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To appear in Speculum Jan. 2005. After publication, please cite from the published version.

Copyright by the authors

Love, Anger and Peace: Social Practice and Poetic Play in the Ending of Yvain

By Fredric L. Cheyette and Howell Chickering

At the end of Le Chevalier au lion, Chrétien de Troyes abruptly wraps up the action with these words:

Or a mes sire Yvains sa pes;

et poez croire c’onques mes

ne fu de nule rien si liez,

comant qu’il ait esté iriez.

Molt an est a boen chief venuz

qu’il est amez et chier tenuz

de sa dame, et ele de lui.1(6789-95)

[Now my lord Yvain has his peace,

and you can believe that never again

was he so happy about anything,

however angry/sorrowful he may have been.

Everything has come to a good conclusion,

for he is loved and held dear

by his lady, and she by him.]

The pace and import of this passage have severely tested modern critics’ sense of a satisfying conclusion. In 1981 Leslie Topsfield wrote, “The ending of Yvain is unconvincing, and Chrétien’s commonplace references to the mutual joy and peace without end of Yvain and Laudine leave some doubt whether he did not see in this conclusion the patching together of a story which on its higher level of meaning had transcended its narrative framework.” In 2001 Joseph Duggan claimed that the reconciliation occurs “only because Laudine does not wish to renege on her oath. Remarkably Chrétien declares that Yvain is happier now than he has ever been, for he is loved and cherished by his lady and she by him. The notion that one can be constrained to love is as bizarre in a twelfth-century context as it would be today.” He concludes that in Yvain Chrétien’s “portrayal of motivation has come up a bit short.”2

These two responses twenty years apart illustrate the longevity of the view that the concluding behavior of the characters is either not credible in terms of the fiction itself or else is not recognizably realistic to modern readers. A more complex view of the entire final episode (from line 6500 onward) has been offered over the years in various forms by Helaine Newstead, Marc Glasser, Joan Tasker Grimbert, Donald Maddox, David F. Hult, and Saul N. Brody, to name only a few representatives.3 These critics see the behavior of the characters as ambiguous, and the resolution of the action as tenuous or imperfect, and not likely to endure. For some, this is due to the genre of romance itself: further aventure will ensue and destabilize the happy ending. Most regard the final episode as imperfect or forced because they perceive an artistic tension between the need for a conclusion and the characters’ presumed states of mind. (These states of mind include both “what Laudine is really feeling” and “Yvain’s inner moral growth” or lack of it.) Such critical views have the merit of supposing that Chrétien knew what he was doing and that he in fact meant to create a “tinny” ending, but they also assume, with Duggan, that the characters’ states of mind must be like our own.

In this article we take a different approach, building upon recent developments in the study of the social practices of medieval elites. We attempt to put aside modern Western assumptions about emotions and motivations, and instead read the final episode in the light of documents from the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries that describe the ways that people of lordly estate (i.e. those who would have been Chretien’s primary audience) resolved conflicts and made agreements. Seen in this context, the resolution at the end of the poem is not at all forced, however much the character Yvain may himself be disposed to use force to bring about that resolution.

Throughout the romance, Chrétien’s language is slippery and multiple in meaning, as well as pyrotechnic in its sonorities and rhetorical figures. He is as deceptive and evasive as he is playful. His ironic tone does not stabilize readers’ interpretations but instead keeps them provisional.4 Here in the last scene, Chrétien deploys to great effect the multiple meanings that twelfth-century poets and notaries and their audiences and employers gave to the important words amez, iriez, and pes These several meanings were associated with different registers of emotion and of social practice — for example, with formulations of erotic love and married love on the one hand and, on the other, the love that mutually bound follower and lord (which lord, in some places, including notably the court of Marie de Champagne, would have been a lady). Chrétien constantly moves between these different registers, cutting rapidly from one to the other, sometimes leaving the hearer/reader uncertain as to which one is being sounded. From this play of meanings Chrétien derives much of his choicest comedy. In the final scene of the romance, Chrétien’s audience could have heard all the registers being played simultaneously. They would surely have delighted in the way the very words their notaries put into their own mouths when drafting charters issued forth here in rhymed couplets from the mouths of Chrétien’s characters. Because of his pervasive play with these multiple meanings, we will argue, it is doubtful that Chrétien’s contemporaries would have found tension in the final scene between the characters’ presumed states of mind and the rapid happy ending, however much they may have been challenged by the poet’s ironies. We believe they would have understood and found aesthetically satisfying those very features of the text that strain modern credulity.


In the last few decades, social historians have increasingly questioned the relevance of commonly held modern beliefs about emotions to explaining the behavior of individuals in the medieval world. As Barbara Rosenwein has recently pointed out, most nineteenth- and earlier twentieth-century historians made uncritical use of what she calls a “hydraulic” model of emotions “heaving and frothing, eager to be let out,” a model, she points out, not far from medieval medical notions of the humors, though also consonant with Darwinian notions of “nerve force” and Freudian theories of “impulses.” Deeply embedded in our languages, this hydraulic metaphor appears utterly natural to us and conditions us to believe that emotions are always and everywhere the same.5 Although our feelings may appear to us to be given by nature, to be part of our physical, neurological make up, Rosenwein points out that recent studies in neurobiology, psychology, and anthropology suggest to the contrary that “the ways ... emotions are themselves elicited, felt, and expressed depend on cultural norms as well as individual proclivities.”6 The chemical processes in our bodies that we “feel” as anger, grief, fear, or love are the product of human evolution and universal to homo sapiens. However, the way we perceive those chemical processes, the meanings we attribute to them as anger, grief, fear, or love, and perhaps even some of the circumstances that elicit those chemical processes, are shaped by the culture in which we live, and for people in other times and places would have been shaped by the cultures in which they lived.. Whether we follow the lead of those whom Rosenwein calls “strong social constructionists” and maintain that there are no “basic” emotions at all, or whether we follow those whom she calls “weak social constructionists” and accept as a minimum that emotions “depend on language, cultural practices, expectations, and moral beliefs, ... that every culture has its rules for feelings and behavior,”7 we can not use our modern sense of our own emotions to judge whether past representations of emotions “ring true” or not. We must ask whether contemporaries would have found those representations to ring true.

During the last few years a number of medieval historians (including one of the authors of this article) have focused on the two emotions on which Chretien insists in his last lines, anger and love, emotions that indeed are central to the entire romance. These historians have looked at the construction of “anger” in disputes and of “love” in the settlement of those disputes as well as at the relations of lords (both male and female) to fellow lords and followers (again, both male and female).8 Stephen D. White in particular has insisted that the patterns of social behavior displaying these emotions, and the ways they are represented in French and English texts, are sufficiently stable over time for them to be called culturally established “scripts” or “plots.”9 Gerd Althoff, looking at German texts, has called them “Spielregeln,” rules of the game.10 We will see that amez and iriez in Chrétien’s text fit into just such scripts or sets of rules, and would have been understood that way by his audience. These scripts could very well have been played out in real life or they may only be textual representations of what people thought should be or should have been done. Either way, they clearly are the stories that medieval French, English, Occitan, and German society told itself about some of its real-life doings. Most cultural historians would expect Chrétien’s story about fictional knights and ladies to share some characteristics with these non-literary representations.11

We will compare the similarities in verbal phrasing and patterns of behavior between the poem and the non-literary materials.12 These textual similarities in themselves do not automatically explain one type of text in terms of the other, but they permit us to reach a point of triangulation. That is to say, our comparisons will allow us to infer or, better said, to construct in our own imaginations, a twelfth-century point of view that understands both kinds of texts with equal ease and familiarity. This inferential picture of an audience will be restricted mainly to emotional responses and social values. While it will be an act of imagination (like every other historical reconstruction), we believe that it will not be entirely fictitious and that it can add a new dimension to the modern literary understanding of the poem.

In the following section we will first examine some key words in the ending of Yvain and ask how, for a contemporary listener, they might have resonated with familiar experiences — especially experiences that are unfamiliar to us — whose reconstruction requires an exploration of the historical record. These resonances will lead us to a consideration of twelfth-century social values fundamental to the Yvain/Laudine plot-line: the importance of keeping one’s word, and the meaning of “love” in relation to such pledges or agreements. In section III we will discuss feuding as a medieval social practice. In section IV we will look at some disputes that arose when someone’s pledged word was not kept, and at the set pattern of behavior by which those disputes were resolved and amity was restored. In section V we will examine the special emotions of “anger” and “love” that were evoked both by feuding and dispute settlement. Having established that, for Chrétien’s contemporaries, familiar elements of these experiences would have been visible in the vocabulary of the poem and in the structure of its main plot, in section VI we will examine how they work as elements in Chrétien’s scintillating and highly self-aware performance as a poet.


