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Transtextualités médiévales

Reading “Guillelme l’Amïable: Hypertextuality and La Prise d’Orange

Lucas Wood

Résumés

La chanson de geste La Prise d’Orange (fin xiie-début xiiie s.) montre envers les motifs, les schémas narratifs, les personnages et le style conventionnels du genre une irrévérence soutenue, et garde vis-à-vis d’eux une distance ironique, qui lui ont mérité la réputation de « la parodie courtoise d’une épopée ». Le poème est pourtant foncièrement ordonnancé par le paradigme générique dont il s’efforce de s’écarter. En termes genettiens, le procédé hypertextuel qui prédomine dans la Prise est le travestissement, qui tourne en ridicule un texte ou un récit prestigieux en transposant son action et ses personnages dans un style plaisamment incongru—ici, le style rhétorique et narratif associé au discours courtois. La Prise suscite une appréciation quelque peu inquiète de sa subversion des normes épiques en thématisant la « folie » du protagoniste, Guillelme, dont l’imitation absurde d’un amant courtois jette un doute sur son statut de héros épique légitime et sur l’« authenticité » du texte en tant que chanson de geste. Mais la transformation satirique est enfin réincorporée dans les structures narratives et idéologiques conservatrices du genre d’une manière dont le système genettien ne peut que malaisément rendre compte, faute des distinctions nécessaires entre les divers fonctions et enjeux idéologiques possibles de la satire.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 On the Guillaume cycle’s composition and manuscript transmission, see Jean Frappier, Les Chansons d (...)
  • 2 Claude Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée (Geneva: Slatkine, 1986). S (...)
  • 3 Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée, p. 177.
  • 4 Dominique Boutet, La Chanson de geste: Forme et signification d’une écriture épique du Moyen Âge (P (...)
  • 5 Sarah Kay, The ‘Chansons de geste’ in the Age of Romance: Political Fictions (Oxford: Clarendon, 19 (...)
  • 6 Frappier, Les Chansons de geste du cycle de Guillaume d’Orange, vol. 2, p. 282; Alain Corbellari, “ (...)

1La Prise d’Orange, an anonymously authored chanson de geste belonging to the Guillaume d’Orange cycle and dated to around the end of the twelfth century,1 has simultaneously charmed and challenged several generations of medievalists. Consistently comedic on both a stylistic and a situational level, pointedly irreverent in its treatment of conventional epic motifs, narrative patterns, and characters, and self-consciously given to sidelining heroic military exploits and the stern warrior ethos affirmed by their narration so as to make room for erotic desire and burlesque episodes, the Prise has tempted critics to emphasize its scandalous infidelity—whether symptomatic of generic “decadence” or “renewal”—to traditional or canonical models of the chanson de geste. The text’s most recent editor, Claude Lachet, goes so far as to label its play with epic conventions “parodic” and the Prise itself “la parodie courtoise d’une épopée”: a poem epic in form and in a significant part of its substance, but responsive to the influence of courtly romance (and, to a lesser extent, lyric) and partially refashioned in its image.2 With the increase of scholarly attention to the breadth and heterogeneity of the chanson de geste corpus, however, the Prise’s undeniable irony and humor have come to seem more readily compatible with properly epic textuality as the genre’s own defining characteristics and limits are reconceptualized in increasingly nuanced, flexible ways. On the one hand, as Lachet himself recognizes, “l’épique n’exclut pas le comique.”3 To the contrary, “la présence du rire… apparaît comme un trait possiblement constitutif du genre, et rend celui-ci susceptible d’engendrer des faits réceptologiques secondaires comme la distance esthétique et la parodie,”4 especially as the chanson de geste’s passage from its putatively oral origins into written circulation enables the cultivation and appreciation of complex intertextual effects. On the other hand, as Sarah Kay argues, since many standard narrative, thematic, poetic and ideological distinctions between Old French epic and romance have been drawn on the basis of falsely categorical dichotomies that ignore the “dialogical relationship” between the two genres, it is misleading to dismiss as evidence of “romance influence” features of certain chansons de geste—including irony, ideological complexity, and the prominence of female characters and/or of love—that may be more fruitfully understood as epic textual strategies than as extraneous “courtly” aberrations from an epic norm.5 Accordingly, Alain Corbellari rightly endorses Jean Frappier’s view that the Prise “ne s’écarte pas de l’inspiration épique autant qu’on l’a dit,” stressing that “la plupart des procédés et motifs traditionnels y fonctionne comme ailleurs et l’ironie dont se teinte par places la reprise de certains thèmes connus ne compromet nullement la bonne marche de la machinerie épique.”6

  • 7 La Prise d’Orange, ed. and trans. Lachet, l. 265. Quotations from this edition, based on the versio (...)

