Academic journal article Parergon

Violence and Transgression in Chretien De Troyes's Yvain, le Chevalier Au Lion

Academic journal article Parergon

Violence and Transgression in Chretien De Troyes's Yvain, le Chevalier Au Lion

Article excerpt

There is a concerning lack of both critical and common consensus over the definition of violence. Open the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) at the entry for 'violence' and you will find six definitions ranging from the concrete ('The exercise of physical force so as to inflict injury on, or cause damage to, persons or property; action or conduct characterized by this; treatment or usage tending to cause bodily injury or forcibly interfering with personal freedom) to the abstract ('Violation of some condition'). (1) If asked to comment, in order, on the validity of these definitions as applied to the phenomenon of violence--that is to say, the use of the word 'violence' as a first-order referential rather than as a metaphor or analogy--many readers would find that the further down the list of definitions they go the less likely they are to consider them valid. The editors of the second edition of the OED themselves appear to have drawn the line at the fourth part of the first definition where they define violence as 'Undue constraint applied to some natural process, habit, etc., so as to prevent its free development or exercise. Now used in political contexts with varying degrees of appropriateness'. In classic deadpan OED style, the editors cite as a source a Daily Telegraph article from a few years prior:

   1984 Daily Telegraph 5 Oct. 20/2 [At the Labour Party Conference]
   much violence was done to the word violence, which it appears can
   be used to describe almost anything you do not care for. (2)

Though the latest version of the OED has removed this source and labelled the definition it accompanied obsolete, (3) this second-edition entry is in fact not dissimilar to the idea floated by William Ian Miller when he suggested that '[v]iolence may simply be what we accuse the Other of when are contesting interests'. (4) Though Miller quickly backed away from this position, arguing that it did not 'sufficiently dispose' of the topic of violence, his provisional definition has resonances with both modern and medieval discourses on violence that are worth exploring.

Among modern scholars of the medieval there is a tendency to see violence in the restricted physical sense implied by the first definition of the old (and new (5)) OED. We can see this tendency at play in the critical scholarship surrounding Chretien de Troyes's twelfth-century romance Yvain, le Chevalier au Lion where the violence of the tournament and of combat in general is contrasted with the supposed non-violence of amorous emotion in a dramatised conflict between love and chivalry. On this interpretation, Yvains broken promise that he would return to his wife within a year of leaving for the tournaments is imagined to be the destabilising point in a story that had just reached a state of equilibrium in happy matrimony. (6) Although this 'minimalist' conception of violence allows scholars to work with a precise definition that is amenable to analysis, by restricting acts of violence to the intentional and direct, this framework 'misses out on too many other important dimensions of the phenomenon of violence';7 in this case, the construction of Yvains victory over Esclados and his subsequent attempt to win the hand of Laudine as acts of violence.

This article seeks to introduce elements of a more 'comprehensive' framework of violence into the study of Yvain through a focus on the text s representations of intent and emotion as moral phenomena within the Augustinian concept of the 'inner disposition'. A comprehensive definition of violence is one which 'recognises the link between intimate individual actions and social/structural determination', where violence is defined chiefly in terms of violation rather than force. (8) Contrary to those critics who see in Yvain the story of a hero laid low by a single act of folly, I argue that Yvain s estrangement from his wife Laudine is portrayed as the just result of a series of transgressions or violations of the encoded patterns of social behaviour expected of courtly knights. …

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