Study Guide

Yvain

by Chrétien de Troyes

Yvain Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At the season of Pentecost, King Arthur holds his court at Carduel in Wales. After dinner on that feast day, a knight named Calogrenant tells a tale of adventure that is not altogether to his credit, and for which he is mocked by Sir Kay the seneschal. Calogrenant reveals that seven years before he had journeyed beyond the forest of Broceliande. After a night’s lodging in the tower of a courteous vavasor he continued on his way until he encountered a giant seventeen feet tall who was guarding some wild bulls in a clearing. The giant told the knight that if he sought some marvel he was to look for a spring in a mysterious wood, for water from the spring poured on a nearby stone would bring down upon him a storm such as few men had ever seen, with bolts of lightning that would blind him and thunder that would shake the earth. All happened as the giant had foretold, and after the storm had ceased, a knight appeared and challenged Calogrenant to a duel because of the great damage that had been caused by the wind and rain Calogrenant had brought about. The two fought and Calogrenant was overthrown. He tells his companions that he had been so shamed in that encounter that he had never told the story before.

One of those who listens to his tale is Yvain, a valiant knight, who swears to avenge the shame of Calogrenant, his German cousin. Yvain is then also mocked by Sir Kay. While they speak, King Arthur comes from his chamber, and Queen Guinevere tells him the tale as she has heard it. The king thereupon swears an oath that he must see these wonders for himself; he says that any of his knights who wishes to come may accompany him on the venture. Yvain, thinking that the quest should be his alone, leaves the court secretly and rides on horseback over mountains and through valleys until he comes to the forest of the magic spring. When he pours a basin of water on the stone, a great storm arises. After the storm the strange knight appears, and he and Yvain battle until their lances splinter and their armor has been pierced in many places. At last Yvain deals the enemy a blow that shatters his helmet and splits his skull, but even then the knight does not fall down at once but gallops off on his horse to take refuge in his castle.

Yvain, riding in close pursuit of his foe, is trapped when a portcullis falls before him as well as another behind him after he has ridden through the castle gate. There the maid Lunete finds him and saves his life with the gift of a magic ring, which makes him invisible while the nobleman’s vassals search for the knight who gave their lord his mortal wound. While he is thus protected, Yvain sees the Lady Laudine de Landuc, the mistress of the castle, a lady so fair that he falls in love with her on the spot. The maid Lunete, seeing how matters stand, conceals Yvain and ministers to his wounds. Between visits to Yvain, she speaks to her lady, urging her to put aside her anger and grief and to take a new husband who will be master of her domain and defender of the magic spring. Lunete is so cunning in her speech that her lady finally agrees to do as the damsel suggests. Then Yvain is brought from the chamber where he has been hidden. Falling on his knees before the Lady Laudine, he begs forgiveness for killing her lord in fair fight. The lady, impressed by Yvain’s comeliness and bravery, is soon reconciled, and the two are wed with great rejoicing.

As he had sworn, King Arthur comes with his knights to see the magic spring, and Sir Kay mocks the absent Yvain, who had sworn to avenge his cousin’s name. Then the king pours a basin of water on the stone, and immediately the rain begins to fall and the wind to blow. When the storm has subsided, Yvain appears, his armor and helmet concealing his identity, to challenge King Arthur’s knights, and Sir Kay begs to be allowed the first encounter. Yvain quickly unhorses the braggart seneschal and then reveals himself to King Arthur and the other knights. All are delighted to find Yvain safe and well. For a week thereafter, Yvain and his lady entertain the royal party with feasting and entertainment of all kinds.

At the end of that time, as the king is preparing to depart, Sir Gawain urges Yvain to return to Britain with them and to take part in all tournaments, so that none can say that so brave a knight has grown weak and slothful in marriage. The Lady Laudine agrees, but on the promise that Yvain will return to her in one year. Before he leaves, she gives him a ring set with a stone that will keep its wearer from all harm as long as he keeps his sweetheart in mind.

So successful is Yvain in all the tournaments that are held throughout the land that he forgets his promise until the Lady Laudine sends a damsel to denounce him as a hypocrite and liar and to demand the return of the ring. Yvain, overcome by remorse at the thought of losing his lady’s love, goes mad; he begins living like a wild beast in the forest. A hermit living there finds him, naked and distracted, and gives him bread and water; the hermit takes care of Yvain until one day the noble lady of Noroison and her two damsels find the naked man asleep under a tree. The lady and her maids attend the knight and anoint him with a soothing, magic ointment to restore his wits. When he has recovered, Yvain pledges himself to the lady’s support and vows to champion her against Count Alier, who is plundering her lands. So fierce is Yvain’s attack on the marauders that the count yields and gives his oath that he will live in peace from that time on. Afterward, having refused to accept the lady’s hand in marriage or to take her as his mistress, Yvain rides away in search of new adventures.

One day,...

(The entire section is 2324 words.)