“Or a mes sire Yvains sa pes” (6789): What could it have meant to twelfth-century ears to hear that now my lord Yvain “has his peace”? Two respected modern translators stumble slightly over this phrase because the word “peace” here does not seem to fit the context. “Now my lord Yvain is reconciled” writes William W. Kibler, while David F. Hult translates “Maintenant, monseigneur Yvain a obtenu son pardon.”13 Kibler is closer than Hult, because his choice has the warrant of a medieval synonym for “making peace,”14 but neither translates literally. Yet Chrétien returns to the word a few lines later, and plays on its finality and perfection, as he describes Lunete’s happy state:

Ne li faut chose qu[i] li pleise,

des qu’ele a fet la pes sanz fin

de mon seignor Yvain le fin

et s’amie chiere et fine.15(6800-03)

[She lacks nothing that pleases her

now that she has made peace without end

between my lord Yvain the true/perfect

and his dear and true/perfect beloved.]

In fact, Chrétien insists upon “pes” as the major term for the resolution of the story, using it in lines 6513, 6723, 6741, 6761, 6769, 6783. Early in the poem, it is the very thing Yvain thinks he can never obtain from Laudine after he has slain her husband (lines 1435, 1970). It is also the word that signals the consequences of his not keeping his agreement with Laudine. If he stays away longer than the agreed time,

molt enviz trovera mes

en sa dame trives ne pes. (2667-68)

[he will find it most difficult thereafter

to make a truce or peace with his lady.]

On hearing the word “peace,” anyone in Chrétien’s audience who knew his Augustine would probably have recalled the famous definition in The City of God, “The peace of all things is the tranquility of order. Order is the distribution which allots equal and unequal things each to its own place,” in the tag of Roman Law, “suum cuique tribuere.”16 Yvain has his peace because he and Laudine have been restored to their proper order, they have each been given what is due them. Those who could not quickly recall their Augustine would have been familiar with the word in the particular secular contexts that made visible Augustine’s equation of peace with concord through the control of enmity and the limitation of violence: the sworn undertaking, commonly called a “peace,” in which the great men of a locality promised to abstain from certain kinds of violence (as in the Peace of God, or the peaces that embraced markets, towns, roads, mills, plows, weekends, Lent, clergy, merchants, peasants, or other places, times, and social groups) and the closely related practice, also called a “peace,” through which lords, ladies, monks, bishops, and even town governments resolved the conflicts in which they were involved.17

One need only thumb through a collection of twelfth- and thirteenth-century charters from the Champagne region to see that “peace” and “accord” appear in one form or another in almost every charter recording the settlement of a dispute. Peace is “had,” “made,” or “agreed to.” The typical formula of Latin charters of agreement went something like this: “Notum sit omnibus ... quod inter domum Pontiniaci et domum Vallis lucentis ... controversia dissentionis extiterit. ... Igitur post longa litigia utraque pars ... ad concordiam ... provocata ... finali pace hoc modo terminavit.” (“Be it known to all ... that there was a conflict ... between the monastery of Pontigny and the monastery of Vauluisant. ... After much controversy each side ... being moved to agreement ... ended the dispute with a final peace in this manner.”)18 In the vernacular charters of the thirteenth century it went like this: “Nos ... fazons a savoir ... que cum descorde fuet. ... pais en fu faite par davant nos en tel meniere” (“We ... make known ... that there was a conflict.... Peace was made in our presence in the following manner.”)19 Chretien uses the word “peis”in precisely this context when the count of Alier is defeated by Yvain, in his first adventure after regaining his sanity. Once captured, the count cannot resist,

einz li plevist qu’il s’iroit randre

a la dame de Norison,

si se metroit an sa prison

et feroit peis a sa devise. (3282-85)

[rather, he swore that he would go surrender himself

to the lady of Norison,

to place himself in her prison

and make peace on her terms.]

And a few lines later, “pes” is the expected outcome of his submission to her:

et par foi et par seiremant

et par ploiges l’en fist seüre;

ploige li done, et si li jure

que toz jorz mes pes li tandra (3302-05)

[and by faith and by oath

and by pledges he gave her guarantees;

he gives her his pledge and swears

that henceforth he will keep peace with her]

Chretien’s listeners would surely have noted the contrast between what the count of Alier is now expected to do and what Yvain himself failed to do: to keep his pledged word.

Not to keep one’s word shatters any “pes.” Just before their final reconciliation, Yvain confesses to Laudine, “Folie me fist demorer, / si m’an rant corpable et forfet” [“Folly made me stay too long, / and I acknowledge I am guilty and wrong”] (6773-74). Let us press further on this last word. Of what is Yvain “forfet”? Specifically of staying away from his wife for longer than the promised year, but Chretien also labels that as a particular kind of misdeed. When Yvain first goes off tourneying he leaves his heart behind. Although his body hopes to rejoin his heart, Chrétien says pointedly that

s’a fait cuer d’estrange maniere

d’Esperanche, qui mout souvant

traVst et fausse de couvant.20 (2660-62)

[in a strange fashion, it made itself

a heart of Hope, who very often

becomes a traitor and is false to his agreement.]

A few lines later, when Yvain realizes he has overstayed his time away, he understands very well that he has betrayed his agreement with her: “bien savoit / que covant manti li avoit” (2701-02).

What did it mean in the twelfth-century not to keep what one had formally agreed to, one’s covant (OFr), covinens (OP), convenientia or conventum (Lat.)? Immediately upon Yvain’s realization (such good timing is only possible in the world of romance), Laudine’s messenger arrives. The expletives with which she denounces him make the consequences very clear. In free indirect discourse of great rhythmic energy, Chrétien reports that she says her lady greets everyone except Yvain,

le mançongier, le guileor,

le desleal, le tricheor,

qu’il l’a guilee et deceüe;

bien a sa guile aparceüe

qu’il se feisoit verais amerres,

s’estoit fos, souduianz et lerres. (2721-26)

[the liar, the deceiver,

the unfaithful, the cheater,

for he had beguiled and deceived her;

she had clearly seen through his deception,

for although he had pretended to be a true lover

he was a deceiver, a seducer, and a thief.]21

Yvain is a liar, a trickster, unfaithful, false, a thief, and a seducer (a word that denoted misdeeds far beyond the sexual, Satan being a seducer.) These terms of invective point specifically to the injury he has done to Laudine’s honor: by not keeping the agreement, he has tricked and deceived her and thus diminished her good name. In an aristocratic world where fidelity to one’s companions and one’s lord was the primary virtue, no offence could be greater than this. And as the common honorific, “mez amez et mes feaus” (“my beloved and faithful”),22 makes plain, an offence to fidelity was also an offence to love. In its routine use in political contexts, “love” signified political and personal loyalty, a layer of meaning which the troubadours continually drew upon when they used “love” in an erotic sense. In their poetry, and here in Yvain, one meaning did not cancel out the other, a medieval balancing act that a modern reader must constantly remember.23

Keeping one’s word was the guarantee not only of oaths of fidelity but of every agreement and contract. Indeed, in text after text in the twelfth and early thirteenth century, it may be the only guarantee, whether the document is a simple sale or gift,24 one landholder guaranteeing an exchange with another,25 the guarantee of a future confirmation by an absent relation,26 a promise not to build a castle in another’s land,27 or the settlement of a dispute.28 In the late twelfth century, when personal seals began to be attached to charters, they were understood to be physical representations of that pledged word, as the references to them in the texts imply.29

In the earlier exchange between Yvain and Laudine that leads to their marriage, Chrétien offers a sparkling literary representation — at once comical, passionate, and practical — of the basic verbal structure of such a pledge or agreement.30 Laudine asks Yvain what force has so overpowered him that he will agree to her every wish. It is his heart, he replies. She asks further:

– Et qui le cuer, biax dolz amis?

– Dame, mi oel. – Et les ialz, qui?

– La granz biautez que an vos vi.

– Et la biautez qu’i a forfet?

– Dame, tant que amer me fet.

– Amer? Et cui? – Vos, dame chiere.

– Moi? – Voire voir. –An quel meniere?

– An tel que graindre estre ne puet;

en tel que vos ne se muet

mes cuers, n’onques aillors nel truis;

an tel qu’aillors pansser ne puis;

en tel que toz a vos m’otroi;

an tel que plus vos aim que moi;

en tel, s’il vos plest, a delivre

que por vos vuel morir ou vivre.

– Et oserVez vos enprandre

por moi ma fontainne a desfandre?

– OVl voir, dame, vers toz homes.

– Sachiez donc, bien acordé somes. (2020-38)

[--“And what [has prompted] your heart, my fair sweet friend?”

“Lady, my eyes.” – “And what [has prompted] the eyes?”

–“The great beauty that I saw in you.”

–“And what wrong has beauty committed in this?”

–“Lady, such [wrong] that it makes me love.”

–“Love? And whom?” –“You, my dear lady.”

–“Me?” –“Yes, really and truly.” –“In what way?”

–“In such a way that it [my love] cannot be greater;

in such a way that my heart does not leave you,

nor can I ever find it anywhere else;

in such a way that I cannot think of anything else;

in such a way that I give myself entirely to you;

in such a way that I love you more than myself;

in such a way that, if it is your pleasure,

I will freely live or die for you.”

–“And would you dare to undertake

to defend my fountain on my behalf?”

--“Yes, truly, lady, against all men.”

