Academic journal article Arthuriana

Intertextuality and Gauvain

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Intertextuality and Gauvain

Article excerpt

Medieval Flanders was a polyglot and rich cultural region in which many different literary genres and matières circulated. This article explores the way authors alluded to other texts and traditions current in Flanders, as well as the effects these allusions might have had on their unknown intended audience. (DFJ)

Very little is known about the socio-cultural backgrounds of Middle Dutch Arthurian texts. Most of the romances seem to have their origin in mid-thirteenth century Flanders, a bilingual area, but the circumstances surrounding their production and primary reception remain unclear. Onomastic evidence shows that long before Chrétien wrote the first Arthurian romance,a presumably orally delivered Dutch tradition existed in the southern part of the Netherlands.1

From the end of the twelfth century onwards this region also played an essential role in the history of French Arthurian romance. Chrétien deTroyes dedicated his Perceval ou Le conte du Graalio the Count of Flanders, Filips van den Elzas, and the Continuations to this unfinished masterpiece can in one way or another also be associated with the Flemish court, where a preference seemed to exist for the Lancelot-Grail tradition.2

Starting in the second quarter of the thirteenth century, romances like Le Conte du Graaland the Lancelot en prose were translated into Middle Dutch verse (the Perchevaelzna Lantsloot vander Haghedochte [Lancelot of the Cave]), and in the second half of the century original Middle Dutch texts were composed in Flanders.3 Examples are the by now famous Roman van Walewein, written by Pennine and Pieter Vostaert, the Moriaen and Walewein ende Keye. The way in which these romances functioned and exactly who their audiences were will probably always remain obscure, and yet these texts themselves contain indications that can tell us more about their background.

One of the most intriguing aspects of these indigenous texts is their intertextual character. Although they were written by Flemish authorsPennine's dialect, for example, points to Ghent-the romances show traits of a profound knowledge of the French Arthurian tradition. But what is more, the authors allude also to the Tristan tradition, of which nothing in Flemish remains, as well as to the Chansons de geste. Evidently, Flanders was not only a polyglot area but also a very rich cultural region in which many different genres and matières circulated in written or oral form. In this article I explore the way in which Middle Dutch authors alluded to the other texts and traditions current in Flanders, and I focus on the effect that these allusions might have had on their unknown intended audience. To illustrate the way in which literary tradition was given a meaning within the thematic structure of a romance, I use one of the least known Middle Dutch texts as an example: the Walewein ende Keye.4 The only extant version of this text was inserted into the famous Lancelot Compilation (ca. 1320). It is likely that this was a radically reworked adaptation of a mid thirteenth-century indigenous Flemish romance.

An interesting aspect of the romance is the role of the main character Walewein, Artur's nephew, the ideal knight. In this text Walewein's superb qualities are all the more emphasized by the contrast with the other important character, the king's seneschal, who traditionally embodies imperfection. Keye, as he is called in Dutch, plays an extremely negative role in Walewein ende Keye. In the first episode at Artur's court, Walewein is accused of boasting by Keye and a group of twenty of his comrades. Walewein is alleged to have said that in one year he would have more adventures than all the other knights of the Round Table together. The reason for Keye's accusation is envy, for Artur had appointed Walewein governor, and Keye, on account of his function as seneschal, thinks himself to be the most likely candidate for that position. Walewein sets out to disprove the accusation. …

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