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Part 3: Home Truths, Public Truths

Sir Launfal: an echo to Breton Lays?

Fanny Moghaddassi

Résumé

Echoes are a distinguishing feature of Middle English Breton lays, which resound with many voices, and hinge around the problem of articulating repetition and variation. It is therefore appropriate that Sir Launfal, a late 14th century Breton lay by Thomas Chestre, should itself be fraught with echoes. The plotline actually insists on the crucial importance of speech, truth and lies in the fictional world. While the courtly world is consistently presented as a world of lies and gossip, Sir Launfal himself gradually emerges as a figure embodying truthfulness. The lay therefore pits distorted echoes, such as ring in both Arthur’s court, and the Mayor’s city, against faithful echoes, which characterise Launfal’s speeches. The hero’s misadventures at court fuel Chestre’s satiric representation of the courtly world, which he presents as a mere sham whereas he depicts Lady Tryamour as the epitome of truthfulness. In her, desire and fulfilment coincide, annihilating the painful gap between words and reality, desire and actual fact. She stands as Guenore’s symmetric opposite in the lay, and it is remarkable that her appearance at court marks the end of gossip, and re-establishes the truth. Nevertheless, Tryamour and Launfal’s departure at the end of the lay signals that truthfulness, ideal knighthood and courtesy do no longer exist in the human world. From this point of view, Sir Launfal departs from other Breton lays, displacing the knightly ideal from the courtly world into an inaccessible fairy land. Chestre’s poem is indeed but an echo to Breton lays.

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1The famous prologue to Sir Orfeo and Le Freine clearly posits the lay as a response to an initial experience of listening:

When kinges might ovr y-here
Of ani mervailes that ther were,
Thai token an harp in gle and game
And maked a lay and gaf it name (17-20).

  • 1 Unsurprisingly, commemoration features among the distinguishing characteristics of lays in many sch (...)

2What is central, in this opening gesture, is the fact that the lay is first and foremost an echo, and to be more specific, a many-fold type of echo. Intrinsically, the poet here presents the lay as the result of an extraordinary experience or adventure. What comes first, from a chronological point of view, is the authentic event the lay commemorates.1 The poem that we hear must therefore be conceived as a narrated representation of an initial event, in other words, an echo to real experience.

  • 2 See Constance Bullock-Davies, ‘The Form of the Breton Lay’, Medium Ævum, 42, 1973, p. 18-31.

3But if the lay echoes an adventure (or at least insists that it does), it also emphatically derives from curiosity about such authentic – or supposedly authentic – adventures. What the poet stages here is an initial experience of listening which he claims is the source of the poem itself: not only is adventure at the core of the genre, but listening, and even the active gathering of echoes of adventures, appears as the basic impetus for the creation of the lay. In the poet’s lines, there indeed seems to be an almost irresistible link between the activity of listening to an adventure and that of actually creating new representations of this particular adventure. What is more, in the order of creation, the lay is only composed as a result of the initial gesture of taking the harp: what comes first is music,2 another instance of the importance of listening and echoing as a basic feature of Breton lays.

4In Biblical fashion, the creative process is not absolutely over before a name is given to the lay. Just like Adam, who is asked by God to name the newly created animals, the poet names his lay after making it. This leads us to take into consideration a third layer of echo in the opening gesture of the lay: once created, the lay bears a name, which, like a magic carpet, allows it to fly over time and space and become one of the apparently large arrays of lays which can be told on a given occasion. Therefore, it becomes a reference which can be echoed in performance. Performing the lay, presenting it in front of an audience, whatever it be, or even reading it out to oneself, means echoing the creative gesture attributed to Breton kings. As a consequence, what is echoed is both the story and the act of creation, which means that lays echo other lays, with variation. The lay, once created, becomes a commemoration of the initial creative act as well as the plotline. Performing a lay, or writing a new version of the lay, implies giving yet a new interpretation of the story in a particular place and at a particular moment.

  • 3 Just as in a lay, a number of rules – sometimes little more than habits – apply to the prologue, th (...)

5Lays echo other lays, which echo their initial creation in a mysterious Breton atmosphere, which in turn echoes an extraordinary adventure that happened in a distant past. Whatever our reading of the different Middle English lays, we too, as critics, obviously participate in the creation of a world of echoes around Breton lays. This world of echoes, we call criticism; and in the midst of voices commenting over the same adventure (reading a Middle English lay long after it was first conceived), we hope to produce a specific version of the common experience.3 Studying echoes in Middle English lays is therefore an introduction to a world of multiple voices, and many-layered interpretations.

  • 4 See George Kane, Middle English Literature, London, Methuen, 1951 or Alan J. Bliss (ed.), Sir Launf (...)
  • 5 See for instance Myra Stokes, ‘Lanval to Sir Launfal: A Story Becomes Popular’, in Ad Putter and Ja (...)
  • 6 See for instance Timothy D. O’Brien, ‘The “Readerly” Sir Launfal’, Parergon, 1, 1990, p. 33-45.

6We may thus argue that echoes are the very stuff that Breton lays are made of. In this context, I propose to examine the relation between Sir Launfal and the genre of the Breton lay. The poem obviously echoes earlier versions of the lay, and much effort has been – usefully – spent by critics in determining the various sources Chestre used and occasionally on criticising him for his lack of talent and sophistication.4 But if performing the lay means allowing it to take new life from a particular voice at a particular moment and in a particular place, Chestre’s rendering of Sir Launfal must be read as a form of re-creation of the lay. Written at the end of the 14th century, close to a century after Sir Landevale and about two centuries after Marie de France’s Lanval, it has a more popular flavour than its original source5 and it has been noted that Chestre’s poem both takes up and distorts many of the typical features of Breton lays.6 Both a repetition and a variation on Breton lays, the poem is, I suggest, not a Breton lay proper but an echo to a Breton lay.

7Indeed, Chestre’s Sir Launfal plays with the theme of echoes to suggest a subtle reinterpretation of the lay’s subject matter. The opening lines to the lay of Launfal take up the elements found in the common prologue to Orfeo and Le Freine: ‘Ther fell a wondyr cas / Of a ley that was ysette / That hyght “Launval” and hatte yette’ (2-5). It introduces the performance of the lay as an echo to the initial creation of the lay (4), itself an echo to an adventure (3). In other words, it presents the lay as an echo to earlier lays. What follows is the traditional call for the audience’s attention: ‘Now herkeneth how hyt was’ (6). This address, however conventional, plays a crucial role in the context: it formally marks the passage from a world of echoes to the world of actual performance. If the lay we are listening to is but an echo to a previous lay, what matters from now on is its particular rendering in this particular version, and through the particular voice, music, or instrument, which take charge of it in front of a particular audience at a particular place and time. The use of the imperative form, in contrast to the past tense used in the first lines, emphasises this movement from memorial genealogy to actuality. A voice is now our reference in this world of echoes and the poet insists on the importance of the actual enunciation of the lay.