–“Know then, we have reached a full accord.”]

Chrétien’s typical lightning shifts of tone keep us uncertain as to how we should take this scene. In her mock-catechism is Laudine being clerically stern or is she merely toying with Yvain to please her female vanity? After the brilliant elliptical stichomythia that accelerates until we hear three voices in one line (2026), Yvain replies to Laudine’s coy questions (“–Moi?”) by throwing himself into a passage of lovesick anaphora, whose overheated protestations echo many troubadour lyrics. Is his passion really sincere, a deliberate parody, or sincere for the character and parodic for the poet? Laudine responds to his declaration with a hard-headed question framed in one sharply said couplet. Yvain replies with his blanket pledge, and the agreement is clinched in the next line. Why such an instantaneous practical conclusion?

On the other side of the troubadour echoes lie many a less emphatic and more formulaic analogue to Yvain’s plangent declarations, such as one from an Occitan contemporary of Chretien who said to the lord of Montpellier as he received his village in fief, “I wish to love you, to serve you faithfully and to dwell in your grace and protection,” and in the oath of fidelity that followed, repeated the tried and true promise to come to the aid of his lord “against all men and women.” Chrétien’s amused (and self-amused) treatment allows us to see the “love” pledged by Yvain as both romantic and political/legal (“OVl voir, dame, vers toz homes”), while the mixture of tones encourages us to keep all possibilities of meaning open.31 Thus “acordé” in the final line can be translated as “reconciled” (Kibler), and the forward motion of the line suggests the further meaning that they will be well “matched” in marriage. To twelfth-century listeners, particularly, the phrase “bien acordé somes” would also have meant that the two had reached an “acord,” an “agreement,” the exact equivalent of “pes.” This meaning is confirmed by Chrétien’s playful shifting of the word’s meaning in the following line (2039) where its sense is “reconciled”: “Ensi sont acordé briemant” (“Thus they are reconciled quickly”). Their speediness matches the historical documents, which routinely represent full reconciliation as occurring immediately upon the completion of an agreement between feuding parties.

Yvain’s straightforward affirmation is the equivalent of those occasionally included as a guarantee in charters of gift or sale or other promises32 and, most importantly, to the vital clause in the oaths of fidelity that we know best in their Occitan formulation: “se om o femena od omes o femenas lot tollian ... aitoris ten serai per fe e sanz engan” (“if a man or woman or men or women should take [the castle] ... I will come to your aid in good faith and without deceit”).33 Since on all such occasions one’s honor was at stake, the sentiments aroused by someone breaking his word would not be restricted to annoyance at financial loss (perhaps that least of all). It would be, above all, the sense that one had been mocked, lied to, betrayed, dishonored, and diminished. What upper-class people of the twelfth-century expected to feel at that moment was anger and enmity, as in Laudine’s speech reported by her messenger.


What happened after one person believed another had broken his or her contracted promise or pledged word? Most likely, a feud.34 It may seem bizarre to think of the relationship of Yvain and Laudine as a feud, once he breaks his word, since on a literal level it is a marriage dispute, but doing so allows us to solve what is surely the major riddle of the final act in that dispute, its opening move, when Yvain decides to attack the magic fountain. Yvain and Gawain have just fought their judicial duel to resolve the inheritance dispute between the two sisters. Each knight has admitted defeat with no loss of honor. The king’s physician has healed them. Then

mes sire Yvains qui, sanz retor,

avoit son cuer mis en Amor,

vit bien que durer n’i porroit

et par Amor an fin morroit,

se sa dame n’avoit merci

de lui, qui se moroit ensi;

et panse qu’il se partiroit

toz seus de cort, et si iroit

a sa fontainne guerroier;

et s’i feroit tant foudroier,

et tant vanter, et tant plovoir,

que par force et par estovoir

li covanroit feire a lui pes,

ou il ne fineroit ja mes

de la fontainne tormanter,

et de plovoir, et de vanter. (6501-16)

[my lord Yvain, who had unceasingly

set his heart on Love,

saw for a fact that he was not going to last

and that in the end he would die of love

if his lady did not take pity upon him,

who was thus dying;

so he thought he would leave the court

all alone and would go

make war/feud at her fountain;

and there he would cause such thundering,

and such wind, and such rain,

that by force and by necessity

she would agree to make peace with him,

or he would never stop

causing the fountain to thunder,

and the rain, and the wind.]

Chrétien abruptly invokes a familiar troubadour convention, in which Yvain will die of love unless his lady takes pity on him, but that convention does not provide an obvious motivation for him to attack the fountain. To modern sensibilities, the procedure seems downright wrongheaded.

Several explanations come to mind. Surely one of the main reasons Chrétien constructed this strange entrance into the final episode was to create a satisfying narrative symmetry. Their story-line began with Yvain’s battle at the fountain and his slaying of Esclados, and Laudine’s immediate need to find a new defender, which leads her to marry Yvain. Following the motivations thus established, the identical need will result in her taking him back at the story’s end. Her need to find a defender for her fountain will lead her to call on the mysterious knight with the lion, who is none other than her husband Yvain. This balanced literary effect is not the only reason, however. Through the attacks on the fountain (and all that their thunderous consequences symbolize), Chrétien is also representing a common pattern of social conflict in the twelfth century: the feud. At this point in the story, there is an unresolved feud between husband and wife. He has broken his word, and thus shamed and dishonored her. She has responded by denouncing and dishonoring him at Arthur’s court. Odd as it may seem, by restarting their feud at the fountain, Yvain is setting in motion a process that contemporaries would have recognized as leading toward eventual conflict resolution, since in real life the practice of feuding was a way not only to stake out one’s claim but also to provoke social pressures that would finally resolve a dispute. With all the exuberance of a comic poet at the height of his inventive powers, Chrétien will compress this process into a scant four hundred lines and sweep away the barriers he has erected to his hero’s happiness.

We will begin with Yvain deciding that “iroit/ a sa fontainne guerroier” (6508-09), whose infinitive Kibler translates as “to do battle,” and Hult by the modern French “guerroyer” (to make war). However, in northern French usage around 1200 guerra/werra and its Latin equivalent bellum could mean either “war” or “feud.”35 In a charter of liberties granted to a group of villages in 1239, a Picard lord uses the word werra in a way that could be considered close to one modern sense of “war” as an organized military action involving substantial forces:36 “Ly sires peut mener ses hommes en ost et en chevauchié as weres et as tournois sans malvaise ocquison” (“the lord may lead his men as a military host and cavalry expedition to war and tournaments without evil accusations”).37 “En ost et chevauchié” (“ad exercitus et equitationes” in Latin) represent the formal organization of this kind of war.38 If we could observe it, on the other hand, the micro-politics of this lord’s military ventures might seem to us to fall into the category of feud. And in other grants of liberties and division of rights, “feud” would seems the only possible exact translation. Some charters of liberties, for example, specify what is to be done “si tumultus vel bellum inter burgenses forsitan oriatur” (“if riot or war/feud should break out between burgesses”).39 Others provide that if someone has done harm to a member of the commune and fears to enter the town, the lord may accompany him “nisi sit de werra mortali” (“unless it be a matter of blood-feud”). Elsewhere the lord’s knights and followers coming to the aid of his castle shall be safe from obstruction by the townspeople “nisi de werra mortali fuerint.”40 When the armed men of a town depart “pro cujuscumque werre motione” (“to pursue a werra”),41 the reference could either be to a substantial organized military venture, against another town or a neighboring over-mighty lord, let us say, and thus for us a “war,” or to a more modest and particular venture that we would think of as a “feud.” The distinction may be important to modern readers, brought up to think of “war” in terms of states and nations; it does not seem to have occurred to people in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The same word could serve for both purposes because violence might be legitimately practiced by individuals, families, towns, or lords with their “hosts and cavalry.”42

The OFr. verb guerroier seems to have had a similar double sense. According to the new Cambridge Old French-English Dictionary, it means “wage war against, make war on; oppress” when it is transitive, and “wage war; squabble, quarrel” when it is intransitive,.43 The grammar of lines 6509-09 is genuinely ambiguous, and there are good arguments for taking the verb either way, depending on whether one construes the preposition “a” with “guerroier” or with “sa fontainne.”44 If “a” introduces the infinitive (i.e., “si iroit a guerroier sa fontainne”), then it is transitive and means “so he would make war upon, wage war against, her fountain.” If one takes “a sa fontainne” as a prepositional phrase, then the expression is intransitive and means “to make war, to quarrel, at her fountain.” Both constructions are found elsewhere in Yvain.45 Thus the interpretation of the expression depends ultimately on the reader’s sense of the larger context. Critics who understand Yvain to make war upon the fountain itself are likely to see his action in the context of magical Celtic sources. We prefer to take the verb as intransitive, meaning “to quarrel, to feud,” in the twelfth-century social context of the substantive guerra/werra.

To interpret “a sa fontainne” as a prepositional phrase of location also clarifies Yvain’s action in the context of a feud. From its very first appearance in the romance, the fountain is verbally associated with feuding. When Calogrenant tells how he came upon the fountain and, following the herdsman’s instructions, set off the storm, he recounts that he was challenged by Esclados, the fountain’s defender, with the words

Vassax, molt m’avez fet,

sanz desfVance, honte et let.

