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5 - Chrétien de Troyes

from Part II - What is a Medieval French Author?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2009

Simon Gaunt
Affiliation:
King's College London
Sarah Kay
Affiliation:
Princeton University, New Jersey
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Summary

If Lancelot and the grail are names that anyone familiar with Arthurian literature recognizes without hesitation, the same cannot be said for the author who stands behind their invention. Yet asked to identify the most important romancer of the Middle Ages, any connoisseur, medieval or modern, would likely name Chrétien de Troyes, the writer who stepped beyond antique romances to offer models that energized and redirected romance from the twelfth century on, first in verse, later in prose. Through allusions and adaptations, translations, amplifications, parodies, and prosifications, Chrétien’s five romances spawned a huge variety of offspring that span medieval Europe and spin anew in modern forms and media.

What do we know about the author 'Crestïens de Troies', as he identifies himself in his first romance, Erec et Enide (9)? Though historical identification eludes us, a number of possibilites emerge in the romances themselves. Similarities between the coronation scene at the end of Erec and Henry II’s court at Nantes (Christmas 1169), when his son Geoffrey was recognized as the future duke of Brittany, suggest that Chrétien may have been associated with the Anglo-Norman court at that stage of his career. Such a displacement might explain why the romancer adds a place name to his signature in Erec, thereafter simply signing 'Crestïens' in prologue or epilogue. Chrétien names two patrons, Marie de Champagne (wife of Henry the Liberal, count of Champagne) and Philippe d'Alsace, count of Flanders: they place him, c. 1160s-1191, at two important political and cultural centres of northern France, located along significant commercial axes connecting northern and southern Europe, England, and the Continent.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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