  • 7 Earl R. Anderson’s seminal article first underlined the problem of truth and lies in Sir Launfal; ‘ (...)
  • 8 See T. O’Brien, art. cit., and Richard Horvath, ‘Romancing the Word: Fama in the Middle English Sir (...)
  • 9 E. R. Anderson, art. cit., p. 123.

8Performing the lay is proclaiming one particular version of the story, which implies strong insistence on the truth of the story.7 The public utterance of the lay, with its attending protestations of truth, echoes a major theme on the diegetic level as the poem is eminently concerned with lies.8 Indeed, the poem keeps stressing the importance of public comments made on private matters, and introduces what Anderson called ‘an internal audience, that responds to Launfal’s changing fortunes’ in the lay.9 Most important steps in the story are commented through some sort of representative of the public voice, which therefore both echoes and distorts facts in language production. There is as a consequence no clear distinction between what we would call private and public life. On the contrary, the lay resounds with voices commenting on the action and echoing in public conversation the private fortunes of the hero.

  • 10 No corresponding passage exists in either Sir Landevale or Graelent, where Launfal has no travel co (...)

9When Launfal is ruined and forced to let his companions go, he anticipates gossip about his situation and begs his companions not to mention his poverty at King Arthur’s court: ‘Tellyth no man of my poverté / For the love of God Almyght!’ (143-144)10 This in turn induces the young men to lie, when in due course, the king and queen do ask questions about Launfal. At the end of the story, Launfal becomes a topic of conversation as the whole court discusses his case. When he receives Tryamour’s great gifts, earlier in the story, and is turned, in a blink, from a scorned pauper into a worthy and potentially harmful knight, the poet delegates his voice to a young boy in the market. We hear him marvelling at the amount of riches accumulated on the horses and at the surprising news that they are meant for Launfal (388-396). The whole scene is actually organised as a sort of pageant which serves to openly demonstrate Launfal’s new status: his recovery of his prestigious social status is given great publicity; even before it is perceptible on him (it is only in the following lines that Launfal actually arrays himself in his new clothes), Chestre echoes the public voice’s comments of the fact. In this context, it is not clear whether the event matters most on the individual scale or on the social one.

  • 11 Whether this is a misinterpretation of Sir Landevale’s anaphora ‘Lanval’ or not is not relevant to (...)
  • 12 Such an intertwining of public and private spheres is not unusual in Breton lays. When Sir Orfeo lo (...)

10It is true that private acts, in the lay, are never separated from their public consequences: Launfal’s recovered wealth does not only imply that his social status and individual pleasures are recognised again. In very concrete fashion, it also means money back in his creditors’ purses (418-420), as his squire pays his debts back with care. It also implies help to the poor, gifts to knights and squires, alms to religious men, freedom for prisoners, and new clothes for minstrels (421-432). His personal happiness is therefore reverberated in hyperbolic fashion around him: repeatedly resorting to the anaphora ‘Fifty’, the poet insists on the fact that two hundred and fifty different characters experience the cheering consequences of one knight’s recovered wealth.11 It echoes Landevale’s chiasmic lamentation that who owns nothing can do no good (‘Who hath no good, goode can he none!’ Sir Landevale, 26). Similarly, at the end of the lay, Launfal’s undermining comments on the queen’s beauty imply a corresponding questioning of her status as a queen. The problem does not simply lie in determining who the most beautiful woman is: in the background of the private competition between two rival women looms a political stake, as Launfal’s claim that his lady’s maids are more worthy to be queens than Guenore, de facto represents a challenge to current public order. The private sphere and the public one are intrinsically linked insofar as what happens in the private sphere finds an immediate public echo.12

  • 13 R. Horvath, art. cit., p. 170.
  • 14 Ibid.

11The stress Sir Launfal puts on the public echo given to the characters’ actions must be analysed in reference to the importance of reputation in the knightly world. Much of the action in Sir Launfal directly results from public discussion of the knights’ reputation, what Richard Horvath terms ‘the verbal economy at the core’ of the poem.13 Sir Valentine’s challenge to Launfal derives from his envy after hearing Launfal’s great deeds in tournament praised (508). His challenge is prompted by his attention to what people say: ‘He herde speke of Syr Launfal / How that he couth justy well / And was a man of mochel myght’ (508-510) and worded in corresponding attention to reputation: Launfal is asked to come and joust with him or else suffer dishonour (‘hys manhod schende’, 528). In turn, Launfal’s victory over Valentine wins him new praise, and leads to his restoration in King Arthur’s esteem: ‘The tydyng com to Artour the Kyng / Anoon, without lesyng, / Of Syr Launfales noblesse.’ (613-615). Such exciting news immediately triggers an invitation to the king’s feast on St John’s festival. On this occasion, Launfal is honoured with the role of steward of hall, as a response to his well-known generosity (624), another instance of the importance of what people say about others. Reputation in this context is treated in economic terms, as an individual asset, as well as a collective one, since Launfal’s glory adds lustre to Arthur’s court. Individual prowess cannot be restricted to a private form of accomplishment; it is a highly public one since its echoes have consequences at the level of the community. These consequences nevertheless are rather suggested than developed in Sir Launfal. What remains central in the lay is the importance of the public voice on self-definition: when Launfal is about to be condemned, the twelve knights designated as jurors admit that they know the queen to be a promiscuous woman (787-792). Reputation in this particular instance means acquittal for Launfal, who is further helped by his own reputation this time, when the Earl of Cornwall refuses to sentence to death a man they have known ‘hende and fre’ (843) and suggests banishment be the worst condemnation they consider. Reputation, in the lays, is therefore not only a theme but a driving narrative force: ‘dialogue, more so than event becomes the main agent of the narrative.’14