2Yet neither the metaliterary humor of the Prise d’Orange nor its systematic (if not necessarily subversive) undercutting of audience expectations premised on the generic conventions of the chanson de geste has erroneously been read into it by modern critics, as an overview of its plot may begin to make clear. The protagonist Guillelme Fierebrace, chafing at the stifling peace brought about by his recent conquest of Nîmes (recounted in Le Charroi de Nîmes), is intrigued to hear Gillebert, an escaped prisoner of the Saracens, laud the rich city of Orange, currently ruled by the pagan king Arragon, and Orable, the young and beautiful wife of Arragon’s absent father, Tiebaut. Guillelme falls deeply in love from afar with “la dame et la cité”7 and decides, against the sensible advice of his nephew Bertran, to enter Orange in blackface disguise along with Bertran’s brother Guïelin and their press-ganged guide, Gillebert. The three Franks successfully pass themselves off as Tiebaut’s men and obtain an audience with Arragon, who frightens Fierebrace with his threats against the supposedly distant Frankish count, but is chagrined in his turn when Guillelme sings his own praises and “transmits” a defiant challenge to the Saracens. The Christians then visit Orable (whom her son-in-law vituperates as a potentially adulterous malmariée) in her marvelous tower of Gloriete, allowing Guillelme to arouse her admiration with another paean to his own strength and prowess before one Saracen recognizes and unmasks the Franks. Seizing makeshift weapons, the latter kill a few assailants and take possession of Gloriete, where Guillelme easily convinces Orable to arm him with her husband’s weaponry and kit out his companions in similar style. The fighting recommences and the Franks slay more Saracens as Guillelme privately shares his fears with Guïelin, who reassures him, while boldly taunting Arragon until a pagan reveals the existence of a secret passage into Gloriete, through which the Saracens infiltrate the tower and take the Franks captive. A rightfully suspicious Arragon refuses Orable’s request for control of the prisoners, but agrees to hold them while his father is summoned to exact his own vengeance, giving the queen time to visit the Christians in their cell and agree to free them and seek baptism herself in exchange for the enthusiastically given promise of Guillelme’s hand in marriage. Retiring to Gloriete with Orable, Guillelme and Guïelin dispatch Gillebert (through a second secret tunnel known only to the queen) to muster Bertran and the Frankish army while they enjoy a game of chess, unaware that a Saracen spy has reported on their activities to Arragon, who promptly recaptures the hero, his nephew and his betrothed. When Guillelme and Guïelin are taken before Arragon to stop their recriminatory squabbling, Guïelin initiates a violent escape attempt that ends with more Saracens dead and the two Franks once again barricaded into Gloriete. Meanwhile, in Nîmes, Gillebert arrives to interrupt Bertran’s mournful reverie on what he assumes to be the tragically unnecessary and politically disastrous death of his kinsmen in Orange. Entering Gloriete with a small force via the underground passage, Bertran helps Guillelme to open the city gates for the rest of the Frankish troops, and after a brief battle in which Bertran slays Arragon, Orange is theirs. Orable is baptized and, as Guibor, marries Guillelme, who becomes Orange’s lord and defender.

  • 8 Claude Lachet, “Introduction,” in La Prise d’Orange, ed. and trans. Lachet, pp. 65-66.

3 There is no need to deny the Prise the status of an “authentic” chanson de geste in order to concur with Lachet’s observation that the text “prend ses distances avec les poncifs, les clichés et les personnages fixés par la tradition, grâce à un jeu constant de dissemblances et de concordances entre sa chanson et la matière épique.”8 The text not only signposts its ironic gestures in a winkingly self-conscious manner for a cognizant public, but thematizes its deviations from “epic” narrative norms and heroic values at the intradiegetic level by accentuating the secondary protagonists’ criticism and mockery of Guillelme’s unorthodox behavior. To what extent, then, is the Prise d’Orange a parodic text ? Or, more pertinently, how does the conceptual field of “parody”, as authoritatively rationalized by Gérard Genette, contribute to a compelling reading of the nature and stakes of the Prise’s comic elements and help to explain how the poem’s play with and between literary discourses and models complicates—or perhaps clarifies—its generic identity ? And what do the answers to these questions reveal about the efficacy and the limitations of Genette’s system as a resource for the interpretation of medieval French literary texts ?