DesfVer me deüssiez vos,

se il eüst reison an vos,

ou au moins droiture requerre,

einz que vos me meüiez guerre. (491-96)

[Vassal, you have greatly

shamed and injured me, without a prior challenge.

You should have challenged me,

if there had been a cause on your side,

or at least you should have claimed your rights

before you made war/feud upon me.]

DesfVance, reison, and droiture requerre are all aspects of guerre, of feuding; they state the rules of the game that Calogrenant has in fact violated,46 when through wilful nonchalance and naive curiosity he caused vast destruction, as Esclados complains:

qu’an mon bois et an mon chastel

m’avez feite tele envaVe,

ou mestier ne m’eüst aVe

ne de grant tor ne de haut mur. (508-11)

[for upon my woods and my castle

you have made such an attack

that nothing would have been able to help me,

neither great towers or high walls.]

He finishes by issuing a feuding challenge:

Mes sachiez bien que des or mes

n’avroiz de moi trives ne pes. (515-16)

[But know you well that, henceforth,

you will have neither truce nor peace from me.]

Yvain, on hearing the story of Calogrenant’s defeat, sets out to avenge his cousin’s honor, which he does by killing Esclados. That feud is brought to an abrupt end by the accord arranged by Lunete and Yvain’s subsequent marriage to Laudine. (Is Chrétien playing here on the not uncommon practice among European elites of ending enmity with a marriage between the warring families?47 In any event, he brings about the resolution by creating for Lunete a bravura parody of scholastic reasoning.) Almost immediately after the marriage, Chrétien drives home the association of the fountain with feuding when the arrival of Arthur and his court allows Yvain, the magic fountain’s new defender, to unhorse Kay and thus avenge himself for the seneschal’s insults at the very beginning of the romance. In the listener’s mind the equation “fountain equals feud” is henceforth fixed.

But why, if he wishes to regain Laudine’s love, would Yvain restart their feud? And why would he threaten, with insistent repetitions, to continue his attacks forever? How would Chrétien’s audience have understood this? In the intervening episodes since he broke his word to her, Yvain has recognized his guilt and showed himself keeping his word even in the most dire situations. Yet he cannot simply return to his lady to plead his case, for she earlier rejected him and sent her messenger to dishonor him before the king and his court. That is to say, she took vengeance for his dishonoring her. By the start of the final episode he has changed for the better, but he has not yet taken vengeance for the dishonor she has inflicted on him. He must therefore threaten his “intimate enemy”48 sufficiently for her to seek peace. And so he carries their feud back to the fountain. Chrétien’s audience would have recognized this pattern of behavior as a familiar “genre of political action,” the “rules of the social game”49 that established an equilibrium of mutual honor through feuding, until the pressure of neighbors, friends, and others affected by the mayhem forced the disputants to make peace..

In a now classic study of “Feuding and Peace-making in the Touraine around the Year 1100,” Stephen D. White notes that “the process of raiding and plundering . . . an enemy’s lands and subject peoples was so closely associated with efforts to take vengeance . . . as to make one wonder whether feuding or plundering was the more important activity.”50 The mayhem White describes in the late eleventh- and early twelfth-century Touraine can easily be matched elsewhere. Here is the complaint of one disputant from a village near Carcassonne in the 1150s whose injuries closely match those of which the fictional Esclados complains. “Pons [along with two other men and their followers] captured and destroyed the castle that we had rightfully handed over to lord Raymond Trencavel. . . . The three committed an infinite number of grievous deeds, breaking and burning churches, robbing and killing men and women, cutting down trees and vines.” To which his opponents replied that the person making that complaint and his friends “had committed nearly an infinite number of evil acts against us, breaking and burning churches, robbing and killing men and women, cutting down trees, and doing many other things to our great damage.”51 The seven feuds discussed by White and the Carcassonne case, like Yvain when he returns to the fountain, all involve “intimate enemies.” In the Carcassonne case they are joint castellans of the castle of Auriac, in the Touraine cases they are fellow patrons of the abbey of Noyers, linked together into networks of kinship ties and ties of lords and followers.52

Documents from later twelfth-century Champagne and surrounding regions are much less loquacious than those of the Touraine. In most cases the records of dispute settlements state nothing more than that a dispute had occurred and then describe the resolution. Under their laconic surfaces, however, we can sometimes detect the mayhem and injuries that preceded the resolution. In a few cases those injuries are described in detail. A peace settlement from Amiens dated 1146-47 is one vivid example. According to this text, Robert of Boves had committed “rapine” to the value of 70 pounds of the money of Amiens against the church of Notre-Dame of Amiens. The damages were to two villages which Robert’s father had given to the canons of Notre-Dame as well as another that belonged to the church. The settlement was that Robert and his heirs would leave these villages in peace and would hold the 70 pounds in fief of Notre-Dame, doing homage for it.53 We may guess that Robert’s purpose in initiating the feud was not simply to assert his rights over the donated villages (if he ever did assert such rights), but to force the canons to recognize his special connection to both the villages and themselves.

As much as some historians might wish to see feuding as a common practice only where central government is absent (and therefore perhaps only a distant memory to the court of Marie of Champagne), the documents recording thirteenth-century dispute settlements, laconic though they are, clearly show that serious feuding did not come to an end even with the advent of royal officials.54 A complaint of “injures et enfranctures” in a peace agreement of 1265 between the lord of Plessis-le-Roye and the cathedral of Noyon involving the lord’s rights to pasture cattle and cut trees in some woods belonging to the church strongly suggests an ongoing feud nearly at the gates of Paris in the middle of the reign of Louis IX.55 Even bishops and their men might engage in feuding. In 1269 a settlement of a dispute between the bishop of Langres and three brothers over land that was part of a newly created town contains the provision that the brothers

“acquitted ... the aforesaid bishop and his followers of all the injuries and losses which the aforesaid bishop and they have done to the said Jean and his brothers and to their followers by reason of the aforesaid feud and dispute,” while the bishop likewise pardoned the brothers for the injuries they had done.56 Indeed, one of the most fully described feuds in north-eastern France involved none other than Jean de Joinville, royal seneschal of Champagne and biographer of Louis IX. Like the preceding examples, it is a story of exchanges, of reprisal upon reprisal.

By the time it surfaces in archival documents in 1264, the dispute between Joinville and the monks of Saint-Urbain of Troyes had clearly been going on for some time, for it involved a host of different claims and counterclaims over rights to cut wood in various places for construction, mill repairs, firing tile furnaces, and other purposes; over fees paid to Joinville’s provost on the occasion of fairs held in some of the abbey’s villages, and the right of Joinville’s hunters to lodge and take food for their dogs in the abbey’s villages; and beyond these the right of Joinville and his officers to seize the abbey’s men, demand tallages or other payments from them, and exercise rights of justice over them. A settlement was hammered out by a priest and a knight, the arbiters selected by the two parties, and in 1264 Joinville and his wife swore to abide by its terms.57 But the squabbling continued, and a second arbitration by the abbot of Boulancourt and the dean of the church of Bar-sur-Aube recounts some of the mayhem. Joinville’s officials had broken into houses at Saint-Urbain and elsewhere and taken property as sureties. They had broken into the priest’s house in the village of Rupt. They had seized and beaten a servant of the abbey fishing in the river Rognon. They had sent a crier to the fair of Saint-Urbain, and levied fines there. The list goes on for line after line. The monks responded in kind, killing Joinville’s cattle and seizing his fishermen. The dispute had apparently reached the king, but the arbiters chose a curious verb to speak of that appeal. “We order,” they said, “that if the lord of Joinville and the abbot and convent of St-Urbain have defamed [our italics] each other before the king or other people, that they be quit the one towards the other.”58 As for some other injuries that they do not describe, the arbiters declared that Joinville would simply have to put up with them (“s-an doie soffrir”).59 What might have been behind this feud is revealed by yet another arbitrated agreement between the same parties in 1268: Joinville had established a new town in woods that the abbey claimed as its own, the same woods involved in the earlier dispute.60 We may note in passing that woodland rights and uses were among the most common sources of conflict in early-thirteenth century Champagne. Perhaps Chretien’s emphasis on the magic storm’s destruction of woods is yet one more comic turn he plays on contemporary life in the Champagne.

Feuds such as these probably went on for years before they left a deposit in an archive. In most if not all cases it is impossible to reconstruct a full story for any one of them. But where accounts are available that are not totally one-sided, there is ample evidence, as in those just described, that the feud was a form of exchange. Just as gifts demanded counter-gifts, or guerredons, so injuries demanded counter-injuries.61 As the feud progressed, the most important imperative was not to lose honor. That meant, first of all, exchanging injuries. It also meant that no matter how many injuries each side inflicted on the other, the threat of further injury had to be maintained. Unless constrained by an arbitrated settlement, as in the Joinville case, neither side could simply give in without losing honor. Thus Yvain’s threat that “par force et par estovoir/ li covanroit feire a lui pes,/ ou il ne fineroit ja mes.”)


