March 11, 2014
Cligès by Chrétien de Troyes (Review)
Author: Chrétien de Troyes
First published: 1176
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Cligès is the second poem by Chrétien de Troyes and it is a wild and amusing mix of Tristan and Iseult, Romeo and Juliet and your classic Arthurian romance. The story can be roughly divided into two parts: the first one tells about the Greek emperor Alexander, who came to King Arthur's court in search of glory and also found his love, and the second focuses on his son Cligès and his love to Fenice, which is very unlike the simple and idyllic story of his parents.
The most striking thing about this poem is that it's very, very funny. Chrétien's ironic and cute portrayal of the lovers' feelings made me smile all the time. They seem stupid but also really adorable in their agony. And aren't we all stupid when we are in love? :) Another thing that I like about Chrétien de Troyes is that he is always very self-conscious about his writing, and he talks to the reader, explaining his writer's choices and underlining the structure of the poem. It's as if he is telling you the story reposing in front of the fire after a plentiful dinner washed down with mulled wine.
The plot is more real and much less conventional than the plot of Erec and Enide, the only other Chrétien's poem I've read so far. Instead of battling imaginary giants at imaginary locations, Cligès is about real European politics and real battles and sieges. There is also abduction, treason, forbidden love, poisons, you name it! I really loved the "marriage solution" from the story. Fenice, in love with Cligès, doesn't want to sleep with her lawful husband, so every evening she gives him a potion which makes him sleep and dream certain dreams that make him sure she does her marital duty by him. Awesome, right??
In my book:
Cligès is much more readable than Erec and Enide and is very entertaining without any reservations!