Lancelot: Or, The Knight of the Cart

by Chrétien de Troyes

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*France. The opening passages of this romance are set in France, allowing the writer to give credit to Marie of Champagne, who was his patroness and his encouragement in this effort. It also serves to lay the foundation for the introduction of the concept of courtly love into the Arthurian legends.


Camelot. The romance’s action opens at Arthur’s court in Camelot near Caerleon, placing the knights in the proper setting before they go on their quest to accompany and rescue the queen. The major portion of the romance takes place on the road and in the wilderness, demonstrating that the knights’ path would most often lead into the world of the unknown. Perhaps the most prominent symbol associated with the setting is that of the bridge.


Bridges. In order to realize his quest, the knight must cross the right bridge; often he is confronted by bridges that might take him in the wrong direction or even to his death. The completion of the quest demonstrates that the knight has taken the correct path and met the dictates of the code of chivalry, which are his guiding principles.


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Brewer, Derek. “The Presentation of the Character of Lancelot: Chrétien to Malory.” In Arthurian Literature, edited by Richard Barber. Vol. 4. Totowa, N.J.: D. S. Brewer, 1984. This article discusses the character of Lancelot in relation to his portrayal in other medieval works.

Frappier, Jean. “Chrétien de Troyes.” In Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, edited by R. S. Loomis. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1959. This is a good starting point for a study of Chrétien and deals mainly with sources and characterization.

Kelly, Douglas. Sens and Conjointure in the “Chevalier de la Charrette.” The Hague: Mouton, 1966. Kelly’s argument is that Chrétien was really in favor of adulterous courtly love and that Godefroy de Leigny finished the poem under his supervision.

Lacy, Norris J. The Craft of Chrétien de Troyes: An Essay on Narrative Art. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1980. Lacy observes that Lancelot is composed from a number of similar episodes, and he notes that the meaning can be found by a comparison of those episodes.

Loomis, Roger Sherman. Arthurian Tradition and Chrétien de Troyes. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949. Loomis shows how Chrétien’s romances were influenced by Celtic mythology. Although his conclusions have been challenged, his work is very stimulating, especially when he deals with the Sword Bridge.

Rougement, Denis de. Love in the Western World. Translated by Montgomery Belgion. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1940. Rougement describes courtly love and argues that it is self-defeating and even masks a death wish.

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