Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Liebe Und Herrschaft: Studien Zum Altfranzosischen and Mittelhochdeutschen Prosa-Lancelot

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Liebe Und Herrschaft: Studien Zum Altfranzosischen and Mittelhochdeutschen Prosa-Lancelot

Article excerpt

Cornelia Reil, Liebe und Herrschaft. Studien gum alIrantosischen und mittelhochdeutschen Prosa-Lancelot, Hermaea Ns 78 (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1996). 268 pp. ISBN 3-484-15078-5. DM 128.00

Cornelia Reil's study of the Old French and Middle High German Prose Lancelot marks a relatively new trend in the development of German doctoral theses: it is short, incisive, and with the courage to be selective. At the same time, it is truly comparative, treating the MHG text of the Heidelberg manuscript P as a redaction of the French romance while reading it in the context of French literature in which it originates.

The two aspects which are considered central for a study of this massive prose romance are highlighted in the title: love and the question of rulership. Of these, love is the one which has traditionally caused controversy for the Prose Lancelot, critics have variously seen the narrative as defending `courtly love' or as a text propagating `fin amors', as a parallel to the Tristan romance or on the contrary as a kind of anti-Tristan. Reil concludes that in the Prose Lancelot, the metaphor of love service as used in the rhetoric of `fin amors' is translated into a relationship with concrete political implications. Moreover, love is not absolute, but rather dependent and relative, subject to dangers from within and not just threatened by external vicissitudes. Adventure is therefore no longer a means of winning the beloved, but a mode of communication between the lovers who require reassurance. One of the consequences of this transformation is a shift in the function of the `charette suite'. Whereas for Chretien this episode is seen as a test of Lancelot's capacity as a lover, the Prose Lancelot highlights his role as the best knight, despite the fact that the narrative has always been read predominantly as a love romance It is the merit of Reil's study to focus on the importance of this public role, in which Lancelot as a lover ends up in potential conflict with his position as the best knight and defender of the Arthurian court.

A brief survey of the French literary tradition pre-dating the Prose Lancelot serves to situate the text. Reil highlights those features which the narrative shares with other influential texts of the period, most importantly perhaps the triangular constellation into which the role of the male protagonist is split: on the one hand, Arthur represents the ruler who lacks heroic virtue, on the other hand Lancelot, a hero without immediate prospects of rulership, for the sake of his love agrees to stabilize and support the position of the ruling couple. …

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