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Adultery as a symptom of political crisis in two Arthurian romances The aim of the following article is to trace the conditions which led to adultery and the political disorders which it caused and perpetuated in the two feudal systems outlined in Chr6tien de Troyes' Lancelot ou Le Chevalier de la Charrete and in Beroul's Le Roman de Tristran.1 The discussion will focus first on the political situation in the three kingdoms of these romances, showing how it facilitated adultery; second, on how adultery contributed to the furthering of political instability in the systems involved; and third, on the reaction of the heroes' peers and the public's response to events. W e should bear in mind that beside the public/ characters in the romances, another public was involved and addressed—that of readers/ listeners to w h o m romances were a means of entertainment, but for w h o m they could also serve as a didactic device. Both romances actually embody double quest structure: the quest for love and the quest for liberation. At the time when adultery is committed, the kingdoms of Cornwall and Logres, of which Iseut and Guinevere are the respective queens, show distinct signs of a weakening in the central Qung's) power. Despite the fragmentary state of Beroul's poem,2 it is possible to see clearly the critical state of the political situation. O n Tristan's arrival in Cornwall from Lyonesse, the autonomy of the kingdom is in jeopardy. It is threatened by Ireland in the person of the Morholt. Neither any local baron nor the king himself is able to raise an army to fight this threat (136-38). Tristan decides to take up this challenge, defeats Morholt (140-42), and becomes the first/ best knight of the kingdom and the king's chamberlain. Yet he is given no land (the most important asset in feudal society, and one of the sources of political power) and instead of gratitude he provokes jealousy and hatred on the part of the most powerful (yet cowardly) Cornish barons, Godoine, Donoalen and Guenelon,3 as Iseut declares (25-30.) Fearing that the childless king could designate as his heir 1 The editions used are: Chretien de Troyes, Lancelot ou Le Chevalier de la Charrete, ed. W . W . Kibler, N e w York and London, 1981, based on Bibliotheque Nationale (BN) M S Guiot 794, and BerouL Le Roman de Tristran, ed. Alfred Ewert, 2 vols, Oxford, 1939 and 1971, based on B N French M S 2171. Figures in brackets indicate lines. 2 In its extant form Beroul's poem starts with the Tryst under the Tree episode. The events prior to this episode may be reconstructed from Iseut's frequent references to them in the poem, or from other extant versions of the Tristan story. 3 These very names evoke evil: see G. Schoepperle, Tristan and Isolt: A Study of the Sources of the Romance, 2 vols, 2nd edn, N e w York, 1960, 1, p. 253. 64 J-M- Stary and successor Tristan, a foreigner, but of his own kin,4 the three convince Mark to look for a bride and to found his own dynasty. This seems to the barons the safest way of maintaining their control over the king. Their plan works at the beginning. Mark marries Iseut, brought into the kingdom by Tristan, and the succession seems assured. But Iseut remains childless and strikes a secretfriendship/love relationship with Tristan. The reasons for their relationship are multiple. Those mentioned at this stage of the poem include the fact that both Iseut and Tristan are foreigners at the Cornish court. Iseut feels alone and abandoned: 'toujours l'Etrangere, l'lrlandaise, la niece du Morholt hai', dans ce royaume de Cornouailles ou parfois son isolement, sa solitude l'effraient',5 and, as Beroul ironically puts it, she has heeded her mother's advice to love her husband's kin: 'que la mollier/ Nen avroit ja [son] seignor chier/ Qui les parenz n'en amereit' (75-77). Tristan for his part owes Iseut his life because she has healed the mortal wound inflicted on him by the Morholt, whose...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 63-73
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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