Unsettling Epic: The Hypertextual Prise d’Orange

  • 9 Gérard Genette, Palimpsestes: La littérature au second degré (Paris: Seuil, 1982), p. 14.
  • 10 Genette, Palimpsestes, pp. 33-37. The supplementary Genettian categories of transformation and imit (...)

4 The phenomena informing the Prise d’Orange’s identification as the “courtly parody of an epic” belong, in the terms established by Genette’s seminal Palimpsestes, to the domain of transformational transtextuality or “hypertextuality”. A hypertext is “tout texte dérivé d’un texte antérieur”—Genette dubs the latter the hypotext—“par transformation simple… ou par transformation indirecte,” that is, by imitation.9 In an effort to eliminate the terminological confusion surrounding what has loosely and inconsistently been called “parody” in Western critical discourse, Genette proposes a taxonomy of hypertextual practices that distinguishes two types of relations between hypotext and hypertext (transformation and imitation) and two non-serious hypertextual modes (the ludic and the satirical), yielding four categories of hypertextual operations: parody (ludic transformation), pastiche (ludic imitation), travesty (satirical transformation), and charge or caricature (satirical imitation). The ludic mode “vise une sorte de pur amusement ou exercice distractif” defined in primarily negative terms as unmarked by the “intention agressive ou moqueuse” that animates structurally similar satirical operations. Parody, by Genette’s narrow definition, is thus a “détournement de texte à transformation minimale” that depends upon the playful “transformation sémantique” of a phrase or (usually short) text through the small-scale substitution of formally or syntactically equivalent but semantically different elements for one another. It is analogous but opposed to travesty’s “transformation stylistique à fonction dégradante,” which burlesques serious, “high” or “noble” texts and genres by recasting their characters and essential action in an incongruously “low”, familiar or even vulgar verbal, discursive and/or narrative style that engenders amusing or ridiculous contrasts between the hypertext and its hypotext and between the tenor of the action and manner of its representation, belittling the hypotext’s structuring values and conflicts and sometimes undercutting its moral premises or lessons. Pastiche is “l’imitation d’un style”—that is, the non-literal reproduction of the hypotext’s defining characteristics—“dépourvue de fonction satirique,” distinguished by its purely formal raison d’être from caricature’s derisive “pastiche satirique.”10

5 In Genettian terms, Lachet’s description of the Prise d’Orange as “la parodie courtoise d’une épopée” identifies travesty as its dominant hypertextual operation. His view seems to be confirmed by the text’s opening laisses. The narrator’s typically bombastic prologue identifies his song’s action as a military campaign connected to the prestigious and spiritually consequential history of Muslim-Christian territorial struggle, its protagonists as valiant, noble and ultimately victorious, and the poem’s style as correspondingly “virtuous” in its rigorous veracity and, implicitly, in the adherence to an austere, violent aesthetic paradigm advertised by its proleptic evocation of the sack of Orange:

Oëz, segnor, que Dex vos beneïe,
Li glorïeus, li filz sainte Marie,
Bone chançon que je vos vorrai dire.
Ceste n’est mie d’orgueill ne de folie,
Ne de mençonge estrete ne esprise,
Mes de preudomes qui Espaigne conquistrent…
Pou est des homes qui verité en die,
Mes g’en dirai, que de loing l’ai aprise,
Si comme Orenge fu brisiee et malmise ;
Ce fist Guillelmes a la chiere hardie,
Qui en gita les paiens d’Aumarie…
Prist a moillier Orable la roïne… (1-25)

  • 11 See Le Charroi de Nîmes: Chanson de geste du Cycle de Guillaume d’Orange, ed. and trans. Claude Lac (...)

6The incipient text, in other words, claims to be quintessentially and unimpeachably epic with regard to both thematic content and aesthetic and ideological values. It also purports to be seamlessly continuous with the Charroi de Nîmes, which the first six lines quote almost verbatim.11 But already in the short second laisse, an incongruous disparity between the poem’s basic plot (a Christian conquers a Saracen city) and the details of its narrative style begins to emerge:

Oëz, seignor, franc chevalier honeste !
Plest vos oïr chançon de bone geste,
Si comme Orenge brisa li quens Guillelmes ?
Prist a moillier dame Orable la sage :
Cele fu feme le roi Tiebaut de Perse.
Ainz qu’il l’eüst a ses amors atrete,
En ot por voir mainte paine sofferte,
Maint jor geuné et veillié mainte vespre. (31-38)

  • 12 La Chanson de Roland, ed. and trans. Ian Short (Paris: Livre de Poche, 1990), ll. 1010-11.
  • 13 See Nelly Andrieux, “Une ville devenue désir: La Prise d’Orange et la transformation du motif print (...)