12Echoes between the private sphere and the public one therefore form a strikingly important feature in the lay. Most important steps in the story are commented through some sort of representative of the public voice, who therefore echoes and distorts facts in language production. Whether it be Arthur and Guenore asking questions about Launfal’s welfare, the young boy exclaiming about his change of status, Sir Valentine commenting on his prowess, the public voice praising his great deeds, or the barons lamenting the dreadful necessity of condemning him, the lay stages many different instances of comments made on the action by various characters. Interestingly though, one of the most important commentators of the character’s deeds, is Launfal himself. The hero is recurrently shown revealing the truth about his private situation openly. His unhappy boast about Tryamour is only one of these truth-telling comments, as is revealed by a close scrutiny of the character’s speeches. When he arrives in town, he explains his estrangement from King Arthur in detail to the mayor: ‘But, Syr Meyr, without lesyng / I am departyd from the Kyng / And that rewyth me sore’ (100-102). This surprising speech is a partial lie, and one which can only hurt Launfal’s interests (as might have been expected, the news rather damps the mayor’s eagerness to find lodgings for Launfal). In real fact, Launfal has left the king in good terms, under the false pretence that his father has died: the poet insists on the warm-hearted farewell between Launfal and the king, who gives him great gifts and sends two of his nephews with him (80-84). In town, nevertheless, Launfal tells the Mayor the underlying truth beneath this series of events: he has taken his leave from the court in pain and anger. Launfal demonstrates his truthfulness by revealing that his departure from the court is another word for his estrangement from the court, and indicating that therefore nothing is due to him on account of Arthur. His words faithfully echo reality.

13Launfal’s characterisation hammers in this truthful feature: not only do Launfal’s words reveal his thoughts, but his body is turned into a faithful witness to his feelings. Launfal’s reaction to the mayor’s embarrassed refusal to provide proper lodgings for him is marked by a physical and verbal expression of scorn; Launfal turns away, laughing contemptuously, before derisively presenting the mayor as a man of little value in the eyes of his companions (118-120). When realising that Tryamour is lost to him, he beats his body and his head and falls into a swoon (751-755). Both these conventional expressions of grief (present in a less developed guise in Sir Landevale, 274, but absent from Graelent) serve to emphatically demonstrate Launfal’s deep grief (just as Orfeo’s swooning or Degaré’s on meeting his father reveal their inner feelings). The poet insists that there is a perfect adequacy between the character’s words, bodily attitudes, and feelings.

  • 15 T. D. O’Brien, art. cit., p. 42.
  • 16 Graelent, Chestre’s other main source, provides only a narrative summary of the character’s sufferi (...)
  • 17 The ambiguity of this line has been studied by Peter J. Lucas, ‘Towards an Interpretation of Sir La (...)

14Chestre develops this close association of Launfal to truthfulness throughout the poem, and more particularly through the use of direct speech. Whether to reveal his pain on being separated from a beloved king or to show his scorn of the mayor, the character’s words express his feelings in very open and emphatic fashion. His conversation with the Mayor’s daughter, sometimes read as an instance of his ludicrous ‘blindness and “unmanliness”’,15 can be construed as a revelation of this characteristic urge which leads Launfal to lay open his private affairs. It reads as a confession of misery and poverty: Launfal insists on his lack of food and drink, lack of clothes, and consequent lack of social value, begging to be lent a saddle and bridle for a while. The passage has often been criticised for its deficient elegance, bourgeois insistence on the pragmatic details of poverty and for the character’s degrading self-pity, all of which can be attributed to Chestre. Nevertheless, the passage also reveals the perfect adequacy between the character’s situation and his words. The mayor’s daughter, as an inmate of the house, cannot be supposed to discover these facts, nor is any stress put on her reaction as she simply disappears the minute Launfal’s speech is finished, and her presence remains perceptible only implicitly through the fact that Launfal is now able to harness his horse. In Sir Landevale, the hero’s lamentations on his situation, clearly couched in more aristocratic language, are developed when the character is alone (26-30 in town, 43-49 in the forest). Here, on the contrary, his words are addressed to another person:16 Chestre therefore highlights Launfal’s honesty, however indifferent the poet might be to the girl’s reaction. This is a recurring feature in the lay: when Launfal, now a rich man, faces the Mayor, he exposes the despicable nature of the man’s behaviour, causing him to retreat in humiliation (409-414). When the queen offers herself, Launfal refuses in very stout fashion, asserting his loyalty to the king (or to his mistress17) in unequivocal terms: ‘I nell be traytour day ne nyght / Be God, that all mays stere’ (683-684). The fact that he takes God as his witness here – a traditional expression, and one inspired by Sir Landevale – enhances the character’s determination to act according to his word. Nor does the text suggest any painful distortion between sworn loyalty and inner experience: Launfal is not tempted by the queen’s sexual advances. Launfal therefore is a man of a piece: in his character, thoughts or feelings, words and acts coincide.

  • 18 E. R. Anderson, art. cit., p. 118.
  • 19 ‘Thematic Structure and Symbolic Motif in the Middle English Breton Lays’, Traditio, 62, 2007, p. 8 (...)

15It is true that, at the beginning of the lay, he is guilty of an ‘innocent [fib]’18 or white lie, but interestingly, the lie is not reported in direct speech, nor is Launfal responsible for the contents of his companions’ subsequent deceitful report about him. Shearle Furnish’s comment that ‘after Tryamour’s intervention in his life, Launfal lies no more’19 must therefore be extended to the beginning of the lay: after the initial lie about his father’s death, Launfal lies no more, and not even then, does he do so in direct speech. The poet’s reference to this initial lie in the narration (rather than in dialogue) tends to minimise its import, especially when opposed to the number of outrageous lies uttered in reported discourse by the queen. This is inevitably reinforced when the lay is actually performed, as only passages in direct speech call for an impersonation of the characters by the performer, and might imply corresponding changes in terms of bodily presence and pitch of voice. I therefore think we can argue that in the poem, Launfal’s character is described as essentially truthful: in him, the poet discovers a form of perfect adequacy between inner experience, and outward behaviour and talk. Launfal’s attitude is a perfect echo to his feelings and thoughts.

  • 20 Chestre follows Sir Landevale on this point. Nevertheless, I do not think imitation less meaningful (...)

16From this point of view, Launfal stands in sharp contrast to the other characters in the story: the queen, Launfal’s companions, and the mayor all lie in turn, according to a pattern of gradation which has first been analysed by Earl R. Anderson. It is remarkable that these lies are reported in direct speech; from the queen’s deceitfully anxious inquiries about Launfal’s welfare (160-161), through the Mayor’s lame excuse that he intended to invite Launfal to the party but could not find him (403-408), to Guenore’s repeated false accusations (713-720, and 918-924 when she urges the king to take revenge on Launfal), lies are presented in direct discourse.20 Similarly, the queen’s intention to seduce Launfal is expressed in reported style (647-654), therefore introducing strong contrast between the two passages in which the queen, alone, comments on the inserted scene of aborted seduction. The poet insists on the absence of echo between the two passages: in the first, the queen declares emphatically that she loves Launfal as her life (654), an expression suggestive of sexual rather than sentimental attraction in the context, while in the second she claims she must be avenged or die (713). To be more specific, what the poem introduces is a form of distorted echo: just as voices, after resounding on a cliff, return transformed, the queen’s voice reappears distorted in the story as death replaces life and revenge love. A similar process can be observed with the Mayor who also argues in direct speech against receiving Launfal in his house, before claiming to be a devoted host (112-114 and 403-408). The voice of the character is contrasted with itself in both these cases, forcefully emphasising the distortion between what the characters think and what they say. Liars dissociate inner thoughts and feelings from outward expression: their reactions are no adequate echo to their feelings.

