Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Robert le Diable: Histoire D'une Legende

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Robert le Diable: Histoire D'une Legende

Article excerpt

Elisabeth Gaucher, Robert le Diable: histoire d'une legende, Essais sur le Moyen Age 29 (Paris: Honore Champion, 2003). 284 pp. ISBN 2-7453-0714-2. euro5 5.00.

Elisabeth Gaucher has published several articles on the legend of Robert le Diable but her book gathers many of the scattered pieces of a large puzzle. Gaucher has chosen to work in the longue duree, from the thirteenth to the twentieth century, limiting herself to the French (and one Latin) versions of the story. For Gaucher, the very 'lack of originality' of the older version explains its medieval success, since it connects important topoi such as penance, madness, crusade, incognito, sterility, and self-imposed muteness (p. 97).

Gaucher is at her best in the chapter devoted to the oldest verse version, dated from the beginning of the thirteenth century and preserved in two manuscripts. She demonstrates that the story blends equally motifs borrowed from romance, epic poems, and hagiography. She insists on the importance of speech and speech acts such as promise, threat, and oath (pp. 69-97). She replaces the motif of Robert's penitential silence within the context of thirteenth-century debates on language and its power (pp. 74-6). She concludes that 'the romance appears as a history of speech, from its birth to its death and resurrection' (p. 74).

In the section on medieval rewritings, Gaucher shows that the late-medieval public could still appreciate the legend for its moralising tone, although they preferred a different happy ending with Robert married to the princess rather than renouncing the world. But the most important change seems to occur in the role of speech. In the theatrical version of Robert le Diable (Miracle 33 in the manuscript Cange), the coarse language of Robert's partners in crime and the babble of the Saracens does not just 'translate the perversion of their soul' (p. …

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