7There is nothing inherently contradictory about Guillelme’s conquest of Orange and his marriage to the Saracen queen Orable so long as the latter is presented, as it is in the opening laisse, as the consequence and symbolic confirmation of the former, a political union that ratifies the Frankish hero’s possession of his adversary’s city and lady and the conversion of both to Christianity. Here, however, the forcible seizure of Orange and Orable begins to take second place to her delicate wooing, elevating the dame’s power and agency over that of the male hero who must apparently strive to win her over, coaxing her into reciprocating his affections. The nobly stoic suffering of the epic warrior (as Roland tells Olivier, “pur sun seignor deit hom susfrir destreiz / E endurer e granz chalz e granz freiz”12) becomes that of a lovesick courtly swain deprived of sleep and appetite by unrequited love. This paves the way for the transformation, in the third and fourth laisses, of the conventional literary language of epic exposition into an account of the idle, elegantly dressed Guillelme’s woolgathering desire for the kind of “grant joliveté / Que il soloit en France demener” (52-53), framed by an evocation of the springtime reverdie that recalls the use of the motif in other chansons de geste, but also borrows the topical and lexical resources of romance and trouvère lyric.13

  • 14 Genette, Palimpsestes, p. 131.

8Interdiscursive play with rhetorical style accentuates the rewriting of military action as courtly seduction that travesties epic (pseudo-)history on a macroscopic structural level, reorienting heroic masculine desire toward feminine erotic appeal. The passages most strikingly verging on pastiche of courtly rhetoric—for, as Genette observes, “tout travestissement… comporte une part (une face) de pastiche, puisqu’il transpose un texte de son style d’origine dans un autre style que le travestisseur doit bien emprunter”14—tend to involve Orable, her tower of Gloriete, and the role of ami that Guillelme assumes in specific relation to the Saracen queen. Gillebert, using language that will later be adopted by the narrator, describes Gloriete as a pleasure-palace to rival Guillaume de Lorris’ vergier de Deduit:

Se voiez ore le palés principel
Comme il est haut et tot entor fermé !
Encontrement a il que regarder.
S’i estïez le premier jor d’esté,
Lors orrïez les oiseillons chanter,
Crier faucons et cez ostoirs müez,
Chevaus hennir et cez muls rechaner,
Cez Sarrazins deduire et deporter ;
Cez douces herbes i flerent mout soëf,
Pitre et quanele, dom il i a assez…
Il ne croist fleur desi qu’en paienie
Qui n’i soit painte a or et par mestrie. (241-73: cf. 406-13, 644-58)

9The centerpiece of this courtly tableau is Orable herself, whose beauty Gillebert evokes through formulas that would be at home in the portrait physique of any romance heroine:

Bel a le cors, eschevie est et gente,
Blanche la char comme la fleur en l’ente…
Il n’a si bele en la crestïenté
N’en paienimme qu’en i sache trover:
Bel a le cors, eschevi et mollé…
Blanche a la char comme est la flor d’espine,
Vairs euz et clairs qui tot adés li rïent. (204-79)

10As though taking Gillebert’s discursive cue, Guillelme immediately refers to Orable as “m’amie” and declares, like a true romance knight, that he will not eat or drink until he has seen Orange and its “cortoise roïne” because “la seue amor me destraint et justise / Que nel porroie ne penser ne descrire ; / Se ge ne l’ai, par tens perdrai la vie” (283-91). When the Franks eventually meet Orable and her handmaidens in the flesh—and it is very much their flesh that the narrator, more salaciously than Gillebert, puts front and center, emphasizing the way tight-laced silk pailes and bliauts hug the contours of shapely bodies and set off the snow-white and rose of female complexions—Guillelme and Guïelin both agree that Gloriete is an earthly paradise in which they could happily linger forever (659-90), flirting, like the romance champions of fine amor, with the idolatry of all-consuming eroticism and the temptation to abandon the rough world of chivalric achievement for the magical realm of feminine glamour and feminizing pleasure.