17In the sonorous atmosphere of the lay, in which private actions are never devoid of public echo, such distortion is fraught with very serious consequences. The Mayor’s rejection of Launfal on the political ground that he no longer belongs to Arthur’s court means a serious loss of social prestige and comfort for the knight, who is forced to live in the less aristocratic chamber by the orchard, and the Mayor’s subsequent lie about his supposed desire to invite Launfal to the party only enhances the hero’s isolation and despair before Tryamour steps into the story. This double lie is echoed by a double punishment: the Mayor’s exposition as a mean host by Launfal in his companions’ eyes is followed by his more humiliating rejection after Launfal has become rich. Nevertheless, it is only in the courtly and aristocratic world that lies become powerfully threatening. In town, the Mayor’s lies do not really serve to hide his thoughts or feelings: on the contrary, they reveal his obsession with self-interest quite openly. The pretence is here fairly thin. What is more, the Mayor’s lies can only endanger Launfal’s comfort, and economic situation. They can have no impact on his reputation as a valorous knight or on his life, as they do not refer to him: the Mayor lies about himself, not about others. The distortion of truth he conceives is no distortion of other people’s identities.

  • 21 This seems to be another example of a rash promise, as the king needs the barons to approve of his (...)

18On the contrary, in the courtly world, the accusations Launfal falls victim to threaten his definition as a knight: if what the queen says is true, Launfal has committed treason and forfeited his life and honour, as is dramatized in the story. The queen’s lie indeed is immediately followed by Arthur’s oath that Launfal will be slain (721-722), a promise which will not be kept,21 but nevertheless defended on several occasions (837, 872). Honour indeed lies in the adequacy between promise and act (being true to your word), and Arthur’s violent upbraiding of Launfal opens on an accusation of treachery which is directly – and ironically, in the context – associated to lies (761-765). Truthfulness is an ideal courtly value which means that acts must be a faithful echo to words (as Dorigen experiences to her dismay in yet another version of a Breton lay), and words to feelings. In the context of the trial, therefore, Launfal’s boast about his mistress, if proved a lie, is a justified cause for banishment or death. As abovementioned, it threatens the political order of the court, as the queen is challenged in her role and the king in his supremacy. But the text is fraught with irony, as Launfal is the victim and not the creator of a lie.

  • 22 One may argue that Gyfre’s secret help to Launfal in the tournaments is an instance of disloyalty a (...)

19Lies in this context form the background to Chestre’s poetic challenge to the typical representation of knightly ideal. Arthur’s court is not one in which people’s actions echo their thoughts: even well-meaning characters resort to lies and to deceit in order to protect Launfal. The first instance of this is of course Launfal’s companions’ report that they left him in wealth and happiness and were separated from him during a hunt. The barons at the end of the story privately admit that they know the queen to be promiscuous, though this can hardly be proclaimed truth. What King Arthur’s court is doing then, is only upholding the appearance of knighthood. One instance of this fact is to be found in Arthur’s attitude after Launfal’s initial lie: if the king believed Launfal, he might be expected to inquire about his family and call him back to court, and if he did not, to cast him off completely. By having Arthur adopt an intermediary course, the narrator suggests that the king is aware that Launfal lied about his father’s death, but thinks hypocritical interest in the knight’s welfare the best way to keep up appearances as any other attitude might lead to revealing the queen’s niggardliness. In the context of such a court, Launfal appears as an unusual character and one who cannot fit in the general atmosphere of slander and lies, and his initial lie is revealed to be a necessary one. This lie, the only distortion of truth that he is responsible of, is a compromise with the implicit rules which govern the court.22 Since Guenore’s promiscuousness and lack of courtesy are a well-known fact, but one which cannot possibly be enunciated in the political context of Arthur’s court, because it means loss of power, prestige and wisdom for the highest person in the realm, the barons are left with the only possibility of public deceitful praise of the queen, and private agreement on what the real truth is.

20Such a situation is exemplified in the trial scenes at the end, when the twelve jurors, who are chosen to tell the truth, agree that Launfal cannot have been guilty of attempted seduction of the queen. Interestingly, this passage differs from its version in Sir Landevale, which reads:

  • 23 The passage represents an addition to Marie de France’s lay which does not insist on this shared kn (...)

This twelve wist withouten wene
All the maner of the quene:
The kyng was good, alle aboute
And she was wyckyd, oute and oute (295-298).23

  • 24 At the very beginning of the lay, the knights already know Guenore’s poor reputation. One might won (...)
  • 25 Attitudes to the king’s decision undergo progressive transformation in the different lays. In Marie (...)

21It is no accident that Chestre should have transformed these lines: where Sir Landevale tries to exonerate the king from all responsibility, stoutly opposing the king’s fundamental goodness (this does not seem a necessary assertion in the context of a conflict between a knight and the queen: the narrator might be content with comments on Landevale and Guenevere’s actions, and avoid any mention of the king’s qualities altogether) to the queen’s wicked nature, Chestre suggests a subtle dissociation of Arthur’s court from the knightly ideal, which introduces an element of satire in the tale. The court is a world of lies and illusions, in which knights only pretend they respect the queen, so as not to endanger their links with the king. No character is loyal enough to the king to tell him the truth.24 What is more, the king is apparently easily manipulated: the Earl of Cornwall rather bluntly states that they will lead the king in another direction.25 A place for gossip and slander, a veritable school for scandal, Arthur’s court is de facto a resonance chamber for falsehoods and malicious accusations, such as lies about the queen’s courtesy (nobody, not even the king, argues in favour of a gift for the faithful Launfal), lies about Launfal’s supposed welfare, lies about the queen’s promiscuousness and the king’s wisdom… The truth only appears privately, to a small group of characters at a time, and is never to be proclaimed openly. While lies in Sir Landevale and Graelent are only accidental, they come to embody the very nature of courtly life in Sir Launfal.

  • 26 For instance by R. Horvath, art. cit.

