair between this knight and Arthur’s wife. There were earlier stories of unfaithful queens; the best known was about Queen Iseut and her love for Tristan. There was an early account of an abduction of Guinevere and her rescue by Arthur, and another reference in a fanciful history to Guinevere’s adultery with Mordred, which precipitated the last battle in which Arthur fell. But Chrétien de Troyes created the earliest romance of Lancelot and Guinevere; the names of these famous lovers were first linked in this twelfth-century story . . .

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