  • 15 Boutet, La Chanson de geste, p. 270.
  • 16 See William W. Kibler, “Humor in the Prise d’Orange,” Studi di letteratura francesa 3 (1974), pp. 5 (...)

11 Courtly discourse, associated with a mode of aristocratic self-fashioning distinct from but no less compelling than the one represented by the dominant discourse of the chanson de geste, is hardly marked as “low” or vulgar in medieval French literary culture. The Prise’s “transformation stylistique” of the epic into the courtly does nevertheless seem to have a “fonction dégradante” insofar as it tends to individualize, psychologize, depoliticize, desacralize and, in a word, trivialize and undermine the epic projects and values of feudal service, lineal ambition and militant Christianity that the text’s opening laisses and overall structure deliberately invoke as a frame of reference. It certainly generates amusing incongruities between the kind of language and behavior to be expected from an epic hero and the way Guillelme comports himself in the throes of love. “Les décalages de registre sont constants et brutaux.”15 In the words of one of Guïelin’s acerbic jokes, his uncle has become a travesty of himself, made ridiculous by his deviation from the norms of heroic masculine performance as embodied by Guillelme’s own past deeds and reputation and, by extension, the literary tradition that transmits his geste.16 “L’en soloit dire Guillelme Fierebrace, / Or dira l’en Guillelme l’Amïable,” the young knight gibes: “en ceste vile par amistié entrastes” (1561-63).

  • 17 Much has been made of women’s agency as evidence of “romance influence” on the chansons de geste, b (...)

12Beyond allowing eros to dictate his actions, Guillelme sometimes indulges in a hand-wringing indecisiveness that underscores the narrative’s tendency to compromise his heroic agency, making him the plaything of circumstances and distributing active problem-solving and plot-advancing roles to his nephews and to Orable.17 Elsewhere, to be sure, Guillelme displays his wonted impetuous boldness and warrior prowess, dealing out deathly blows alongside Guïelin and Gillebert as the narrator celebrates the collective might of “li baron naturel,” “li nobile guerrier” or “li vassal naturel” who “se deffendent com gentil chevalier” and “com chevalier menbré” (852, 1014, 1642, 867, 926). However, even these combats are for the most part humorously unorthodox—on two out of three occasions, Guillelme fights with an ignoble tinel in the absence of his knight’s sword—and very briefly described. So, too, is the only standard epic battle in the Prise, occurring at the end of the text (1808-47), during which Bertran assumes the role of Frankish champion and fells the enemy leader with one formulaically evoked stroke as Guillelme hastens to liberate his lady-love from prison. The whole engagement is packed into under fifty lines concluding with the narrator’s ironic comment on his own exaggerated and unconventional economy: “Que vos iroie le plet plus aloignant ?” (1845). Indeed, the Saracens’ designation of their archenemy as “Guillelme le guerrier” (890: cf. 1598) may satirically point up how relatively little time he or anyone else spends fighting gallantly in the Prise d’Orange. It is not entirely clear that these aspects of Guillelme’s characterization and the narrative’s distinctive style, any more than the moments of situational comedy produced when the disguised Guillelme converses about himself while impersonating a Saracen, are specifically “courtly”. On the other hand, the knightly protagonist’s ability to be both buffoonish and heroic, risible and respected is a remarkable, although not unique, feature of the romances of Chrétien de Troyes and his epigones, as is the structural repetition that also produces comic effects in the Prise. Regardless, there is sufficient evidence of systematically simultaneous reference to and ironic subversion of epic norms to conclude that the Prise substantially is—or, better, performs—a travesty of the chanson de geste’s standard style, if not in every respect a “courtly” one.

  • 18 Boutet, La Chanson de geste, p. 270; see pp. 267-71.

13Still, given that comedy based on scenes of noble characters’ burlesque transposition into “low” narrative and stylistic contexts and on localized recourse to “courtly” discursive codes (especially when introducing erotic motifs and themes) is quite common in the chanson de geste canon, then what, if any, is the difference between the travesty of a chanson de geste and a chanson de geste that includes and makes use of occasional or even systematic satirical transformations of the genre’s normative style ? How would these two kinds of texts signify, and demand to be interpreted, differently ? Despite recognizing the Prise d’Orange as the most extreme of only three examples (the others are Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne and Jehan de Lanson) of chansons de geste that adopt the cultivation of aesthetic distance as a key compositional principle, Boutet unhesitatingly positions it within rather than against the epic genre, thereby demonstrating “l’admission d’une pluralité de registres parmi les règles de fonctionnement du genre.”18 The text itself does the same, thematizing its own subversion of epic norms in a way that expresses considerable anxiety about the consequences of interdiscursive hypertextuality, but ultimately allows for the productive reincorporation of travesty into the overarching framework of the chanson de geste.