Eventually, as these feuds went on, social pressure became sufficiently intense to make those who were fighting realize they had to make peace. This pressure lies behind the “force” and “estovoir” on which Yvain counts to win back his lady. In the romance it is Lunete as intermediary who embodies that pressure. In documents that record disputes and agreements the intermediaries are usually called “good men.” Sometimes, as the dispute processing goes on, they have the more formal title of “arbiters.” We have just heard from some of them speaking in the first person plural as they arrange the settlement between Jean de Joinville and the abbey of Saint-Urbain.62

Intermediaries were ever-present in medieval society, playing patron or the friend of a friend—the persons whom individuals or groups sought out to seek favors on their behalf from others or to plead their case to their superiors or their powerful enemies. Equally important were those who intervened to settle disputes among people of power. As soon as the documents give more than the bare bones of the settlements they record, we hear about them as in a settlement of 1240 recorded in Latin in the cartulary of Pontigny: “Be it known to all that there was a controversy between the abbot and convent of Pontigny on one side and Gautier of Saint-Florentin ... on the other [concerning a gift of alms] ... With the intervention of good men, ... Gautier confirmed the aforesaid alms and quit any claim to them by himself and his heirs ....”63 or here again in a vernacular charter of about the same time from Beaupré, just north of Paris: “I, Jean de Savigny, knight, ... make known that as there was a dispute between myself and the abbot and monks of the convent of Notre-Dame of Beaupré, ... with the counsel of good men and for the sake of peace we have together ordered and agreed on the following things ....”64

Chrétien has carefully modeled Lunete’s role on the work of these “good men” and arbiters. To be sure, both her character and the way she plays her role are overdetermined. The manner in which she manipulates logic in both of her major exchanges with her mistress sounds as though she were a twelfth-century Arts student engaging in a mock disputation on a night out in a Paris tavern. Her word-play, especially in the final episode, allows Chretien’s audience to savor a foreknowledge of what will happen to his heroine, as Laudine walks into the trap that Lunete has planted for her. The nature of that trap, however, and Lunete’s sequence of moves in the final episode are not entirely of Chretien’s invention, or at least not invented out of whole cloth. Her actions, as well as those of Yvain and Laudine, closely track the patterns of action and the associated emotions (what White has called the “script”)65 commonly expected of people engaged in disputes and feuds and of the “good men” and arbiters who undertook to settle them.

In the Champagne of Chretien’s time, those who possessed any kind of lordship, not only people called lord or lady, or those who boasted titles of knight or squire, bishop or abbess, but even lower members of the clergy and town corporations and their officials, commonly resorted to arbitration or compromise when it finally came time to settle the disputes in which they were involved. In negotiating a compromise or turning to arbitration they were like their contemporaries elsewhere, in Occitania and the Loire valley, in Germany, and doubtless in most regions of Europe. Battle--the predominant mode of conflict resolution in Yvain and other romances—was surely waged, for there are numerous references to “champions,” to the “law of duels”and “the law of battle,” as well as to the “fields” and “gage” of battle even beyond the mid-thirteenth century. However, the contexts of these references—in charters of urban liberties or grants of judicial rights over peasant villages—suggest, surprisingly, that in Champagne and its neighboring regions of north-eastern France trial by battle was limited to peasants and townspeople.66 It is always dangerous to argue from silence, but the absence of any references in the available published documents to trial by battle in disputes among those of high status strongly suggests that the people who composed Chretien’s primary audience rarely, if ever, resorted to it. Violence had its role in disputing but, as we have just shown, it was as a means to assert claims before they were resolved rather than a way to resolve them.

Dispute processing followed a carefully set sequence of acts. The documents that record these acts in northeastern France are passably laconic, as we have said; similar dispute documentation survives from western France and Occitania, however, and it is sometimes far more garrulous in describing the negotiations and the social pressures that were brought to bear. That this evidence comes from elsewhere is not a problem, because this mode of dispute processing was common to privileged Europe from the eastern borders of the Empire to the borders of al-Andalus.

The first stage, as we have just seen, was the intervention of “good men.” Sometimes they are named, if they are of sufficiently high status to lend weight to the solution they have brought about.67 In most cases, however, they remain anonymous. When the mediators are not bishops, abbots or great secular lords (or in the thirteenth century royal officials), they are most likely to be friends of the disputants, neighbors and associates whose own peace, interests, or status is disturbed or endangered by the conflict. So we see them at work in a noisy conflict in Narbonne at the beginning of the twelfth century, as recorded in a bitter complaint by Archbishop Richard against the viscount of that city.

Richard was named archbishop after an extended vacancy of the see. He and Viscount Aimery II soon began to argue about what rights to churches and tithes the viscount held from the Church. As they constructed their claims, it seems that Aimery depended on familial memory of the status quo when Richard first took power, whereas the archbishop worked over the documents in the archiepiscopal archives (some of which had been forged by one of his predecessors). “In the end,” Richard wrote in his account of the dispute, Aimery “could not refute my charters and testimony, that of all the aforesaid rights half belonged to the church, both now and in the future, and that his fiefs were reduced in the churches and portions of tithes that he had given to the church of Narbonne. Through common friends an agreement was negotiated between us; these friends asked that I increase his fiefs and that he give up to the church all the other things that at the time were in dispute between us, as was right.” But the dispute did not end there. When Richard “discovered” in the archives that some commercial taxes claimed by the viscount had been declared in the past to belong to the church, he then

summoned Aimery not once, not twice, but many times, both myself and through my friends and his, admonishing him by the fidelity he had sworn to me, by the homage he had done, that he not wrong the church by stealing its honor from me. Saying that if he claimed any right in the aforesaid tax, that we should go together before the good men of the land and the community, who only wish that he and I should be in peace and concord, and that he should do what they decide. Aimery not only refused to do this but refused even to hear my complaint. Instead in a fury he put his hand on other rights and honors of the church, and whatever he could put to his own use he shamelessly seized from me, wronging me greatly and threatening worse. He ordered that no one in the territory of Narbonne should dare to take my side or the church's nor help us in word or deed. He claimed, furthermore, that I had given him those taxes (that is, the compras that I demanded) in fief: a grant I made following the deceitfulness of which you have already heard. Hearing this I once again admonished him through his personal friends, through neighboring barons of the land, through bishops, abbots, viscounts, and knights, indeed through whomever I could, giving witness that by the oath he had given, by the many benefices that he held of the church, he should stop the evil doing, the scandals and the faithlessness, and either peacefully relinquish his honors to the church or come to justice.68

At every stage in this dispute it is the “good men,” the “common friends,” later identified as the barons, bishops, abbots, viscounts and knights of the land, who serve as intermediaries. They are necessary because for the archbishop, as for the viscount, this dispute was not just about property, it was about fidelity and homage, that is, about honor. (Richard’s complaint in fact plays on the double meaning of “honor” in the twelfth century: it meant not only noble property and rights but also one’s virtue in the eyes of others, combining what a later age would elaborate as “honor and profit.”69) Since honor was one’s public reputation, it was only those who were the public — or at least the public that mattered, the “good men” — who could make peace and at the same time save the honor of both disputants.

It was just such social pressure that forced an agreement in 1138 in Champagne between Arnulf, the vestry-keeper of Chablis, and Herbert his brother-in-law, who had insisted on his right to half of Arnulf’s property in his lifetime and all of it after his death. This dispute, which had troubled them and their associates for a long time (“multotiens et diu inter eos exagitatae”) was scheduled to be heard in the court of the count of Tonnerre where Herbert would have the opportunity to prove his case with two or three “witnesses” (probably meaning oath-helpers). On the day Herbert was to appear with his witnesses, the bishop of Auxerre appeared “along with wise men” and “wishing to put an end to the dispute for the sake of Arnulf’s peace as well as for the honor of the count, whose man Herbert was, advised Arnulf that he should give Herbert six pounds of the money of Tonnerre and that Herbert would thereupon stop his dispute and allow Arnulf to hold his land in peace, and the monks of Pontigny, to whom he had given it, to hold it afterwards. Each parties agreed and a concordia followed with an exchange of holy kisses.” . The count then stated that he would have the wife and children of Herbert agree to the conventio.70

If the “good men” could not manage to negotiate a settlement, they reached for another alternative, getting the parties to agree to submit their dispute to an arbiter or arbiters, as happened in this dispute between two landholders in the region of Langres in 1249: “Know that there was a conflict between Haimon d’Occey and Evrart de Piépape ... and they placed themselves in the hands of Simon de Noidant and Ferri de Cîteaux who are to pacify this conflict either by peace or by right, in good faith and before the feast of Saint Andrew.”71 The promise to observe what the arbiters decided was confirmed by oath72 and the eventual decision was likewise confirmed, often on saints’ relics, such as those on which Jean de Joinville swore to keep his agreement with Saint-Urbain.73

In the final episode of Yvain, Chretien moves his characters through these familiar stages of dispute processing. First comes the intervention by Lunete as she plays successively the roles of confidante, “good man,” and arbiter. As the storm descends upon Laudine’s castle, Lunete speaks as a friend:

De cest chose conseillier

vos covient, dame, fet Lunete (6546-47)

[You must take counsel

about this matter, lady, says Lunete]

She quickly changes the subject from the destruction caused by the storm to the dishonor Laudine will suffer at the hands of the attacker.

