Yvain or The Knight with the Lion: The Introduction of Literary Strengths There are few novels today that possess the adventure which takes place throughout Yvain (aka The Knight with the Lion). Chretien’s use of structure in this poem has surely influenced the modern day novel. Yvain was one of the first books to introduce the genre of Chivalric Romance, which many authors still mimic today. The genre capturing this tale clearly defined literature thereafter and was the beginning of a new era in story-telling. In Northrop Frye’s definition of modes, we can see that this poem is clearly in “Romance Mode”.
In the concept of modes, Frye identifies literary works to be classified by the hero’s power of action. By distinction of any novels’ hero, the audience can discern whether the main character or hero has powers greater, less, or roughly the same as the audience’s. The romance mode is the second mode of Frye’s distinction. In this poem, the hero of the story is human, but is certainly superior to normal humans; it is a story in which the hero has marvelous strengths and powers of endurance. The setting of the story may also slightly suspend the laws of nature in a way that allows magical things to happen.
As Frye says, this is the world of legends, folk tales, and fairy tales. In this novel, the main character Yvain portrays the essence of these qualities. Yvain has many instances throughout the poem, in which he miraculously overcomes obstacles. There was not one event in which he lost against another knight or creature. The fact that Yvain intruded on a fight between a lion and a snake, is in itself, marvelous. No human in real life, would risk their life for this situation. In this scene, as Yvain chose to slay the snake by chopping it into pieces, and the lion shows a sense of gratefulness. The Lion rose on his hind feet and joined his forepaws in complete submissiveness and then he spread his forepaws out and bowed his head in great humility (pg 95). ” It was after this point that they became companions, and the lion would never leave his side. This scene illustrates the Romance mode as the basic laws of nature are slightly obstructed by the lion’s ability to express feelings. Taking a closer look, we can discern the subcategory of this romance mode to be chivalric and contain courtly love. The entire story is full of many events in which even Chretien noted as chivalric.
These consist of the knightly values of courage and loyalty as well as extreme respectfulness to others, especially women. In these civilized times, the royalty- living in castles and employing warriors- created these rules of combat and courtly manners that knights should carry out. It was the main goal for every knight to perform the good deeds, because it was the honorable thing to do, not because its adventure was of interest. In the poem, Calogrenant went in search for a marvel to entertain himself with adventure.
But when this lead to disaster, Yvain had to stand by his side because they were cousins, and blood relatives were not to be abandoned. Yvain went out in hopes to avenge his cousin Calogrenant, “The lord did not sit down or pause; he poured some water on the great green stone. The storm came, just as he had known (pg 23). ” Here, Yvain committed the same act that got Calogrenant in trouble, yet Yvain did not commit this act in hopes of a marvel, but rather to hold honor because it was the right thing to do for his family.
This act reinforced Yvain’s knightly duties, furthering his intent to be chivalrous. Instrumental for the configuration of any chivalric identity in a medieval romance, this genre entices the male audience with its tales of lone adventuring, jousting with common men, killing beasts, rescuing virgins, and fighting in fateful battles. It also introduces a new side (in the medieval time period) to male and female relations, fascinating the idea of courtly love. The behavior of courtly love was a social phase that society engaged during the time of the poem.
It was the idea that love was a service that gentlemen carried out for their women. It also reflected the principle that men and women could have conversation, and “flirt”. One could even fall in love at first sight by a physical process: in through the eyes, and passing down to the heart, and from there taking over the entire body as though captured by love’s poison. In the poem, the audience sees Yvain express his feelings through courtly love. “A new Love sweetens him with sugar and honey. Love, at whim, has hunted in her lands today, and now she gathers in her prey.
His enemy has his heart (pg 38). ” By this quote, we see that the force of love is overpowering, and Yvain is the “prey” wounded by love, because this woman, whose husband he has killed, now has his heart. When Yvain was published, society had just recently become civilized, as opposed to their previously barbaric state. People were becoming accustomed to mannerism and sense of ruling. In the poem, we see a little of both sides of this society. In most of the story, Yvain and his surroundings are civilized, he is a proper knight and he is carrying out duties of society in a refined way.
But when Laudine brought shame upon him for breaking his promise to her, we see Yvain turn to the opposite of civilized society. Yvain became so ashamed of himself he turned to a barbaric state of society, “a whirlwind broke loose in his brain, so violent that he went insane, and clawed himself, tore off his clothes and fled across the fields and rows (pg 79). ” By entering the forest in this manner, Yvain indicated his complete abandonment of everything his aristocratic culture stood for—he no longer takes the part of a husband, or even a knight, but merely a wild animal.
The entire poem is composed with many individual stories. What made this poem such an inspiration for the future genre was its completeness. Like Aristotle mentioned, a good story must have a beginning, middle and an end. Yvain, is compiled with many intricate stories chronologically placed, perfect and large enough for one to remember them all. The uniqueness of the Chivalric Romance genre had great influence on subsequent literature, but presenting three definite parts in the story is why Yvain or The Knight with the Lion became so renowned.
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