22In this context, the opposition between Guenore and Tryamour is endowed with deeper meaning. Indeed, Tryamour is recurrently associated with the truth. The erotic attraction of the fay in her pavilion has often been commented on,26 but from a symbolic point of view Tryamour’s nakedness in this first encounter with Launfal also highlights the fact that she does not hide from the gazer. At Arthur’s court, in a sort of echo to this initial scene, she dramatically drops her mantle to the floor, exhibiting both her beauty and the truth of Launfal’s allegations in one and the same gesture. This uncovering of Tryamour’s body is stunning because it implies a revelation: a revelation of her beauty of course, in its amazing seduction, but also of the adequacy between actual fact and words where she is concerned.

23What is more, as is revealed in the pavilion, Tryamour also promises an adequacy between desire and fulfilment. While the human world is the realm of deceit, divisions, lies and distances (the queen desires Launfal but he refuses her), Tryamour’s world is one in which contemplation and possession are one. Indeed, Tryamour offers herself in the same movement as she reveals herself. Her speech to Launfal in the pavilion is one which insists on the annihilation of distances: Launfal should not be ashamed as she knows everything about him (314-315). If all lies become unnecessary in her presence, it is not only because she seems omniscient, but because Launfal’s pride cannot suffer from her gaze. Tryamour’s speech grants him honour (she prefers Launfal to both kings and emperors, 306), wealth (319-324), comfort and elegance (she gives him a squire and a horse, 325-327), purpose (she provides him with arms, linking his deeds to her love, 328-329) and strength and protection in combat (331-332). A symbol for Tryamour’s love is the ever-filling purse she gives Launfal: just as this purse can never be empty, Tryamour’s love is ever present. Whereas in the human world, situations evolve quickly, Tryamour’s world is one of faithful echo: money is ever to be found in the purse just as Tryamour repeats her visits to Launfal every night in the secret closed space of his chamber (promise, 353-357, and fulfilment, 499-504: both passages insist on the privacy of their meetings). Correspondingly, her love fills Launfal with inexhaustible energy and strength, making him more than a match for the knights in the English tournament and for Sir Valentine and his vassals in Lombardy. It enables him to express what has been marked as his leading characteristic since the opening lines of the lay without restraint: Launfal’s generosity can express itself freely thanks to the magic purse, as is emphatically stressed in the lay (a whole stanza is devoted to this theme, 421-432).

  • 27 R. Horvath (art. cit., p. 172-173) argues that Launfal remains silent in the fairy world and makes (...)
  • 28 Her maidens, who announce her arrival both verbally and physically, seem reduced images of herself, (...)

24Tryamour’s world is therefore one of presence, in which there is no gap between words and reality, between desire and actual fact. Her bodily presence is never deceitful: based on her knowledge of the truth and even the future (314-315 and 551-552), her love is one that annihilates the distances between Launfal’s generosity and his poverty, between his worth and the queen’s unfair treatment of him, between the queen’s slander and the truth. Expressing himself truthfully, revealing what he feels, is also what Tryamour invites Launfal to do, when she tells him not to be ashamed in her presence because she knows everything about him (314-315). What Tryamour offers is a form of perfect intimacy, in which there is no discrepancy between inner feelings, outward situation and one’s relationship with others. In this context, Launfal’s often commented silence in the Otherworld27 can be read as the expression of such adequacy between inner and outer feelings: seduced, Launfal beholds Tryamour’s beauty (307), falls in love (308) and kisses her (309) in one and the same movement. Coming closer, he pronounces the only words he says in the other world: ‘Swetyng, whatso betide, / I am to thyn honour’ (311-312), words which do read as a pledge of love and a promise. There is no need to say more in the world of presence and bliss, and the rest of the scene develops Tryamour’s langorous offering of herself. A world of perfect bliss, then, but one which cannot be transposed in the human world, Tryamour’s universe is one of unity28 and perfect echo.

25In this context, the taboo imposed by the fay is an interestingly symmetric echo to the taboo imposed by the king and queen over Guenore’s qualities as a queen. Launfal is not to boast about his lover, just as knights at court are not to reveal their knowledge of Guenore’s lovers. In both cases, there must be no public echo to the private experience of love and sex. In the lay, nonetheless, the silence implicitly imposed on Guenore’s behaviour is but a distorted echo of the taboo imposed by Tryamour:

  • Launfal is personally involved in the secret love affair, while the knights are mere observers of the queen’s adultery.

  • Tryamour asks for silence herself, instigating the taboo and she rewards Launfal with love. On the contrary, Guenore’s behaviour is kept secret out of respect for social conventions or self-interest only. The knights’ silence about it remains unrewarded.

  • Tryamour herself is discreet and comes unseen to visit Launfal while Guenore rather openly declares her interest in Launfal by joining the dance, and later herself reveals – albeit deceitfully – the existence of an erotic link between them.

  • As a consequence, before Launfal boasts about her, nobody knows anything about Tryamour, whereas Guenore’s adulterous practices are an open secret.

26Guenore is a caricature of the fay; determined, beautiful, powerful and rich like Tryamour, she seems her perfect counterpart in a world of pretence and distorted truth.

27The confrontation between the two worlds is bound to be dramatic. When Tryamour appears in Arthur’s court the very minute before Launfal’s condemnation is implemented, she comes to reveal the truthful nature of Launfal’s boast, and therefore saves him from the ironic charge of falsehood. Significantly, her arrival is intimately linked to the slanderous echoes given to Launfal’s purported lie. When the first group of her attendants arrive, they interrupt the barons’ discussion of Launfal’s case: ‘And as they stod thus spekynge / The barouns sawe come rydynge / Ten maydenes, bryght of ble’ (847-849). A few lines further, the other ten maidens again interrupt the barons in the midst of heated argument:

Some dampnede Launfal there
And some made hym quyt and skere
Har tales wer well breme.
Tho saw they other ten maydenes bright (880-883).

  • 29 In Marie’s version, the references to the ladies clearly help build up suspense: they come at the m (...)

28Their presence puts a stop to the flow of words which occupies the beginning of the stanza (877-883) and agitates the court.29 In the third repetition of a similar scene, Tryamour’s triumphal apparition again interrupts idle talk:

And as the Quene spak to the Kyng
The barouns seygh come rydynge
A damesele alone
Upoon a whyt comely palfrey (925-928)

29Interestingly, these passages are interwoven with Launfal’s truthful protests that he does not know these servants: Gawain’s hope that among them stands Launfal’s lover is truthfully rejected by the hero twice. Tryamour therefore puts an emphatic stop to gossip and slander. Her gorgeous apparition proves Launfal to be truthful, and restores the truth in Arthur’s court: Arthur solemnly proclaims what the poet has been demonstrating since Tryamour’s arrival: ‘Ech man may ysé that ys sothe, Bryghtere that ye be’ (1004-1005).

