Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Old French Narrative Cycles: Heroism between Ethics and Morality

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Old French Narrative Cycles: Heroism between Ethics and Morality

Article excerpt

Luke Sunderland, Old French Narrative Cycles: Heroism between Ethics and Morality, Gallica 15 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010). xiii + 204 pp. ISBN 978-184384-220-0. £50.00.

The two parts of Luke Sunderland's tide set up an ambitious dialogue. On the one hand, a structural feature - their varied arrangement into narrative cycles - shared by four enormous sets of texts; on the other, a common problem posed by their story matter: a definition of the hero, as theorized by Lacan, according to his unyielding fidelity to desire (ethics) or his perverse submission to the common good (morality). Sunderland's task is to demonstrate that a meaningful dynamic connects these two dimensions, a potential he vigorously and subdy explores from introduction to conclusion through four chapters whose tides anticipate which turn between ethics and morality particular heroes and cycles will take. Each chapter includes a synchronic reading of one version of the cycle reflected in the manuscript tradition and a diachronic reading of changes across the cycle's tradition.

In chapter 1, 'Duty to the geste: the Cycle de Guillaume d'Orange', the sublimely heroic and uncompromising death of Vivien furnishes a counterpoint for other heroes like Guillaume who masochistically subordinate their lives to serve king and lineage in a paradigm that multiplies across generations through numerous chansons that both shape and exceed the geste. Chapter 2, 4MeIaPhOr, metonymy and morality: the Vulgate Cycle', analyses how the moral hierarchy established by the Grail places Galahad at the summit as the only hero worthy of its promise of transcendent meaning, while Lancelot's failures in both love and Grail quest mirror those of a cycle that lures us metonymically forward toward more narrative, producing new cycles in a tradition that grows 'rhizomatically' (à la Deleuze and Guattari) from the middle. The model of the Derridean supplement provides a theoretical thread for chapter 3, 'Responsibility to reputation: the Prose Tristan', as Tristan's integration within the world of Arthurian chivalry and his focus on rivalry with Lancelot completely excludes the sublime (whose illusory character is illustrated by Kahedin): the proliferation of doubles for the hero matches the network of different versions competing in a manuscript tradition where no definitive, totalizing rendition is possible. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.