S’est or ensi que vos n’avez

qui desfande vostre fontainne,

si sanbleroiz fole et vilainne;

molt bele enor i avroiz ja

quant sanz bataille s’an ira

cil qui si vos a asaillie. (6558-63)

[So now it’s the case that you do not have

anyone to defend your fountain,

and you will appear contemptible and worthless;

it will be a very great honor indeed

when the one who has thus attacked you

goes away without having to do battle.]

It must now be the lady who actively seeks the counsel of a “friend” who has “good sense”:

Mes, se Deu plest, or i verrons

vostre consoil et vostre san,

q’au besoing, toz jorz le dit an,

doit an son ami esprover. (6588-91)

[But now, if it please God, let’s see

your counsel and good sense,

for it’s when in need, they always say,

that one can recognize his friend.]

This request places Lunete in the role of an intermediary who helps arrange a settlement. She proposes to fetch the knight with the lion to defend the fountain if Laudine will swear to help him regain the favor of his lady. Laudine responds in the traditional terms by which one pledged one’s word:

. . . Je sui preste,

einz que vos entroiz an la queste,

que je vos plevisse ma foi,

et jurerai, s’il vient a moi,

que je, sanz guile et sanz feintise,

li ferai tot a sa devise

sa pes, se je feire la puis. (6605-11)

[ . . . I am ready,

even before you start your search,

to pledge you my faithful word,

and I will take an oath, if he comes to me,

that I, without guile and without deception,

will do everything that he desires

to bring about his peace, if I can do it.]

In this speech Chretien has included significant echoes of the traditional oath of fidelity as it is recorded in Occitan documents: “... et aitoris ten serai per fe et sanz engan” (“I will come to your aid in good faith and without deceit”).74

But this is not enough for Lunete, who wishes to insure a binding arbitration. Acting now as an arbiter of a judgment, she both administers and witnesses Laudine’s oath. She brings out a reliquary, asks Laudine to raise her hand, and “in executing the oath, she did not forget to include anything that might make it complete.”75 Swearing to her upon the saint’s relics, Laudine repeats after Lunete the exact terms of the oath:

Con tu l’as dit, et je le di

que, si m’aVst Dex et li sainz,

que ja mes cuers ne sera fainz

que je tot mon pooir n’en face.

L’amor li randrai et la grace

que il sialt a sa dame avoir,

puis que j’en ai force et pooir. (6642-48)

[Just as you have said, I say it too

that, so help me God and this saint,

my heart will never cease

to do everything in my power about this matter.

I will restore to him the love and favor

that he used to enjoy with his lady,

if I have the strength and ability to do so.]

Thereafter she must keep her word in order not to incur the saint’s wrath for swearing falsely and, just as important, in order not to lose honor— in the eyes of others, to be sure, but especially in the eyes of Lunete, who is of noble status and is a witness to her oath.76

No contemporary listener would have found this oath either unusual or exceptional, for it echoes the oaths that many of them would have taken themselves at moments as commonplace as selling a piece of land, just as a Picard woman named Isabel promised in 1250 “to hold this transaction from now on faithfully,” and swore “ her faith with her naked hand on holy relics that ... she will not seek in any way by artifice or trickery to disturb the church or bring it into ecclesiastical or lay court.”77

As every reader knows, the oath Laudine swears to Lunete lays the ground for the reconciliation of Laudine and Yvain, which on one level Chrétien treats as the outcome of verbal trickery. He even refers to the oath as Lunete’s geu de la verté (6624), her “game of truth,” apparently a reference to a courtly game in which one player pledges to perform something as yet unspecified by another.78 While Lunete is far more clever as a scholastic debater and manipulator of words than any “good man” or arbiter in the historical record (she also has the privilege of speaking in poetic couplets), her actions in this scene, on another level, are also fully recognizable, with fully understood functions. Chrétien in fact depends on his audience’s knowledge of this sequence of actions in order to play his own game with his listeners. Even if they had not participated in dispute settlements that followed this standard sequence, they would have witnessed one or would have known about it.

They would also have understood and would have savored the delicious irony of what modern readers may miss: the fact that, while Laudine has sworn nothing to Yvain, she has sworn to act as an intermediary in a feud between the knight with the lion and his lady. This oath thus places her in the position of playing the intermediary in a conflict in which she is one of the disputants. Because she has taken her oath, she cannot recuse herself. Chrétien has thus combined in Laudine two roles of the dispute process in order to achieve the comedic resolution of his narrative. His contemporary aristocratic audience, with their overwhelming concern for honor and reputation, would also have recognized and enjoyed the resuscitative irony by which the conclusion of the story gives the lie to, or, better said, rewrites with new meaning, Lunete’s earlier sarcastic prognosis:

molt bele enor i avroiz ja

quant sanz bataille s’an ira

cil qui si vos a asaillie. (6561-63)

[it will be a very great honor indeed

when the one who has thus attacked you

goes away without having to do battle.]

These words are turned upside down by the ending, which brings the “molt bele enor” of a full “pes” between noble husband and noble wife, with no loss of honor on either side and without retaliatory “bataille.”


Thus we may see it as a mark of Chrétien’s narrative genius that, through his manipulation of Lunete, two accords are reached in one verbal exchange. In a single moment, it resolves both sides of the same public feud — the “war” at the fountain and its “erotic” obverse, the equally public feud (because it had been announced in Arthur’s court) between husband and wife. This doubling, like so many of the other unexpectedly resolved oppositions elsewhere in the poem, gives the modern reader profound aesthetic pleasure, and it must have given Chrétien’s original audience even greater pleasure.

Once Yvain “has his peace” again, we appear to learn what his inner feelings have been. Chrétien says that he was never so “liez” (“happy”) about anything, “comant qu’il ait esté iriez,” which we render as “however angry/sorrowful he may have been.” The difficulty in translating “iriez” is instructive. Choosing only one of these two terms, as modern translators do, simplifies this category of emotion in Old French. In La Chanson de Roland, upon learning of Roland’s death Charlemagne “Tiret sa barbe cume hom ki est iriez” while his knights “Plurent des oilz.”79 Clearly they are both angry and sorrowful at once. That the same word should serve for both emotions should warn us that the Old French understanding of this emotion was not precisely identical to ours. A survey of the concordance to Chrétien’s works80 shows that “iriez” occurs seven times in Yvain, three times rhymed with “liez” (which places a passing poetic emphasis on the central emotional tension of the poem: happiness, “love,” “pes” vs. anger, suffering, loss of honor, disgrace). In lines 1492-94 Yvain asks himself if the distraught widow of Esclados would not be a true marvel to gaze upon if she were “liez” when even now she is so beautiful while “iriee.” Here the word surely means both “anguished, grieving” as well as “angered” at the killing of her husband. Again, when Gawain argues with Yvain that he must come tourneying with him because his lady will not love him if “ses los et ses pris” (“his renown and worth”) are lost, he says “Certes, ancor seroiz iriez / de s’amor, se vos anpiriez” (2495-96)–“Truly, one day you will be iriez by her love if you lower yourself.” As events turn out, Yvain is both “anguished” and “enraged” by the withdrawal of her love and his loss of honor.81

When he goes mad, the storm in his brain is a direct reference to a different kind of excessive anger, the raging madness that medieval clerics called furor.82 It illustrates by contrast the twelfth-century understanding of iror as a rational emotion that was both socially expected and approved. Denounced and dishonored by Laudine’s messenger, Yvain flees into the forest where no one knows him. His anguish (“enuiz” 2783) grows day by day, for he hates only himself, “ne het tant rien con lui meVsmes” (2792), and he cannot take vengeance because he has killed himself (at least his rational and social self), “ne ne set a cui se confort / de lui qui soi meVsme a mort / . . . que il ne se poVst vengier” (2793-94, 2796). Throughout the madness scene Chrétien figures Yvain as bestial and without reason: he is like an insane and savage man (“com hom forsenez et salvage” 2830) who was “far from [having] all his reason” (“n’ert mie an son san del tot” 2836). By contrast, once his reason is restored, Yvain experiences the normative social emotion of anger and suffering occurring together, particularly at the end of the poem when he does battle at the fountain.

