- Amadis de Gaule. Book 4
Luce Guillerm's critical edition of book 4 of Herberay des Essarts's Amadis de Gaule is part of a resurgence of interest in sixteenth-century French novel and [End Page 887] romance. It comes in the wake of Marian Rothstein's study, Reading in the Renaissance: Amadis de Gaule and the Lessons of Memory (1999) and following a number of critical editions, including M. M. Fontaine's edition of Barthélemy Aneau's Alector (1996) and Christine de Buzon's edition of Hélisenne de Crenne's Les Angoysses douloureuses (1997). This fourth book of the French Amadis comes almost 100 years after Hugues Vaganay's edition of book 1 (1918), later revised and expanded by Yves Giraud (1986).
Herberay des Essarts's Amadis de Gaule consists of eight books first published between 1540 and 1548 but reedited and anthologized (in the Trésors) through the end of the century and beyond. The first four of these were based on Montalvo's Amadìs de Gaula. In Renaissance France, Herberay's adaptation was something of an event: at once a cultural vogue (Eugène Baret), the first French bestseller (Michel Simonin), and a Renaissance epic (Marian Rothstein). Book 4 completes the story of Amadis himself, paving the way for the adventures of his son, Esplandian, the hero of book 5. Book 4 of Herberay's Amadis begins with mounting conflict that pits Amadis against King Lisuart, who is allied with the Roman Emperor. The first half of the book has a military tenor, describing first the diplomatic prelude to war (speeches by ambassadors and deliberations by royal counsels), then the deployment of the armies (Herberay des Essarts was the Commissaire Ordinaire à l'Artillerie under Francis I), followed by a bellicose coda relating the defeat of the magician Arcalaus, who had hoped to benefit from the war by conquering Great Britain in Lisuart's absence. After his victory and public marriage to Oriane, Amadis attempts to resume the traditional activities of knights-errant by coming to the aid of a damsel in distress. However, like Lancelot in the thirteenth-century prose cycle, he soon discovers that adventure is no longer reserved for him, but rather for his son. Amadis is helpless before the épreuve de l'épée (chapter 36). In book 5 his son Esplandian will put an end to this adventure, thereby replacing Amadis as the world's best knight.
Luce Guillerm's critical edition is a significant contribution, particularly for those interested in late medieval and early modern prose narrative, translation studies, and aesthetics during the reign of Francis I, including architecture (chapter 2 consists of a detailed description of the palace of Apolidon — a literary simulacrum of Chambord, with echoes of the Cháteau de Madrid and Fontainebleau as well). Guillerm's edition includes reproductions of the woodcuts illustrating the editio princeps published in 1543 and a substantial critical apparatus, making this fourth book remarkably accessible even in isolation. Beyond the bibliography of French and Spanish primary and secondary works, there is an excellent introduction, glossary, and a very useful index of over 100 proper names (many belonging to characters in the first three books who make brief appearances in the fourth). This sort of editorial accompaniment is necessary for a modern reader to follow the intricate plot, all the more so since Amadis himself accumulates numerous aliases in the course of the first three books: Le Damoysel de la Mer, Le Beau Ténébreux, Le Chevalier à la Verde Espée, Le Chevalier du Nain, and Le Chevalier Grec. The footnotes explain allusions, identify sources using the inventory of Herberay's [End Page 888] personal library, examine aesthetic features of late medieval romance cycles, flag the passages that were later included in the Trésors, gloss words and expressions, and, finally, explain references to the political context — for, as Guillerm points out, book 4 is as much a work of political realism as...