  • 30 R. Horvath insists that ‘the faerie’s re-emergence […] is a visual more than oral performance, near (...)
  • 31 Marie’s version is ambiguous: the fay insists that the queen was in the wrong without making it cle (...)

30However beautifully staged it may be,30 Tryamour’s appearance is also a verbal reassertion of the truth, which she states in this lay in a more detailed fashion than in other versions (997-1002).31 This verbal enunciation of the truth is paralleled by a physical one: Chestre’s original idea of blinding Guenore at the end must be considered not only as apt poetic justice for the queen’s misbehaviour but as a reestablishment of truth. The queen has brought this on herself by exclaiming: ‘Yyf he bryngeth a fayrer thynge / Put out my eeyn gray!’ (808-809). Because Tryamour actually acts on the queen’s words, those words for the first time gain some validity. The passage is the only instance in the poem when the queen is associated with the truth. Though ironically, it is of course unwillingly.

  • 32 In Graelent, the hero tries to follow the fay over a river and is rescued from drowning at the very (...)
  • 33 S. Furnish, art. cit., p. 104.

31It comes as a last satiric trait that Launfal and Tryamour immediately afterwards leave the court in great haste. Indeed, it implies that Tryamour’s defence of the truth can only be the key to Launfal’s freedom, but that it cannot make Arthur’s court a home for him. Tryamour herself is the appropriate home for truthful Launfal. In the context of Chestre’s treatment of truth and lies in the poem, I think it consistent that Chestre should have chosen to omit the motif of the fay’s anger which he might have taken from Graelent and Sir Landevale,32 and to bring his heroes together rapidly, very much in keeping with Marie’s version of the end of the poem where Lanval simply jumps onto the fay’s palfrey without any preliminary dialogue between the lovers (637-644). Launfal’s mistake, his boast about his lady, might indeed be excusable in the context of danger in which the queen places him, but what matters most is that it links him more structurally to truth. In Shearle Furnish’s words, Launfal ‘loses control of his emotions’33, and in so doing, he betrays the hidden secret of his life, his love for Tryamour.

  • 34 I am indebted to Anne Laskaya for the following analyses as she was the one who called my attention (...)

32One might object to this analysis of the opposition between lies and truthfulness in the lay that Tryamour herself is guilty of some sort of lie, which weakens her association with truthfulness: indeed, in blatant contradiction to her own assertion that Launfal would never see her again if he broke the taboo (361-365), she finally comes to his rescue and takes him to the fairy world at the end of the story.34 But by coming to Launfal’s rescue, Tryamour does not actually lie: she has respected her promise that he should lose her if he ever mentioned their love affair, and her errand may be read as one of pity. Refusing to go to Arthur’s court at this point of the story would mean Launfal’s death, which might be considered an extreme punishment for his rash reaction to the queen’s provocation. After all, Tryamour never promised that if breaking the taboo, Launfal would incur death. Still, not only does Tryamour rescue Launfal from impending disaster, but she actually restores him to her favour much more easily than in previous versions where her anger is perceptible (in Sir Landevale, the hero has to plead for forgiveness, 501-524, while in Graelent, he well-nigh drowns before she rescues him, 685-728). From this point of view, her attitude may be considered as contradictory.

33Nevertheless, only a very restricted conception of truthfulness can lead us to deem Tryamour’s action at this point a lie. Indeed, Tryamour’s forgiveness does not annihilate the initial punishment Launfal has been submitted to as a consequence of his boast. If we take into account the fact that the breaking of the taboo stemmed partly from Launfal’s desire to preserve his pride and even satisfy his vanity in the face of the queen’s humiliating sneer, such transgression has been duly punished through an appropriate humbling (Launfal loses his money, social status, reputation, freedom, love, and comes close to losing his life). In this context, Tryamour’s rescue appears not so much as a broken promise, as an instance of relenting. After all, has she not promised to ‘save’ Launfal (333)? Tryamour, the epitome of courtesy and perfection, reveals in this final gesture her ability to go further than strict conformity to one’s words (her own interests only being at stake), so that she cannot be considered as falling short of the ideal of truthfulness. What is more, her forgiveness bears testimony to the fact that Launfal’s boast was fundamentally triggered by his urge to proclaim the truth, though the self-interest with which his action was tinged in that matter justified his long punishment.

  • 35 Lais Bretons... Marie de France, ed. and trans. N. Koble and M. Séguy, p. 823, 735-750.
  • 36 One might argue in favour of Gawain who is presented as a faithful friend at the end, but his role (...)

34After he has left the human world of duplicity to be one with his lover, Launfal becomes a form of guardian of the boundaries between the two worlds: a knight who appears on a certain day at a certain place to embody true adventure. A possible variation on Graelent’s episode of the mad horse,35 the passage presents Launfal as a sort of echo of the magic world of truth which keeps challenging, in a rather restricted manner, the human world of the audience. When the lay ends, the audience is left in a world devoid of magic: Launfal’s departure with the fay deprives us of glamour and escapism, wealth and exoticism, but also more fundamentally of truthfulness. We are left in a world of distorted echoes, in which knighthood is but a parody of itself and the court a world of deceit and disillusion, from which magic has fled. The distinctly unaristocratic tone of Sir Launfal cannot be opposed to a more bourgeois ideal, as the town world, though less dangerous than the court, is similarly marked by duplicity and distortion. There is hardly a character in the lay, apart from Launfal, who embodies the spirit of romance and its insistence on honesty and loyalty as defining features of knighthood.36

  • 37 Perhaps the only uncanny reference in the lay is Tryamour’s claim that she will come to Launfal ‘as (...)

35The lay itself appears therefore as a rather disenchanted echo to the world of romance and earlier Breton lays, themselves echoes to an idealised past. Chestre’s distanced tone in the lay means that the echo to the original adventure does not serve to glorify knighthood and court life and attribute ideal values to them, but it rather shifts the emphasis from the world of knights to the world of fairy, where only lie beauty, truthfulness and honour. In this context, the Otherworld loses much of its threatening aspect. The figure of the fay in this lay is rarely dangerous.37 On the contrary, in a sort of echo to the Christian dogma, Tryamour promises to ‘save’ Launfal (333) from harm. Whereas in Sir Orfeo and Sir Degaré for instance, the magical powers of the fairies often come as an uncanny experience for character and audience alike (only think of Heurodis’s ravishment or the rape of Degaré’s mother), the fairy world in Chestre’s poem is endowed with all the qualities the human world lacks. It becomes the only appropriate echo to romance ideals, but a more and more distant echo, which can only be heard at particular times by attentive people.