The Folly of Interdiscursive Performance

  • 19 Or does the “folly” denounced here also signpost the tangled skein of erotic and bellicose desires (...)

14 When Guillelme expresses his urgent desire to see (and, implicitly, to possess) Orable and Orange, the other Franks’ reaction is immediately and unambiguously negative: “Vos pensez grant folie” (292) ! The term folie recurs throughout the lead-up to Guillelme’s expedition, coming to be the quality most closely associated with the protagonist. He is first accused of folly by the narrator, who condemns Guillelme’s complaint about the absence of Saracen aggression: “de grant folie s’est ore dementez” (70: cf. 101) in the sense that he is asking for trouble, rashly tempting fate by wishing for an invasion of his land to relieve his boredom.19 Guillelme’s yearning—which relays the text’s narrative desire—for an opportunity to test his mettle calls forth Gillebert to focus the hero’s aimless aspiration on a concrete object, but the escaped prisoner is dismayed when Guillelme rises to the bait. The Saracen forces are too numerous to meet in pitched battle without enormous loss of Frankish life, and venturing alone into their city would be suicide:

S’estïez ore el palés de la vile
Et veïssiez cele gent sarrazine,
Dex me confonde se cuidïez tant vivre
Que ça dehors venissiez a complie !
Lessiez ester, pensé avez folie. (293-97)

15Bertran takes up this practical critique of Guillelme’s impetuous scheme, conjuring a vivid monitory preview of his uncle’s inevitable recognition, imprisonment and execution by the Saracens. He also articulates the potentially catastrophic consequences of the count’s thoughtless self-endangerment for his political fortunes and public reputation:

Oncle, fet il, lessiez vostre folie…
Se por amors estes mis a joïse,
Dont porra dire la gent de vostre empire
Que mar veïstes Orable la roïne…
Oncles, dist il, tu te veus vergoignier
Et toi honir et les membres tranchier. (334-63)

16When Guillelme refuses to listen to reason, Bertran explicitly extends the ruination and shame he anticipates for his uncle to the rest of their lineage as well:

Dex, dist Bertran, beau pere droiturier,
Com somes ore traï et engignié !
Par quel folie est cest plet commencié
Dont nos serons honni et vergoignié… (391-94)

17Later, in the tearful mourning monologue interrupted by Gillebert’s return to Nîmes, Bertran will emphasize the personal and political loss occasioned by the “foletez” that he thinks has caused the deaths of his brother and uncle and left him “toz seus,” deprived of the counsel and military support of any “home de mon grant parenté” and sure to be dispossessed, if not captured or slain, by a coming wave of Saracen invaders (1670-1701). Initially, however, Bertran dwells primarily on the dishonor and humiliation that he imagines resulting from Guillelme’s irresponsible madness. This loss of face would derive less from the count’s death as such than from its context—being caught and executed during a sightseeing tour in disguise is not the glorious battlefield end befitting a noble warrior—and even more from its occurrence por amors, for the sake of an erotic infatuation unworthy of the heroic self-sacrifice that duty to God, honor or one’s liege lord might more legitimately compel. According to Bertran, dying for love would constitute a betrayal of Guillelme’s family and of the ethical and aesthetic values of the aristocratic warrior class, which are also those of the traditional chanson de geste’s dominant discourse.

18By the time Guillelme departs for Orange, the criticism of folly has thus evolved from a denunciation of warrior hubris or desmesure, congruent with a serious or tragic literary paradigm, to the site of a debate about the parameters of acceptable masculine performance within the generic confines of the chanson de geste. Whether glossed as madness, foolishness or ruinous imprudence, folie stigmatizes the irrational and incomprehensible action, thought and values of the other whose deviance from the canons of normative conduct antagonizes the self-sustaining logics of the dominant order. Bertran worries that, contrary to the narrator’s opening claim that his song is a “bone chançon” because it “n’est mie d’orgueill ne de folie” (3-4), the story his love-smitten uncle is about to set in motion is precisely one governed by folie. Guillelme defiantly confirms this fear by justifying his risky plan as necessitated by irresistible passion and declaring, more proudly than sheepishly, that “home qui aime est plains de desverie” (359). At stake here, by the poem’s own account, is the legitimacy of Guillelme as an epic hero and the Prise d’Orange as a properly epic text.

