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Lancelot and Cligès

By: Parvinder Kaur

There are two main reasons that influence my choice of works by Chrétien de Troyes written in the French language rather than any other work of this period written in English: first, there is no major English work of comparable importance for my purposes following the Norman conquest, at least not till the time of Chaucer; second, and more importantly, Chrétien’s presentation of the knight-warrior demonstrates how the idea of heroic masculinity embodied in the figure of the knight is being reformed. The figure of the warrior presented in works of the earlier periods is the ideal that knights of Chrétien’s twelfth-century romances look to as examples of heroic masculinity, but the knights of the romances in question can also be seen as moving in a direction quite different from those set norms of an earlier age. By the twelfth century, the time of the romances I discuss, the figure of the knight comes to stand for a more complex ideal as compared to warriors of the earlier period.
The values exemplified by some of the earlier hero-warriors like Byrhtnoth and Roland continue to be deeply relevant for later warrior heroes, since loyalty and honour are as much the foundation of heroic expression as they were earlier. But I argue that the wide-ranging social and political changes that swept over Europe, especially in the two centuries following The Battle of Maldon and The Song of Roland, radically affected the presentation of heroic masculinity, as is evident in the depiction of the knight in the works I will now discuss.

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