Medieval France. An Encyclopedia

(Darren Dugan) #1

tensions between the claims of the individual and the demands of society, especially
within that most personal and intimate domain, the love relationship, Anglo-Norman
writers are more inclined to tell tales of disinheritance, exile, struggle, and return. Where
Chrétien and others, building on the troubadour discovery of sexual love as an ennobling
power, concentrate largely on the hero’s efforts to win or win back his lady, their insular
counterparts stress the high moral courage of the hero, which results in his reinstatement
in his patrimony, the triumph of justice, of right over wrong. Love is understood not as an
end in itself but as a means to establish a lineage, the promise of generations to come. In
respect of male-female relations, the ethos of these more typically Anglo-Norman
romances is closer to that of the chansons de geste and to the teachings of the medieval
church. In the Roman de Horn (ca. 1170), the work of a certain Master Thomas, the
exiled hero in his attempts to vindicate himself and regain his lost kingdom finds himself
pitted against the might of the “Saracens,” a convenient catchall for pagan tribes. There is
a continuing love interest, but it is far from courtly. The women actively woo the
handsome hero and indulge in amorous fantasies while he attends to more important
The “courtly” tradition is not absent, however, and may even be said to flourish during
the reign of Henry II. In addition to the Lais of Marie de France, which may date from as
early as 1160, this tradition is represented by two other important texts: the Tristan of
Thomas (mid-12th c.?) and the Oxford version of the Folie Tristan (late 12th c.?). Those
works whose influence was felt far beyond the Anglo-Norman regnum are unconnected
with the Anglo-Norman preoccupation with feudal land rights. The theme of exile and
return is recurrent, but it is less a physical exile than an alienation from society and the
real world where true union can be achieved only in death. Amadas et Ydoine (ca. 1190–
1220), like Chrétien’s Cligés (with which the Anglo-Norman author was probably
unacquainted), appears to be an attempt to present the Tristan-Iseut problem in a manner
less disruptive of social norms. Its explicit references to the Tristan legend claim for its
protagonists a moral superiority over the more famous couple, and the author boasts that
their love, rooted in nature rather than a magic potion, was also more profound and true.
Ydoine rejects adultery as a solution for her situation and, unlike Fenice, preserves her
virginity until such time as her marriage can be dissolved. A high moral tone combined
with subordination of the love interest to that of compagnonnage is exhibited also by
Amis e Amilun (late 12th c.), in which hagiographic as well as epic elements are present.
This octosyllabic version is probably earlier than and independent of the French Ami et
Amile. Hue de Rotelande’s Ipomedon, for its part, seems almost to lampoon the “courtly”
tradition, naming the unapproachable lady “La Fière” and interjecting bawdy comments
that bespeak an iconoclastic approach to one of the principal literary topoi of the day, that
of the beautiful but haughty princess wooed by a lover of supposedly inferior rank.
Those love-centered romances, whatever their position on fin’amor, share with the
vast majority of continental romances the fluid octosyllabic couplet form that by mid-
century had become traditional for virtually all court-oriented poems. What is curious is
that many of the Anglo-Norman poems whose principal interest is not love but rather
feudal rights, inheritance, and family tend later to abandon this form in favor of rhyming
laisses composed of decasyllabic or Alexandrine lines. Among the latter are the Roman
de Horn mentioned above, Thomas of Kent’s Roman de toute chevalerie (1175–85?; also
known as the Anglo-Norman Alexander), and Boeve de Haumtone (early 13th c.). Their

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