Huon of Bordeaux is a French epic poem or chanson de geste, written in the first quarter of the thirteenth century. As the term chanson de geste indicates, this type of composition is intended to be chanted, most likely to a simple melody played on a zither or lutelike instrument, called the vielle. The poem is composed in assonanced decasyllabic verse arranged in stanzas of irregular length. Each stanza is separated from the next by a short pause that lends itself to a brief musical interlude, which in turn provides the storyteller with an opportunity to recall and organize the next stanza. The term chanson de geste further points out that the song’s subject matter relates to geste, that is, to exploits and deeds.
Huon of Bordeaux is an original and successful composition of approximately 10,553 verses. Despite its considerable size, the unknown author succeeds in steadily advancing the complex plot while maintaining a cohesiveness that is crucial to an audience’s understanding of a text this long. Although the author respects the conventions of the epic genre in plot and setting, he also introduces elements borrowed from other literary traditions, in particular the Arthurian romance. Huon of Bordeaux is undeniably a chanson de geste, but it also has definite characteristics of the verse romance. This form of experimentation within a literary genre has been the focus of...
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