  • 38 When Orfeo realises his wife is gone, he swoons (197), just like his steward on being told his king (...)

36Whether we choose to daydream about the fairy world or turn our backs on it to enter the more realistic human world the lay presents, we are left, at the end of the lay, in a very different situation from readers of Sir Orfeo or Sir Degaré for instance. No ideal restoration of order and reassertion of moral values occurs at the end of Sir Launfal and though the king admits having been mistaken, Guenore’s blindness implies both the painful aftermath of wrong-doing, and the perpetuation of blindness in the human world. The Otherworld and the human world are both worlds of echoes, but in the former echoes take the form of pleasant and faithful reproductions of inner life, which seem fraught with mysterious meaning (just as in the experience of shouting at the cliffs), whereas echoes in the real world undergo distorting processes which turn them into gossip, falsehood and sham. From this point of view, Sir Launfal is itself a distorted echo to earlier lays, where the chivalric world is not presented as essentially truthful, though accidental lies do occur.38 Maybe it is not a Breton lay proper but an echo to Breton lays.

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Notes

1 Unsurprisingly, commemoration features among the distinguishing characteristics of lays in many scholarly definitions of the genre, for instance, Laurence Harf-Lancner’s article Lai in Claude Gauvard, Alain de Libera and Michel Zink (eds), Dictionnaire du Moyen Age, Paris, Quadrige, Presses universitaires de France, 2002, p. 807-808.

2 See Constance Bullock-Davies, ‘The Form of the Breton Lay’, Medium Ævum, 42, 1973, p. 18-31.

3 Just as in a lay, a number of rules – sometimes little more than habits – apply to the prologue, the epilogue and the developments of our discussions. Just like the performer of a medieval lay, the critic is nothing but a voice in dialogue with other voices. What he or she produces, similarly, though less artistically, is an interpretation of an existing poem and an echo, however contrastive, of previous interpretations.

4 See George Kane, Middle English Literature, London, Methuen, 1951 or Alan J. Bliss (ed.), Sir Launfal, London, T. Nelson, 1960.

5 See for instance Myra Stokes, ‘Lanval to Sir Launfal: A Story Becomes Popular’, in Ad Putter and Jane Gilbert (eds), The Spirit of Medieval Popular Romance: A Historical Introduction, Harlow, Longman, 2000, and Colette Stévanovitch, ‘Le(s) lai(s) de Lanval, Launfal, Landeval, Lambewell…et la notion d’oeuvre dans la literature moyen-anglaise’, in Nathalie Collé-Bak, Monica Latham, and David Ten Eyck (eds), Left Out, Texts and Ur-Texts, Nancy, Presses universitaires de Nancy, 2009, p. 155-171.

6 See for instance Timothy D. O’Brien, ‘The “Readerly” Sir Launfal’, Parergon, 1, 1990, p. 33-45.

7 Earl R. Anderson’s seminal article first underlined the problem of truth and lies in Sir Launfal; ‘The Structure of Sir Launfal’, Papers on Language and Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature, 13, 1977, p. 115-124,

8 See T. O’Brien, art. cit., and Richard Horvath, ‘Romancing the Word: Fama in the Middle English Sir Launfal and Athelston’, in Thelma Fenster and Daniel Lord Smail (eds), Fama: The Politics of Talk and Reputation in Medieval Europe, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2003, p. 165-186.

9 E. R. Anderson, art. cit., p. 123.

10 No corresponding passage exists in either Sir Landevale or Graelent, where Launfal has no travel companions.

11 Whether this is a misinterpretation of Sir Landevale’s anaphora ‘Lanval’ or not is not relevant to the effect produced by this particular repetition. Chestre’s source, in any case, also insists on the social consequences of Launfal’s newly-recovered status (see Sir Landevale, 162-184).

12 Such an intertwining of public and private spheres is not unusual in Breton lays. When Sir Orfeo loses his wife, his people lose their king, and his sorrow is echoed in picturesque fashion by the lamentations of his people watching him leave the town in poverty (219-225, 234-236). The description of the scene is very dramatic: Orfeo’s announcement of his decision to go is followed by general weeping in the hall and soon all the characters kneel down to beg him to stay. Similarly, Sir Degaré’s mother fears the suppositions which might be raised by her pregnancy: ‘Men wolde sai bi sti and strete / That mi fader the King hit wan’, she exclaims (168-169), thus emphasising the importance of the public voice as a narrative force.

13 R. Horvath, art. cit., p. 170.

14 Ibid.

15 T. D. O’Brien, art. cit., p. 42.

16 Graelent, Chestre’s other main source, provides only a narrative summary of the character’s sufferings (‘N’est merveilles s’il est dolenz !’ l.164 and ‘Cele part erra Graalanz / Trespensis, mornes et dolenz’, 207-208, in Lais bretons (XIIe-XIIIe siècles) : Marie de France et ses contemporains, ed. and trans. Nathalie Koble and Mireille Séguy, Paris, Champion « Classiques », 2011, p. 786 and 788.

17 The ambiguity of this line has been studied by Peter J. Lucas, ‘Towards an Interpretation of Sir Launfal with Particular Reference to Line 683’, Medium Ævum, 39, 1970, p. 291-300.

18 E. R. Anderson, art. cit., p. 118.

19 ‘Thematic Structure and Symbolic Motif in the Middle English Breton Lays’, Traditio, 62, 2007, p. 83-118, here p. 104.

20 Chestre follows Sir Landevale on this point. Nevertheless, I do not think imitation less meaningful than transformation. Granted Chestre’s original rearrangement of the story, it is obvious that he could have altered a particular point if it had not suited his interpretation of the lay.

21 This seems to be another example of a rash promise, as the king needs the barons to approve of his decision before actually being certain that Launfal shall be slain. In Marie de France’s lay, the king is more cautious and swears Launfal will be put to death if he cannot justify himself (‘s’il ne s’en puet en curt defender,’ 329, op. cit., p. 360). The precaution disappears from the Middle English Sir Landevale, which insists that Launfal must abide by the law and take the consequences of his act (254-256).