We know from the mock scholastic dispute about hatred and love in the Yvain/Gawain episode that to inflict “honte ne let” (“shame and injury” 6072) upon the other person strictly implies hatred, yet when Yvain attacks the fountain he not only loves his adversary: he is also both suffering and angry, a complex state which is the necessary precursor of the regained honor and “love” he will feel in reconciliation. Interestingly, Chrétien’s extended metaphor of Hate and Love as two persons living in the same house, to which we will return in a moment, places this complex negative emotion within the character. This interiority, which today seems to us a familiar “private” space, was in fact an innovation by Chrétien.83 For his twelfth-century audience, anger was not only nor always a private or interior emotion. It could also be public and explicitly political, and indeed not always “negative.” For instance, in late-twelfth century grants of communal liberties modeled on those of Abbeville one finds the following provision: “If an individual, whether a sworn member of the commune or not, provokes my [i.e. the grantor’s] anger (iram meam) or that of any other powerful person (alicujus potentis) against the town, if he is convicted or cannot purge himself he shall be expelled from [the town] by the judgment of the échevins [town judges]; and if the burgesses [of the town] shall suffer damage as a consequence of a sworn member of the commune provoking anger, his house shall be razed and he shall not be allowed to reenter the town until he has reimbursed the damages that resulted from his action.”84 Anger — just the expression of the emotion itself — was a powerful political act.

Steven D. White and Richard Barton have recently demonstrated that lordly anger as it is represented in charters, chronicles, and literary narratives of eleventh and twelfth-century France and England is neither unrestrained, nor unrepressed, nor irrational, nor is it necessarily judged negatively by those who report it. Anger, they show, was “highly conventionalized and socially generated,”85 and both the emotion and its representations had political and normative force. In White’s words, they were part of the “technology of power” available for lords to use as they saw fit, and for narrators to use to make their particular moral points. Issues of honor could provoke anger, and considerations of honor would finally mollify that anger. Anger, indeed, was sufficiently conventionalized that chroniclers could regularly impute anger to kings, counts, and other lords who had lived long before and about whose “real” emotional states (as we would construe that “reality”) they had no way of knowing. They could do so because it was behavior, action, that signaled the presence of the emotion.86

In consequence, a change of behavior brought a concomitant change in emotion, however implausible to modern eyes. The same sudden movement from hate and anger to love found in the Yvain/Gawain episode and the reconciliation with Laudine also appears in other literary works of the period. In La chevalerie Ogier de Danemarche, for example, when Ogier challenges the Saracen king to single battle, Charlemagne’s son Callos, “mult corochiés et iriés” (“very chagrined and angry”) at this slight to his position, roundly insults Ogier, calling him a serf and telling him to go home and hunt rabbits and pay his head-tax in cheese. So profound is this insult that Charlemagne’s barons threaten to pack their baggage and return home. Yet when less than a hundred lines later Callos asks Ogier to second him in single battle against the Saracen, Ogier promptly kneels at his feet (as does Yvain at the feet of Laudine in their final reconciliation), and then is raised up by the emperor’s son to sit next to him on the same bench. They then go out to the field of battle together.87 An even more striking sudden reversal of emotions, again from anger and hatred to love, occurs at the end of the first part of Raoul de Cambrai, when a feud between Raoul and his vassal Bernier has led to the deaths of many (including Raoul) and to a renewed feud between Bernier and Raoul’s nephew Gautier. Finally, Bernier seeks reconciliation with Gautier and, under the suasion of the abbot of St. Germain and many barons, Gautier reluctantly agrees. “‘God!’ said Gautier, ‘it grieves me to do it’ / Without delay he quickly raises them up, / then they embrace like friends and family.”88 Immediately, the former feuding enemies join forces to battle the emperor Louis whom they accuse of fomenting the feud in the first place. These episodes are not purely literary inventions. A German chronicle records a mid-tenth-century dispute between the abbot of St-Gall and his monks, in which the latter had expressed their anger by throwing a Bible at their “father.” The ceremony of peacemaking, mediated by the archbishop of Augsburg, had the abbot kneel before his monks in the abbey church, then the monks kneel before the abbot; afterwards, all kissed each other as their tears flowed freely.89

All these episodes are parallel to the final reconciliation of Yvain and Laudine. Such quickly changing emotions are not “really believable” if we insist on understanding them as though they were our own, living in a culture where emotions are “deep seated” and must be “worked through” before any real change can come about. In the twelfth century, however, emotions were understood to be attached to, and generated by, particular actions. If the actions are there, so must be the emotions. If Gautier and Bernier embrace as friends and family members, they show the love of friends and family members, no matter how much one or the other may do so “with grief.” Only by construing the emotion of “love” in this way can we comprehend how Peter of Nébian could say to William of Montpellier on receiving his fief, “I wish to love you, to serve you faithfully and to dwell in your grace and protection,” or could a family list among the items of their estate “their men’s love and support and company in deed and word in all their quarrels.”90

In fact, this much wider conception of secular “love” can be seen throughout the period. The lyrics of the troubadours use the same language as the Occitan oaths of fidelity, intermingling “erotic” and “political” love with no concern for the gender of either party: what for us today are two different areas of feeling were only two different aspects of a single emotional category.91 Since Chrétien frequently echoes troubadour lyrics in Yvain and his other romances, we should expect to find these political feelings indistinguishable from marital “love” once we take off our modern sunglasses.


The way this wider definition of “love” succeeds “anger” in the patterns of behavior described above indicates that the “love” and “anger/suffering” Yvain has felt before making his “pes” with Laudine are fundamentally the same as the Love and Hate debated by Chrétien when Yvain fights Gawain. It is not immediately evident to modern eyes that these two episodes have the same underlying emotional topography. The lengthy Yvain/Gawain passage seems based on both the competition and the friendship components of a male-to-male relationship, while “love” in the rapid reconciliation between Yvain and Laudine seems familiar to us as heterosexual erotic passion. The two episodes do have these different flavors as we read them today, but they also overlap considerably in their “anger” and “hate,” which are governed by the characters’ sense of “enor” (honor) and “honte” (shame). Both episodes are examples of successful feuds in which peace is reached with no honor lost on either side. Lunete acts as the intermediary between Yvain and Laudine, while Chrétien himself acts as a playful intermediary between the story and his audience as he debates for us the paradox of the coexistence of Love and Hate. Because of his elaborate treatment of the governing notions in the Yvain/Gawain episode, he can recapitulate them quite briefly in the finale with Laudine.

Chrétien has directly addressed his audience throughout the poem, but the Love/Hate debate is his most extended intrusion, and thematically most central. With great comic vivacity he applies the technique of scholastic disputation to the oxymorons of the politico-erotic tradition of the troubadour partimens. Brian Woledge follows the view of Jean Frappier that in this passage “l’esprit du clerc fait tort B l’art du romancier” and feels that at moments we are given “une analyse un peu incohérente du paradoxe amour-haine.”92 However, Tony Hunt and others see Chrétien’s dialectical play of opposites as based in the method of Abelard’s Sic et Non, and Constance Bouchard has recently demonstrated that twelfth-century vernacular writers in general “deliberately chose oppositional terms that required as well as denied each other, pairs in which both alternatives were valued.”93

Though his courtly audience would have immediately recognized this mode of debating a paradox, no reader or hearer is ever quite ready for the suddenness with which Chrétien interrupts himself, or the comic gusto with which he throws himself into the task of “doing the voices” of each side. Early in the poem he has Laudine speak both her own and Yvain’s part in her mental debate about whether they are actually at feud (lines 1762-76), but here Chrétien outdoes himself in comic brilliance. By the humorous sprezzatura with which he “proves” the “truth” of both propositions — that Yvain and Gawain love each other, and that they also hate each other — and even more by his quasi-personifications of Love and Hate, he foregrounds the concepts themselves. This conceptual displacement allows us to see more clearly what would have been transparent to his contemporary audience, the simultaneous truth of these apparent contradictions that make up the complex emotional state of twelfth-century conflict resolution, in which Love and Hate inhabit different rooms in the same house (lines 6027-34).

The audience would also have understood the one-hundred line clerical disputatio with which Chrétien opens this scene as pure play. In their true identities Yvain and Gawain cannot really be at feud with each other, but Chrétien has made them the unknown champions of the two feuding sisters, so that the Love/Hate paradox rests upon a false premise. There would be no paradox if the knights knew each other’s true identities. The audience would also see the trial by combat as a literary fiction, not only because of its hyperbolic intensity and comical exaggeration but also because noble knights did not settle conflict thus in real life. These fictional displacements prepare the way for the final lengthy Alphonse-and-Gaston altercation between the two knights about which one has been defeated. That elaborate coda, again comical, reveals the honor/shame binary underneath the Love/Hate debate.

The comic tone continues when, after their repeated mutual protestations of defeat, King Arthur, now acting as arbiter, declares that he can amend their disagreement “si bien qu’a voz enors sera” (“so well that there will be honor to both of you” 6383), and does so by telling the wicked older sister that if she does not give her sister her rightful share he will declare his nephew defeated in battle, which frightens her into agreement. Chrétien’s comic sense of symmetry runs throughout the whole episode. He resolves the paradox of his initial debate by keeping the two opposites of Love and Hate in perfect balance, just as their battling to an absolute draw, each insisting on his own defeat, keeps equal honor for both combatants. He even works their utter equality in reputation and honor into his poetic form, for when they learn each other’s identity, their names rhyme:

–Comant, fet mes sire Gauvains,

qui estes vos? – Je sui Yvains . . . (6277-78)

[“What?” said my lord Gawain,

“who are you?” – “I am Yvain . . .]

