Yvain is an Arthurian romance that embodies the medieval principles of courtly love and chivalry. Throughout medieval Europe, these codes of love and chivalry defined right conduct in courtly spheres.
In courtly love, the lady is the dominant party; she must be won over by her lover with ceremonial actions, brave exploits, and romantic gifts. Meanwhile, the knight or lover in question must satisfy himself with only the barest glimpses of his lady's approval and regard. He is to continually prove his love for her with increasing acts of valor. Courtly love in the medieval realm was often adulterous in nature. While this is the case in Chretien's Lancelot, the story of Yvain is focused on how the knight maintains his lady's esteem.
In fact, the story of Yvain demonstrates a central tenet of courtly love: a worthy man is constantly consumed with thoughts of his lady. Indeed, she must be his only obsession in life and his sole reason for existing. In the story, Lady Laudine gives Yvain a magical ring that promises to keep him from harm so long as thoughts of her are never far from his mind. Of course, Yvain forgets his promise in light of his astounding victories on the tournament circuit; he stays away longer than he has promised.
The hero is forced to admit his culpability and to perform deeds of repentance and valor to redeem himself in his lady's eyes. Like every knight who has insulted his lady before him, Yvain sets out on a series of adventures. He begins by fighting to restore the Lady of Noroison's lands to her. The latter is so grateful that she is willing to marry Yvain or to become his mistress. However, Yvain rebuffs her, proving that he only has eyes for Lady Laudine. He continues on his journey back to Laudine, saving a lion along the way and Lunete, Lady Laudine's maid, from being burned at the pyre.
Yvain defeats the wicked seneschal and his two brothers easily; Lunete is thus saved and able to effect a reconciliation between Yvain and her mistress. After a series of brave acts, Yvain is finally reconciled with the Lady Laudine. As a medieval romance, Yvain follows the traditional script on courtly love. The man consummates his love with a beautiful and morally superior feminine character. He then falls to disgrace and must rehabilitate himself through a series of adventures that prove his chivalry, valor, and virtue. Finally, he reconciles with his lady and is restored to her good graces. Thus, Yvain is a typical romance addressing the medieval codes of chivalry and courtly love.
Written by Christian de Troyes around 1170, Yvain, the Knight of the Lion is a classic in medieval French literature and an important contribution to the body of Arthurian legend. Yvain was a knight of the Round Table in King Arthur’s Camelot, and like the better-known Sir Lancelot, he was the model of chivalry and honor and embodied the knightly ideal. In his adventures throughout the story, Yvain upheld the code of chivalry. He was the perfect lover and the perfect warrior, and an analysis of his attitudes and actions shows that he strove throughout his life to balance these two roles.
The significance of the story of Yvain lies both in its importance at the time it was written and as a reflection of medieval values. Yvain has a godly faith, which secures his appeal with a medieval audience. He exhibits bravery in battle, courtesy and honor in love, and he fights against those who denounce the importance of the knightly code of ethics in their private and public affairs. The character of Yvain is believed to be based on a real person, one whose story appeared in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and other British histories. Whether or not Yvain had an historical counterpart, however, he was legitimized in historical literature. Many scholars believe that historians legitimated the legends of Arthur and the knights to glorify medieval knighthood and promote the appeal of the crown.
*Carlisle Castle (CAHR-lil). Castle...
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