22 One may argue that Gyfre’s secret help to Launfal in the tournaments is an instance of disloyalty and trickery little consistent with his essential truthfulness. But I think three details must be taken into account when analysing this particular problem. First, Launfal’s magic servant helps him only in the Lombard tournament, which opposes him to a giant, so that Launfal is here placed in a world where the marvellous seems to be the norm, and his dwarf-servant seems an appropriate compensation for Sir Valentine’s extraordinary height. Secondly, the challenge, as worded by Sir Valentine, insists on Lady Tryamour just as much as on Launfal himself (close to 3 lines out of 6 are devoted to her), so that the challenge may indeed be read as aimed at her as well as her knight, which justifies her reaction (551-552) and her help. Thirdly, the dwarf’s help, though crucial in the tournament, is limited to Launfal’s protection: Gyfre brings him back his helmet and shield, and though he does so with marvellous efficiency and speed, the actual victory over Sir Valentine’s might is still Launfal’s. I think we may argue that the two tournament episodes actually echo one another very much as Tryamour and Guenore do: the first is set in the world of men, the second seems to obey fairy rules, which minimises the import of Gyfre’s intervention.

23 The passage represents an addition to Marie de France’s lay which does not insist on this shared knowledge but rather stresses the tensions within the court between the knights who wish to please the king and are ready to condemn Launfal, and those who side with him.

24 At the very beginning of the lay, the knights already know Guenore’s poor reputation. One might wonder why Merlin, in the context, argues in favour of the match.

25 Attitudes to the king’s decision undergo progressive transformation in the different lays. In Marie de France’s version, the Duke of Cornwall says that the king should not have accused Launfal except that a knight should always honour his lord (446-450), thus minimizing his own criticism of the king’s behaviour; he acknowledges his influence on the king, but in a political tone (l. 452 insists that the king will rely on their judgment about Launfal’s oath). In Sir Landevale, the Earl of Cornwall suggests the barons should influence the king so that he banish Launfal: the formulation is closer to Chestre’s version, but leaves some agency to the king who is the one ordering the banishment (346-348), while the condemnation of the king’s accusations becomes much more biting than in Marie’s lay, as it very explicitly states that killing Launfal, which is what the king asks them to do, would be ‘greatt vilany’ (341). From Marie de France to Chestre, therefore, the king is increasingly depicted as a weak and unfair ruler, a puppet in his wife’s and his barons’ hands.

26 For instance by R. Horvath, art. cit.

27 R. Horvath (art. cit., p. 172-173) argues that Launfal remains silent in the fairy world and makes no promise to Tryamour.

28 Her maidens, who announce her arrival both verbally and physically, seem reduced images of herself, as in a mirror.

29 In Marie’s version, the references to the ladies clearly help build up suspense: they come at the moment when the barons are about to come to a decision (473, 553). L. 513, the maidens come as a relief in the tumult of the barons’ arguments. The poet makes it clear that the vassals are relieved to find some excuse for postponing the judgment. In Chestre’s poem, their apparitions also create suspense, but it is remarkable that they thus gradually put a stop to idle talk and lies.

30 R. Horvath insists that ‘the faerie’s re-emergence […] is a visual more than oral performance, nearly forty lines of voyeuristic imagery,’ art. cit., p. 175.

31 Marie’s version is ambiguous: the fay insists that the queen was in the wrong without making it clear how (620); it is only in Sir Landevale that she openly accuses Guenore of having tempted Launfal to adultery (487). In Graelent, the fay does not reveal the queen’s attempted seduction of Launfal, nor does she triumphantly insist on her superior beauty, but on the fact that no woman is beautiful enough not to have any rival (638-652). As a consequence, the court only needs to admit that the fay is as beautiful as the queen, a much less violent and rather face-saving conclusion.

32 In Graelent, the hero tries to follow the fay over a river and is rescued from drowning at the very last minute by the relenting fairy. In Sir Landevale, Tryamour reproaches Launfal for breaching the taboo, but ultimately forgives him when he humbly apologises.

33 S. Furnish, art. cit., p. 104.

34 I am indebted to Anne Laskaya for the following analyses as she was the one who called my attention to this particular objection.

35 Lais Bretons... Marie de France, ed. and trans. N. Koble and M. Séguy, p. 823, 735-750.

36 One might argue in favour of Gawain who is presented as a faithful friend at the end, but his role is limited, and nowhere is it stated that he takes an active role in Launfal’s defence.

37 Perhaps the only uncanny reference in the lay is Tryamour’s claim that she will come to Launfal ‘as stylle as any ston’ (357), an expression suggestive of death and coldness, and therefore possibly disquieting.

38 When Orfeo realises his wife is gone, he swoons (197), just like his steward on being told his king is dead (549). When Degaré and his father recognise each other, they both fall in a swoon (1063-1065). This physical expression of inner distress serves as an emphatic statement of the truth of their feelings: well can Orfeo trust his steward after such manifestation of woe. Bodies do not lie, as is illustrated by Tryamour’s bright presence, but in Chestre’s lay, the fairy world is all there remains of romance and truthfulness. Even though some of the characters do lie in such earlier lays, for instance Sir Orfeo in fairy land, or back in his kingdom, lies remain accidents, temporary instruments used to reach some highly desirable prize or to test people’s fidelity. Sir Orfeo’s steward and people are well worth Orfeo’s trust; Degaré’s mother lies to protect her father, at the same time making a final revelation possible; even Guroun’s more guileful lies to reach Le Freine in her convent are justified in the end when her real identity is made public. The human world depicted in these lays is therefore not structurally, but only accidentally deceitful.

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Fanny Moghaddassi, « Sir Launfal: an echo to Breton Lays? », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 25 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2014, consulté le 24 novembre 2017. URL : http://episteme.revues.org/225 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.225

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Auteur

Fanny Moghaddassi

Fanny Moghaddassi est maître de conférences à l’Université de Strasbourg. Ancienne élève de l’École Normale Supérieure de Lyon (ENS-LSH) et professeur agrégé, elle est spécialiste de la littérature anglaise des XIIIe et XIVe siècles, et tout particulièrement de la représentation de l’espace, de l’ailleurs et de l’autre dans la littérature moyen-anglaise. Son ouvrage, Géographies du monde, Géographies de l’âme, le Voyage dans la littérature anglaise de la fin du Moyen Âge (Champion, 2010), propose une exploration du motif du voyage dans différents genres littéraires de la fin du Moyen Âge. Elle a aussi publié divers articles sur les lais bretons, Mandeville’s Travels et d’autres textes autour du voyage. Sa recherche s’articule autour de deux axes principaux : d’une part, l’étude des procédés littéraires de représentation de l’espace dans la fiction, en particulier les effets de réel ou au contraire de dé-réalisation dont sont porteurs les marqueurs spatio-temporels dans la littérature moyen-anglaise ; d’autre part, la problématique de l’altérité et de l’identité, dans les œuvres littéraires et récits de voyage médiévaux anglais qui mettent en scène la confrontation du sujet avec des contrées et des êtres lointains.

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