After these two equivalents in honor and sonority are fully healed from their wounds, Yvain has the overwhelming impulse to “guerroyer” at Laudine’s fountain. We expect a happy ending, but we don’t know exactly how it will be achieved, which gives Chrétien the opportunity to deploy Lunete’s verbal trickery in one more deeply satisfying comic surprise. Yvain was dishonored before the court by the shaming tirade of Laudine’s messenger after he broke his word. Twelfth-century noble listeners would have seen the redress of this now-distant dishonor as important outstanding business. They would suppose that Yvain feels both Love and Hate toward Laudine at lines 6501 ff. He is dying of the lack of her love, which in the calculus of oppositions equals Hate; and he is dying of love for her in the troubadour sense, which would mean to Chrétien’s audience that he wants to make a pledge of fidelity to her as well as to fulfill his erotic yearning.

As Lunete’s “game of truth” with Laudine’s oath brings into play (that word again!) the oppositional process of dispute settlement and the rapid contrast of feelings attached to it, rhetoric and narrative become unified, and the pace speeds up. When she realizes she has been trapped by Lunete, Laudine explodes at her:

Or as tu esploitié molt bien!

Or m’as tu molt an gré servie! (6754-55)

[Now you’ve done a good job!

Now you’ve done me a great service!]

Wittily, Chrétien means us to see that these exclamations are about to turn true; even though Laudine is being utterly sarcastic, Lunete has in fact done “molt bien.” In a series of quick angry rhymes Laudine asserts that Yvain would never have had any peace from her, were not breaking her word such a shameful and unworthy thing (“trop leide chose et trop vilainne” 6759):

Toz jorz mes el cors me covast,

si con li feus cove an la cendre,

ce don ge ne voel ore reprendre

ne ne me chaut del recorder

des qu’a lui m’estuet acorder. (6762-66)

[Forever would smolder in my heart,

as the fire smolders in the ashes,

what I do not now wish to bring up again94

nor is it worth remembering

now that I must come to an agreement with him.]

Hearing her grudging assent underlaid with bitter resentment, Yvain

. . . antant

que ses afeires si bien prant

qu’il avra sa pes et s’acorde (6767-69)

[ . . . understands

that his case is going so well

that he will have his peace and reconciliation]

and therefore throws himself upon the rhyme of her “misericorde,” confessing his faults. The modern reader may find this joyful response to her indignation to be yet one more bizarre note in the romance or, alternatively, think Yvain astonishingly naive. The character Yvain and Chrétien’s audience, however, may hear in Laudine’s lines yet another common clause in dispute settlements, the imposition on the parties of “silentium perpetuum” [perpetual silence] with regard to the dispute, that neither ever again utter “verba minatoria, opprobriosa, scandalosa, defamatoria vel vultus inhonestos vel extraneos” [menacing, reproachful, scandalous, or defaming words or make hostile or nasty faces] at the other.95 She announces loudly her vexation and then imposes silence upon it, and this tells Yvain that they will soon reach a “pes.” Equally possible is that the ritual and rhetoric for maintaining honor while making peace in a feud, explicitly spelled out in early-modern manuals of courtesy, were already practiced by men (and women) of honor in the twelfth century: the side that was vanquished was to reply curtly that he was making peace under duress, whereupon the side that had the advantage in the exchange of violence was to beg for pardon. Such early-modern “rules” exactly fit the rhetoric of this scene.96

Chrétien reaches his triumphant happy ending with (if we may be permitted a howling anachronism) an almost Mozart-like clarity and balance, yet never ceasing his poetic play. Let us examine just one example of word-play, “fin(e),” at the moment when he depicts Lunete’s satisfaction with her arbitration. The Cambridge Old French-English Dictionary gives fourteen different yet allied definitions for the adjective “fin,”97 most of which would be chosen from context, and we have used a doubled translation below. Margaret Switten, upon whose interpretations our own reading rests, claims that the word is so rich in meaning in this passage as to be virtually untranslatable.98 She points out that generally Chrétien means to invoke the association of “fin’amors” and to transpose this troubadour concept into the notion of love-within-marriage. “Fin” here also means specifically that Yvain is now “true,” in that he keeps his word, he is faithful. Whether it means he is now morally “perfect” depends on the reader’s interpretation of his character. Certainly “fin” means that both Yvain and Laudine are of equal worth and honor, and perhaps in the secular world of the twelfth century that is perfection enough:

Ne li faut chose qu[i] li pleise,

des qu’ele a fet la pes sanz fin

de mon seignor Yvain le fin

et s’amie chiere et fine. (6800-03)

[She (Lunete) lacks nothing that pleases her

now that she has made peace without end

between my lord Yvain the true/perfect

and his dear and true/perfect beloved.]

Their equality of honor is neatly gendered by the masculine and feminine forms of the adjective, “fin” and “fine.” The following rhyme closes off a couplet as it begins a new sentence:

Del Chevalier au lyeon fine

CrestVens son romans ensi (6804-05)

[Chrétien thus ends his romance

of The Knight with the lion]

The word “fine” is now a verb instead of an adjective or noun, so in a sense “fin(e)” signifies both the endless peace of their reconciliation and the end of the narrative. As Switten puts it, Chrétien uses this word-play “to conflate love and peace and conclusion.”

Yet the pace of the action and this cascade of four rhymes are so pell-mell that some readers wonder if disorder will break out again. We take Chrétien’s pace and polysemy to be meanings in themselves: the speedy, witty end of the poem matches exactly the two episodes in the two chansons de gestes described earlier. Chrétien’s audience would see no psychological tension in his rapid conclusion, because mutual honor was saved in this “pes.” In fact, they would see mutuality in the very syntax of the reciprocal passives in the lines quoted at the beginning of this article:

Molt an est a boen chief venuz

qu’il est amez et chier tenuz

de sa dame, et ele de lui.(6793-95)

[Everything has come to a good conclusion,

for he is loved and held dear

by his lady, and she by him.]

This differs from saying “She loves him and holds him dear, and he her.” There the active verbs locate “love” as moving out from the subject to the object, and treats “love” as a transitive force. This outflow of affection is a familiar modern notion about love, implicit in the stock phrase “I love you,” expressing the subject’s interior feeling about the object. To make the statement in the passive — “He is loved and held dear / by his lady, and she by him” — treats the subject as receiving “love” from an active agent (“by his lady,” “by him”). It is an expression of the observable public esteem that the subject receives from someone pledged to him. And this esteem, or honor in which one is held, is mutual: he is given something by her, and she is given something by him. “Love” here doesn’t refer to the subject’s interior feeling, but to what one receives externally from another. It is thus more public and social than private and “romantic.” Indeed the most famous manuscript illumination of this scene shows even the protagonists’ sexual reconciliation in a quasi public space, with both Lunete and the lion in attendance.99 Yvain receives Laudine’s pledge/oath/word — and, in the illumination, her kiss — and she his. The reciprocal passive constructions here in the text of the poem are the grammatical depiction of the bonds each has received from the other. His happiness and honor depends upon her keeping her pledge, and hers upon his.

At the same time, we need to allow for the ellipsis in line 6795: even though readers supply the understood verbal phrase a second time, the omission of “is loved and held dear” throws the rhetorical weight of the statement of reciprocity more upon the honor which Laudine confers upon Yvain than on the honor in which he holds her. This seems an appropriate emphasis. The romance has been in one sense Yvain’s education in “keeping one’s word,” not about Laudine keeping hers, and if the story has a subjective center it certainly is Yvain. Should the poem then be classified as an “education of the hero,” “a coming of age narrative,” or a Fürstenspiegel? One may wish to say that Chrétien remains deliberately ambiguous about how much Yvain has “learned,” or one may regard it as only ironic to say that he has “matured.” Or one can say, as we incline to do, that “moral education” and “inner maturation” are the wrong terms to use, given the way we believe twelfth-century emotions were externalized and attached to publicly observable action (Lunete being “the public” in this final scene).

There is still a question concerning future actions: Will the peace and love that bind Yvain and Laudine continue after the story ends? We know from the narratives of some feuds that they could calm down and then re-ignite at an inauspicious moment. The narrative of Raoul de Cambrai has several such moments. So do narratives that are probably not fictitious, such as the Conventum of the lord of Lusignan and Count William of Poitiers.100 Yet each arbitrated or negotiated settlement is presented as final, with the parties swearing to observe it and sometimes promising hostages and money payments if they do not. For this reason an agreement itself is sometimes labeled a finis.101 And we know that many of the people who appear in archival documents feuding with a monastery also appear in other documents as major patrons of that same monastery, making death-bed requests to be buried in the monastic cemetery with the monks’ everlasting prayers. Should we then even ask the question of Yvain and Laudine? In the last lines of the romance Chretien warns us that there is nothing more to tell of his story “s’an n’i vialt mançonge ajoster” (“unless one wants to add lies to it” 6808). We surely should heed his warning.

Fredric L. Cheyette is Professor of History at Amherst College (e-mail:

Howell Chickering is Professor of English at Amherst College (e-mail:

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