Chivalric Identity in Medieval Romance: Colour and Clothing in Perceval


Chivalric identity is a recurring theme in the medieval romance. This features prominently in Chretien de Troyes’s Perceval and Marie de France’s Lanval. Alice Stamataki explores issues of medieval identity through the significance of colours, hues, and heraldry in the medieval romance.

The Age of Chivalry module presents a broadly chronological introduction to issues of chivalry, knighthood and courtliness. As such, ideas of chivalric identity and knightly ‘becoming’ are frequently touched upon, particularly in relation to Chretien de Troyes’ Perceval (Le Conte du Graal) and Marie de France’s Lanval. This lecture aims to tie these concepts together, providing students with an in-depth understanding of the ways in which clothing and appearance facilitate discussions of identity within the romance form.

The lecture begins by focusing on Chretien de Troyes’ Perceval, a text already familiar to students. It discusses ideas of comedy and audience through a comparison to the Middle English text, Sir Perceval of Galles; this aims to encourage students to think about issues of identity within a ‘canon’ of medieval texts, and the relative form and function of textual analogues. It presents a broad-ranging examination of the ways in which chivalric garments and accoutrements are utilised within the poem to issue in ideas of chivalric ‘becoming’. It reassesses the significance of colours and hues, and touch on ideas of heraldry, to examine the tensions between boyish immaturity and chivalric maturity.

The second portion of the lecture takes as its subject the lais of Marie de France. It contrasts the Perceval-texts’ emphasis on chivalric masculinity, by highlighting the ways in which Marie de France utilises clothing to discuss issues of female identity. This section aims to ground the students’ understanding of these issues through a brief discussion of clothing in Lanval, a text familiar to them through the course of the module. It touches particularly on the masculine anxieties and class-consciousness inherent to ideas of dress, contrasting them to the issues of identity and concealment apparent in Le Fresne and its Middle English analogue Lai le Freine. Through Le Fresne, concepts of concealment, revelation of ‘true’ identities, and chivalric ‘becoming’ will come full circle; students will arrive at the understanding that romance poets discuss concepts of identity through clothing in relation to both men and women.

This lecture draws directly upon Alice’s own research into issues of identity and clothing in medieval romance. It aims to provide a detailed and insightful accompaniment to the themes, motifs and concepts introduced through the Age of Chivalry module, at an appropriate level for an undergraduate audience. In particular, it builds upon the lectures and tutorials discussing Perceval (Le Conte du Graal) and Marie de France’s Lanval. Fundamentally, it aims to provide students with a deeper understanding of the issues and texts highlighted by this module.

This lecture was recorded as part of Easter Lectures Day 2015, when postgraduate researchers delivered fresh insights into key undergraduate exam topics. Easter Lectures Day was organised by Dr Simon Grimble.

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