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  • Parody and Moral Allegory in Chantilly MS 472
  • Lori J. Walters (bio)

The presence of Renart material, and to a lesser degree branches of the Perlesvaus, in Chantilly MS 472 has in the past perplexed critics, including myself. No other anthology of Arthurian romances in verse includes the Renart or the prose Perlesvaus, which usually appears elsewhere as a single item manuscript. 1 In this paper I propose to reassess my consideration of the structure of this collection, begun in an article entitled, “The Formation of a Gauvain Cycle in Chantilly Manuscript 472.” 2 I am going to focus on the implications of the Perlesvaus and the Renart material for an understanding of the attitude regarding chivalric ideals implicit in the entire collection. I [End Page 937] refer to the Renart material as a counter cycle because it is a mini non-Arthurian cycle that functions to develop Arthurian themes and characters through comparisons and contrasts. I contend that the Renart matière is an integral part of the collection since it works in conjunction with the Gauvain/Perlesvaus pairing found in the Arthurian section of the anthology to give a fuller picture of Gauvain. Rather than an anomaly, the Renart functions as a key whose parodic view of the Arthurian world enables us to grasp more fully the moral issues that underlie the texts in the codex. Taken in its entirety, the collection functions as a moral allegory; it warns about potential threats to the strength and stability of the French kingdom. 3

This mid-thirteenth-century codex contains, in the following order: Rigomer, L’Atre périlleux, Erec et Enide, Fergus, Hunbaut, Le Bel Inconnu, La Vengeance Raguidel, Le Chevalier au Lion (Yvain), Le Chevalier de la Charrette (Lancelot), Perlesvaus, and several branches of Le Roman de Renart. 4 The collection evidences an underlying cyclic structure: the [End Page 938] cycle formed by the 10 Arthurian works, which begin with the verse Merveilles de Rigomer (henceforth Rigomer) and end with the prose Perlesvaus, plays against the anti- or counter cycle constituted by the branches of the Roman de Renart at the end of the collection. In the aforementioned article I describe this MS as a Gauvain cycle. Some form of narrative interlace, usually multiple quests, structures narrative cycles, where the quest of one knight alternates with the quest of one or several other knights; the author invariably develops comparisons and contrasts between the characters of the knights in question. Good examples of narrative cycles are the mid-thirteenth-century prose romances like the Lancelot-Graal in which, just to cite the Queste del saint Graal, Lancelot’s adventures alternate with those of his son Galahad, Lionel, Hector, Gauvain, Perceval and Bohort. The Chantilly manuscript is an anthology of the major Arthurian heroes with Gauvain’s character and career its center of interest. 5 The Chantilly manuscript includes stories of many different knights, each engaged on a quest; all the Arthurian works mention Gauvain, and in six of the ten Arthurian works (Rigomer, L’Atre périlleux, Fergus, Hunbaut, La Vengeance Raguidel, and Perlesvaus), he is one of the major characters. It is significant that the other four works include Le Bel Inconnu, a romance about Gauvain’s son, Guinglain, and three Chrétien romances: Erec et Enide, Yvain, and Lancelot. As I suggested in my original study, this collection, as well as individual works in it, such as the Atre périlleux 6 and Hunbaut 7 seem to be responding to perceived gaps in Chrétien’s treatment of Gauvain. Praised as the most worthy knight at the beginning of Erec et Enide, Gauvain, although becoming increasingly important over the course of Chrétien’s career, never is the [End Page 939] protagonist of one of his romances. Although Gauvain is the go-between and material link between Yvain and Lancelot and almost steals the show from the hero in Perceval, Chrétien’s last unfinished romance, Chrétien fails to devote a whole romance to him, a void filled by the anonymous author of the mid-thirteenth-century Atre périlleux, 8 the work that occupies the second position in the Chantilly manuscript.

Another “gap” in Chr...

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