  • 20 On the epic gab, see Ménard, Le Rire et le sourire, pp. 21-28.

19Guïelin makes the same point with a defter, better-humored touch in a string of gabs at his uncle’s expense that punctuate their (mis)adventures in Orange.20 These all follow the same basic model: when Guillelme bemoans the dire straits in which the Franks find themselves, Guïelin coolly and ironically observes that the count has gotten what he wished for and ought to make the most of his opportunity for courtly dalliance with the queen. As the situations in question worsen, the gabs become increasingly scathing and strike home with greater force, underscoring the threat posed to Guillelme’s heroic identity and to the epic project by Fierebrace’s genre-bending folly. The first gibe in the series is not recognized or remarked on as such either by Guillelme or by the narrator, suggesting that the hero (and perhaps also the text) is still fully committed to his amorous desverie. During their audience with Arragon, Guïelin responds to Guillelme’s aside about the risk of being captured with a reminder of his mission’s objective—“sire, vos querïez amor ; / Vez Glorïete, le palés et la tor, / Quar demandez ou les dames en sont !” (515-17)—that sounds suspiciously like mockery of the count’s politically trivial purpose for infiltrating the Saracen stronghold, but Guillelme simply takes the prompt and asks to see Orable. Barricaded into Gloriete for the first time, Guïelin counters Guillelme’s apprehension that the Franks will never see their home or family again by suggesting that since “par amistié entrastes vos ceanz,” there is no time like the present to kiss and cuddle with Orable, especially since (and here the young knight’s jest sharpens its edge) the count’s canoodling may well cost his clan dearly in ransom money and “grant martire” (910-19). This time, Guillelme knows and angrily complains that he is being gabé, as he does again later on when Guïelin advises that if his incarcerated uncle misses the help of his absent army, he should ask Orable, whom the Franks wrongly believe has betrayed them in the wake of the first secret passage episode, “qu’ele secore par amors son amant” (1338). Finally, when the queen joins the two Franks in prison after Gillebert’s departure for Nîmes, a pair of laisses parallèles stage first Orable’s and then Guillelme’s self-castigating accounts of the doom they have brought upon themselves, followed by Guïelin’s derisively dismissive responses: the two lovers should stop complaining and enjoy the “grant ese” of being together, since “par grant amor devez or cest mal trere” (1553-54), but he will henceforth tell anyone who wants to know that “Guillelme Fierebrace” has reinvented himself as “Guillelme l’Amïable”.

20Guïelin’s program of gabs ironically presents courtly erotic pastimes and pleasures as suitable ends and effective means of chivalric activity and as worthwhile compensations for personal suffering and military or political setbacks in order to highlight how ludicrously inappropriate and misguided his uncle’s motivations, choices and actions and the ensuing events really are when measured against the standards of epic convention. By the final jest, Guillelme and even Orable seem to have internalized the criticism compellingly voiced by both of the count’s nephews. Guillelme quotes almost verbatim Bertran’s prescient warning about the folie by which “fu cist plez commenciez / De quoi nos somes honni et vergoignié” (1570-71), while Orable regrets the acquaintance with the Frank’s “barnage”, “gent corps” and “vasselage” that has landed her, still unbaptized, behind bars “a tele angoisse comme fust par putage” (1548-51)—that is, “as though” she were being punished, which in fact she is, for the scandalous adultery that her courtly affair with Guillelme constitutes in the eyes of an epic value system that attributes little value to love and enormous importance to the biopolitics of lineage, even if the apparently uncontested illegitimacy of her first marriage to a non-Christian ambiguates somewhat her marital status. If the hero initially embraced the lover’s desverie, he is angry and ashamed to hear his epic cognomen “Fierebrace”, a testament to his strength and prowess, replaced by the pacific “Guillelme l’Amïable.” The exchange implies that a knight can be a fighter or a lover, but not both.

  • 21 On comedy in the Charroi, see Jean-Charles Payen, “Le Charroi de Nîmes, comédie épique?,” in Mélang (...)

