2 Differences in form and style
3 Matters of differences in content, meaning and emphasis
3.1 Love vs. chivalry
3.2 Differences in the social function
3.3 Functions of the lion
There is no doubt that Chrétien de Troyes was one of the most influential writers in the Middle Ages, and his poem Yvain: The Knight of the Lion (Yvain: Le Chevalier au Lion) is probably one of the greatest masterpieces of medieval writing. Since there are many different redactions of Chrétien’s Yvain: The Knight of the Lion (hereafter Yvain) today – such as Hartmann von Aue’s Iwein, the Welsh Owein, and the Middle English Ywain and Gawain (hereafter YG) – it can be rightfully claimed that Yvain had a huge impact on the literary world of the Middle Ages.
Referring to the English world of literature, YG is – of course - the most popular redaction of Chrétien’s Yvain. However, there are a lot of critics who argue whether this Middle English redaction of Chrétien’s Yvain should be regarded “as a work of art in its own right or as merely a translation” [Finlayson 1969: 312] of its French source.
In order to give proof that YG is a work of its own rather than a pure literal translation of Chrétien’s Yvain, this paper aims to highlight and analyse some striking differences between these two poems. Therefore, this paper will first focus on some differences in terms of form and style, and then, it will concentrate on some matters which are related to different meanings and different focal points of YG and Yvain.
2 Differences in form and style
First of all, the most obvious difference between the two poems is that YG is only about two thirds as long as Yvain. Whereas the French poem has 6.818 lines altogehter, the Middle English version only consists of 4.032 lines [cf. Busby 1987: 597]. Since the English poet did not “significantly alter the plot” [Finlayson 1969: 313] of his French source and kept the same sequence of narrative events, his abridgement of Chrétien’s Yvain “is accomplished more by simplification and omission than by alteration.” [Finlayson 1969: 312]. The reason why the English poet made use of so many simplifications and omissions is because his redaction of the French Yvain was probably addressed to a much less sophisticated audience than Chrétien’s. Therefore, the English poet applied some different narrative mechanisms to YG so that the events are told in a different manner, which is more straightforward and easier to understand. As J.L. Weston pointed out, “it was Chrétien’s matter, not his manner which the (English) redactor desired to reproduce” [Weston 1899: 100]. So – in YG - the English author dropped or replaced some of Chrétien’s typical stylistic devices such as “irony, ambiguity, burlesque, impersonation, parody, multiple perspectives (and) detachment” [Hunt 1981: 203], which the English author regarded as being too elusive or even unnecessary.
In Yvain, Chrétien tended to use very long and detailed descriptions of persons, feelings, landscapes or combats, which were “an essential element of the French romance tradition” [Busby 1987: 597]. So, for example, Laudine is described very elaborately in terms of the traditional rhetorical female portrait, and Yvain’s guilty conscience – as he desires Laudine, although he has killed her husband – is presented very explicitly (ll. 1428-1506). On the other hand, the English poet reduces the description of Ywain’s guilty conscience to ten lines (893-902), and Alundyne is simply described as:
That lady es ful grent and small,
Hir yghen clere als es cristall;
Sertes thare es no man olive
That kowth hir bewtese descrive. (ll. 899-902)
Furthermore, the English author also reduced and flattened Chrétien’s excessive battle descriptions. Whereas Chrétien’s description of Yvain’s battle with Esclados le Roux – the knight who defends the spring - takes 56 lines (816-72), the English adaptor used only 26 lines (635-61) to present a rather conventional description of that battle.
In YG, descriptions of castles or strongholds are generally kept very short. The castle of Gawain’s relative, for example, is just “A full fayre castell” (2210), whereas Chrétien used nine lines (3773-81) to describe that castle. Another proof for the English poet’s favour for using simple descriptions of buildings can be found in line 163 of YG, where the description of the stronghold that Sir Colgrevance has discovered simply reads “a bretise brade”.
According to the proper names appearing in Yvain, the English poet omitted a lot of concrete names and simply used general terms. So the forest which is first mentioned in the story of Sir Colgrevance is simply “a frith” (l. 157), whereas in Chrétien’s Yvain, the forest is named as “Broceliande” (l. 189). Moreover, it is interesting to notice that in Yvain, the adventure told by Calogrenant happened seven years previously, whereas in YG, the time given is six years. As the forest turns out to be magic later on, the English author was obviously not aware of the meaning of the “magic” number seven [cf. Finlayson 1969: 318].
However, both authors – Chrétien de Troyes as well as the English author – seemed to have a “predilection for the fantastic and supernatural” [Busby 1987: 599]. As against the general trend of abridgement and simplification, the English poet offered an almost literal translation of the detailed French description of the Giant Herdsman (ll. 295-308), which is about as long as the original one:
His hevyd, me thoght, was als grete
Als of a rowncy or a nete;
Unto his belt hang his hare,
And efter that byheld I mare.
To his forhede byheld I than,
Was bradder than twa large span;
He had eres als ane olyfant
And was wele more than geant.
His face was ful brade and flat;
His nese was cutted als a cat;
His browes war like litel buskes;
And his tethe like bare tuskes.
A ful grete bulge opon his bak
Thare was noght made withowten lac.
His chin was fast until his brest;
On his mace he gan him rest. (ll. 251-66)
Moreover, YG reveals some additions made by the English author in order to make the story more interesting and exciting. So the English poet wrote that Sir Colgrevance met wild leopards, lions and bears in the forest (ll. 240-241), and not just only wild bulls – as Chrétien put it in Yvain. Furthermore - in YG - the effect that is caused by Arthur pouring water on the spring is much more exaggerated than in its French source [cf. Busby 1987: 59]:
Then the King, in order to see the rain,
poured a whole basin full of water
upon the stone beneath the pine,
and at once the rain began to pour (Yvain: ll. 2218-21)
The king kest water on the stane;
The storme rase ful sone onane
With wikked weders, kene and calde,
Als it was byforehand talde.
The king and his men ilkane
Wend tharwith to have bene slane (YG: ll. 1291-96)
Finally, the English author placed YG “entirely within a new frame, which effectively ‘recolonizes’ the narrative from the French” [Matthews 1992: 456]. Whereas Yvain starts off with an open prologue, in which Chrétien shortly introduces King Arthur but tells his audience nothing about his aims, YG begins much clearer:
Almyghti God that made mankyn,
He schilde His servandes out of syn,
And mayntene tham with myght and mayne
That herkens Ywayne and Gawayne.
Thai war knightes of the Tabyl Rownde;
Tharfore listens a lytel stownde. (ll. 1-6)
Here, the English poet directly indicates the subject matter by highlighting the title of the poem. The fact that Gawain is mentioned stresses “Gawain’s role in the climatic action of the poem (where he unwittingly crosses swords with Ywain, ll. 3509-74)” [Ywain and Gawain: 1]. The mention of Gawain’s name may also refer to the growing popularity of Gawain, since he also appeared in many other Middle English Arthurian romances during that time. Similarly to its beginning, YG is ended by a closing prayer: