The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

One Easter season, while King Arthur holds his court in the royal town of Cardigan, he summons all of his knights to a hunt for the white stag. Sir Gawain, hearing of the king’s wish, is displeased and says that no good will come of that ancient custom, for the law of the hunt decrees that the successful hunter must also kiss the lady whom he considers the most beautiful damsel of the court. As Sir Gawain notes, there is likely to be dissension among the assembled knights and each, believing his own true love as the loveliest and gentlest lady in the land, will be angered by the slight if she is not so considered by the others.

At daybreak, the hunters set out. After them rides Queen Guinevere, attended by Erec, a fair and brave knight, and one of the queen’s damsels. While they wait by the wayside to hear the baying of the hounds or the call of a bugle, they see coming toward them a strange knight, his lady, and a dwarf who carries a knotted scourge. The queen sends her damsel to ask who the knight and his fair companion might be, but the dwarf, barring her way, strikes the damsel across the hand with his whip. Then Erec rides forward and the dwarf lashes him across the face and neck. Being unarmed, Erec makes no attempt to chastise the dwarf or his haughty master, but he vows that he will follow the strange knight until he can find arms to hire or to borrow that he might avenge the insult to the queen.

In the fair town to which the strange knight and his companions presently lead him, Erec finds lodgings with a vavasor, who tells him the reason for all the stir and bustle that Erec saw as he rode through the gates. On the next day, a fine sparrow hawk will be given to the knight who can defend against all comers the beauty and goodness of his lady. The haughty knight won the bird in two successive years and will be allowed to keep it if his challenge goes unanswered the next day. At the home of the vavasor, Erec meets his host’s daughter, Enide, who is despite her tattered garments the most radiantly beautiful damsel Erec ever saw. With her as his lady and with arms borrowed from his host, Erec challenges and defeats in single combat the arrogant knight, whose name is Yder. Then Erec dispatches the vanquished knight, along with his lady and his dwarf, to Queen Guinevere to do with as she pleases. He also sends word that he will return with his beautiful bride, the damsel Enide.

Erec promises Enide’s father great riches and two towns to rule in his own land, but he refuses all offers to have Enide dressed in robes suitable to her new station: He wishes all in King Arthur’s court to see that even in her humble garments she is the most beautiful lady who ever lived. So great is her beauty that King Arthur, who killed the White Stag, kisses her, and there is no demur from the assembled knights and ladies. The king also grants Eric the boon of a speedy marriage, so eager is the young knight for the love of his promised bride. The ceremony is performed by the archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the Pentecost before an assemblage of knights and ladies from every corner of the kingdom, and the celebration continues for a fortnight.

A month after Pentecost, a great tournament is held near Tenebroc, and in the lists there Erec shows himself the most valiant of all the knights assembled. On his return, he receives from the king permission to visit his own land, and he and Enide set out with an escort of sixty knights. On the fifth day, they arrive in Carnant, where King Lac welcomes his son and Enide with much honor. Erec finds so much pleasure in his wife’s company that he has no thought for other pastimes. When tournaments are held in the region around, he sends his knights to the forays but he remains behind in dalliance with the fair Enide. At last people begin to gossip and say that he turned a craven in arms. These reports so distress Enide that one morning while they are still abed she begins to lament the way in which the brave and hardy knight changed because of his love for her. Hearing her words, Erec is moved to anger, and he tells her to rise and prepare herself at once to take the road with him on a journey of knight-errantry in search of whatever perils he might encounter by chance. At the beginning of the journey he gives orders that she is never to tell him of anything she might see, nor to speak to him unless he addresses her first.

As Enide rides ahead, forbidden to speak, she laments her disclosure and the sudden loss of the life she enjoyed with her loving husband. She disobeys him, however, when they are about to be attacked by three robber knights, and again when they are assailed by five recreants. Erec, overcoming all who oppose him, feels no gratitude for her wifely warnings and fears for his safety and speaks harshly to her because she disobeyed his command.

That night, since they know of no town or shelter nearby, they sleep in an open field. There, the squire of Count Galoin comes upon them the next day and conducts them to lodgings in the town where the count is master. That nobleman, going to pay his...

(The entire section is 2087 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Cardigan. King Arthur’s castle, which not only represents the splendor and honor that is so much a part of his legendary reign and of Chrétien’s romances, but also the actual setting in Wales that exists at the present time. It signifies tradition and celebration. In addition, it is where the tale opens and the legendary white stag hunt custom is to begin. Erec and Enide are married there as well.


*Edinburgh. Another real locale in Scotland that is the perfect blend of modern and medieval aspects; it is a place of rich diversity and culture, as well as the place where the tournament is held and Erec is declared the victor of all attending knights.


Wilderness. This location seems deep and unknowable, just like the experiences that Erec and Enide face here.


*Nantes (nant). Port in Brittany, across the English Channel from Great Britain. Erec and Enide are crowned king and queen there on Christmas Day.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Buckbee, Edward J. “Erec et Enide.” In The Romances of Chrétien de Troyes: A Symposium, edited by Douglas Kelly. Lexington, Ky.: French Forum, 1985. Buckbee argues that Erec and Enide are a perfect couple who fit the ideal of Arthur’s elite society of knights and ladies, but he also notes that the characterization is ambiguous because Chrétien does not state their motives clearly.

Frappier, Jean. “Chrétien de Troyes.” In Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, edited by R. S. Loomis. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1959. Provides a good overview of Chrétien’s work and deals primarily with his sources. An admirable starting point for new readers.

Loomis, Roger Sherman. Arthurian Tradition and Chrétien de Troyes. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949. Loomis shows how most episodes in Chrétien’s romances have their parallels in other Irish, Welsh, and Breton stories. Some of Loomis’ work has been questioned, but he remains an acknowledged authority in the field.

Luttrell, Claude. The Creation of the First Arthurian Romance: A Quest. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1974. A study specifically of Erec and Enide, which focuses on Chrétien’s sources and the meaning as revealed by the poem’s structure. Also discusses romances that resemble Erec and Enide.

Noble, Peter S. Love and Marriage in Chrétien de Troyes. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1982. Examines the theme of love and marriage in all of Chrétien’s romances. Concludes that Erec and Enide is a celebration of married rather than unmarried or pre-marital “courtly love.”