English 65B/165B: Arthurian Literature
Chrétian de Troyes Le Chavalier de la Charrete


1. Each roman by Chrétien presents a new character, problem, conflict, and relationship of love (amor) to chivalry (armes).
2. Consider the title, Le Chevalier de la Charrette, not Lancelot..
3. Prologue: Clever and ambiguous relationship of author to his work about the progress of an adulterous love affair, commissioned at the behest of Marie, but abandoned near the end.

I. Structure:

A. Romance begins as it ends, with Meleagant's threat to Arthur's world.
B. Tripartite again (1. abduction, 2. rescue, and 3. return),

1. Meleagant's challenge, Kay's failure, and Lancelot's five-day quest, with (rationalized) elements from Classical and Celtic lore (abduction to the netherworld; the Perilous Bed and the Flaming Lance); culminates in the crossing of the Sword Bridge (1-3020).
2. The events at Bademagu's court. Lancelot is humiliated by the queen and then by the crowd that takes him prisoner. Lancelot is rewarded in a night of love with Guenevere, followed by defense of Kay and temporary triumph over Meleagant in judicial combat (3021-5115).
3. Lancelot's imprisonment, his release to fight in tournament where he is humiliated by the queen and his devotion to her proved; then return tyo a stricter imprisonment, release, and finally his defeat of Meleagant (5516-7134).

II. Thematic:

A. In first part, At level of fin'amors, Lancelot is faced by trials which test his devotion and love for Guenevere
In second part, his courtly virtues of patience, constancy, obedience to love and disdain of vaine gloire, are tested by Guenevere and by trials imposed on him by Meleagant. The dual role given Lancelot is apparent in the episode of the death-cart in which Lancelot's hesitation can be seen as the self-love of knighthood which impedes fin'amors and Christian humility. Both themes woven together in the unifying central episode at Bademagu's court
B. Lancelot's moral excellence brings about freedom of prisoners of Gorre. Lancelot's character superior to that of Gawain, supposedly the epitome of courtly beahvior, enabling him to conquers Meleagant and the self-love, purposeless violence, treachery, and cruelty which Meleagant personifies.
C. A study of idolatrous love outside marriage: "Lancelot bowed low and adored her, for in no holy relic did he put such faith" (p. 264).
1. The "old custom" of winning a lady as prize by combat.
2. Courtly love between knight and lady, intensified because the lady is the queen, the paragon of ladies.
3. The paradox of devotion and disloyalty.

III. Characterization:

A. Chrétien's Lancelot is more fully described than many of his other heroes, superior to Gawain in dedication to his lady. Kay his foil, symbol of orguel in knighthood, or outrage and desreison (118).
B. Meleagant a consistent rival and nemesis. A parallel anti-hero against Lancelot.
C. Guenevere more complex than in Chrétien's other romances, a lady of transcendent beauty, intelligence, and discretion, at Arthur's bidding humbles herself to Kay with selfless humility, which Love will demand of Lancelot when he reaches the death-cart (142-55; 358-63). However, she displays an unattractive exultation in her power over Lancelot.