I. Source.

Like Lancelot, the matiere of Yvain derives in part

A. from a Celtic adventure tale, such as found in the Welsh Owein

B. but with added classical motifs, such as Androcles and the Lion, and Ovidian scenes

  1. Thematic Strucure:
  1. Intertextuality

1. Three times during Yvain Gawain is involved in Lancelot plot.

2. In Lancelot the hero’s name is not revealed until late, whereas in Yvain the hero’s name is revealed in the first part but concealed in the latter.

3. Chrétien continues to explore and extend polarities: clergie/chevalrie: armes/amor, love/hate, honor/dishonor, foolishness/wisdom, measure/desmesure.

4. Having probed the relationship of armes/amor in Erec and Enide by positing the desmesure of leisured domesticity, he now reverses the theme by studying the effects of neglecting marital duties for knightly pursuits on the tournament circuit; both are a result of neglecting duty and practicing self-indulgence, which must be atoned.

B. Mimetic Rivalry (René Girard’s term).

1. Of all Chrétien’s romans, Yvain most thematizes mimetic rivalry

2. Like Marie de France, Chrétien also explores the female response to that rivalry. Their women use other weapons to deal with rivalry.

III. Plot Structure

A. Yvain wins then loses Laudine and her realm (1-2773).

1. Begins with two embarrassments:

a. Arthur fails his courtly responsibilities disgraces himself in self-indulgence

b. Calogrenant relates his foolish failure and disgrace.

2. Yvain determines in the face of Kay’s derision to avenge his family name be reforming his cousin Calogrenant’s adventure. He rushes ahead of Arthur and his court, giving himself an unfair advantage.

After pursuing Esclados, who dies of his wounds, Yvain stays for professional reason: to return with some sign of his victory as proof to his suspicious peers, who are his rivals (see l. 1538, p. 313).

Chivalric honor is supreme, subordinating everything, including sex. Sex becomes the instrument of fame; "sex makes itself the humble servant of fame" (Girard). Admiration for the successful knight is so ingrained in Chrétien’s women that it governs sexual desire (Cf. Enide).

The novel first shows us a husband who does something worse than staying away from the battlefield (as Erec); Esclados suffers defeat and death. According to the logic of mimetic and chivalrous desire, the lady must fall in love with his victor and superior and his murderer. The woman must fall in love with the winner (ll. 1690 ff., p. 316)

After unhorsing Kay, Yvain reveals himself to Arthur and the court as the victor and entertains them as lord of the manor.

Yvain is persuaded by Gawain to leave his bride and go tourneying; he overstays his year’s leave granted by Laudine, who casts him off and despairing he realizes his enormous guilt (ll. 2476-2773).

B. By a series of trial and adventures, the despondent Yvain regains honor and Laudine (2774-6818). (Below, action 3 is interrupted by 4; 5 by 6)

1. Becomes a wild man of the woods, tended by the hermit, and healed by the unguent ministrations of the maid of the lady of Noroison (witty sexual description) (2774-3137, pp. 331-34); defeats Count Alier, the lady’s oppressor (3138-3336).

2. Kills fire-breathing serpent to rescue a lion, which becomes his faithful companion, representing his alter ego (3341-3484).

3a. Yvain returns to the spring to find Lunete imprisoned on charge of treason and ready to be burned (3485-3769).

4. He champions niece and nephews of Gawain and kills giant, Harpin (3770-4312).

3b. He rescues Lunete by defeating accusers and unrecognized himself reconciles her with Laudine (4313-4702).

5a. The younger daughter of Lord Espine dispossessed by older sister championed by Gawain secures the services of Yvain (4703-5106).

6. At the Castle of Pesme Adventure Yvain is obliged to fight two monsters, to free the release of the hundred captive maids from the sweatshop (5107-5809) .

5b. Yvain and Gawain meet in mortal combat, championing the sisters. The climactic contest of mimetic competitiveness (p. 370). Love and hate are within each, The two knights are the two greatest embodiments of the chivalric ideal at Arthur’s court. "On the ladder of prestige, they occupy the highest rung together; each wants to occupy it alone. Their two loves and their two hates are really two sides of the same coin" (Girard).

When they finally recognize each other, each knight proclaims the victory of his friend with such energy that they seem close to fighting again, ironically each to prove his inferiority, not his superiority (5810-6509).

"When things come to the point at which the better knights fight one another instead of outsiders, the very same force that protects the culture against hostile outsiders turns against itself and threatens to destroy the system from inside." Yvain and Gawain, like their names, are almost the same.

Absolved and atoned by his unselfish dedication to service of others, Yvain returns to the fountain and Lunete arranges the final reconcilement with Laudine. Yvain, who accused Calogrenant of folly in the beginning of the story, confesses to Laudine his own folly.

Chrétien concludes the tale with verbal play on fin/fine (6810-14).