Sarah CALS

Fear in Tristan romances (1100-1200)
Promotion :
Research Unit : CERAM
Thesis Description :

You probably heard about medieval romances in which fearless knights fight against evil with all their might. Actually that’s not! That was a popular belief a few years ago, but now it is accepted that emotions other than love are present in Arthurian literature. My goal is to explain why fear is so frequent and so significant in chivalric romances, especially in the Romances of Tristan (12th and 13th centuries). Here is my question: “From Tristan to Yseut, how does writing of fear construct a problematic axiology?” In other words, how does it question the system of chivalric values?
To answer, I started with a lexical corpus. I searched every occurrence of fear in the romances to put it in tables and to analyse it by context, characters, type of discourse, etc. There are twelve points to analyse for each occurrence.
So I get basic statistics that show emotional sequences, that is to say emotion in context to analyse on a literary point of view (for example, a young lady is often terrified, she runs away, she cries and she admits her feeling in direct speech if there is a male oppressor).

First results are about frameworks: there are three different fears and three different functions. In the religious framework, fear is a step in the access to salvation. Christians have to fear God and Evil to access heaven. So fear has a deep moral dimension. In the chivalric framework, fear is used to construct chivalric identity.
So it’s related to a dichotomy: good knights don’t feel scared and bad knights are cowards. But that dichotomy is questioned in the Prose Tristan because of a character called Dinadan. He is accepted as a good knight but he expresses fear most of the time. My point of view is that he stages fear, he shows emotion and he uses the emotional code to avoid danger. So he creates a problematic axiology. Finally, the courtly framework and the expression of love act sometimes like a corruption of values. And fear is not anymore a counter value but it becomes something else, something like a real personal emotion. I think love gives fear a more emotional aspect and this is maybe related to the problematic axiology, like a writing program for the romances.