21More generally speaking, Guillelme’s sarcastic rebaptism articulates both the characters’ anxiety about and the text’s self-conscious play with the possibility that it is not ironic after all, that “Guillelme Fierebrace” really has become, or was all along, “Guillelme l’Amïable”. Although Guïelin is ostensibly joking, and Guillelme’s furious reaction suggests that the transformation into a champion of Love played up by both his nephew and the narrator is mostly ludic or superficial, the Prise’s comic procedures threaten its hero’s identity and status much more profoundly than do the extremely similar ones deployed in the Charroi de Nîmes, the preceding entry in the Guillaume d’Orange cycle. The Charroi offers a useful point of comparison precisely because, like the Prise, it is in many ways a non-normative chanson de geste according to the traditional critical understanding of the genre. Often jocular in tone and given to prioritizing burlesque humor over the display of awe-inspiring exploits, the Charroi centers, just as its sequel does, on the infiltration and conquest of a well-defended Saracen city by unorthodox and risible means whose description dominates the narrative to the nearly total exclusion of heroic combat.21 While Guillelme converses with a Saracen peasant whom his troops encounter on the road to Nîmes, a crafty knight in his entourage has an idea: by acquiring a thousand barrels like those on the vilain’s cart and hiding Frankish fighters inside, Guillelme could smuggle his whole army into the city and seize it without a frontal assault. Far from crying folie, Guillelme’s men unanimously approve the plan as a reasonable military stratagem when he proposes it. As the knights clamber into their barrels and Guillelme and Bertran don rustic attire commensurate with their assumed identities as the trade convoy’s leaders, it is Bertran, not Guillelme, who is gabé for complaining about the discomfort of his crude shoes and then incompetently driving his oxcart into the mud. Inside the walls of Nîmes, the “English merchant Tiacre” is questioned by the Saracen kings Harpin and Otrant, who recognize Guillelme’s famous cort nes, but are sufficiently convinced by his story about having had his nose broken as punishment for youthful criminality to spare him the involuntary exposure that he suffers in the Prise. The Saracens proceed to taunt “Tiacre” until the indignity becomes too much to bear and he reveals his true identity, signals his soldiers to burst from their barrels, and slaughters his enemies.

  • 22 Jean Dufournet, “La Métamorphose d’un héros épique ou Guillaume Fierebrace dans les rédactions A et (...)
  • 23 These two episodes featuring the disguised hero are compared in detail by Hélène Gallé, “Déguisemen (...)

22As Jean Dufournet writes, many of the Prise d’Orange’s comedic devices find precedents in the Charroi de Nîmes, but “l’auteur de la Prise, qui recherche soit la difficulté, soit la nouveauté, enchérit encore sur son devancier.”22 More importantly, the Charroi tends to invite neutral amusement at unexpected or incongruous situations as such (even the gab about Bertran’s bad cart-steering is really about the absurdity of a knight being forced to drive a team) or else to laugh with Guillelme at the Saracens, who may profit from their short-lived upper hand to bait and ridicule the “English merchant”, but are ultimately the victims of dramatic irony as well as of Frankish violence once it is finally unleashed. The Prise, on the other hand, generates humor at Guillelme’s as well as at his enemies’ expense with sufficient regularity to imply an investment, not just in difficulty or novelty, but also in calculated self-subversion. The difference is especially striking with regard to the two texts’ framing of the hero’s deviation from the normative performance of chivalric masculinity. In terms of narrative function, Guillelme’s assumption of a low-status merchant persona in order to enter Nîmes in the Charroi is analogous to his posing as a Saracen in the Prise,23 but in terms of the latent threat it poses to the hero’s prestige, it is more comparable to the funny, but also humiliating recasting of “Guillelme Fierebrace” as “Guillelme l’Amïable”. There can be no doubt, and therefore no anxiety, about the Frank’s religious or racial identity, but the medieval literature of chivalry obsessively polices the boundaries of class in ways that point to the potential risks of dressing up as a non-aristocratic personage in order to take a city by means of ignoble deception rather than military might. However, where the Guillelme of the Prise consistently struggles to act heroically within the strictures of his assumed Saracen and courtly personae, his counterpart in the Charroi controls the parameters of his duplicitous performance and manages the situation it constructs until both become more demeaning than useful. He then resolves the incoherence between his true and false identities by emphatically affirming—first under his breath to himself and the reader, and then aloud to the Saracen host—the predominance of his epic self over any strategically donned disguise or the indignity it entails:

  • 24 Le Charroi de Nîmes, ed. and trans. Lachet, ll. 1334-66.

Por ce, s’ai ore mes granz sollers de vache,
Et ma gonele et mes conroiz si gastes,
Si ai ge non Guillelmes Fierebrace,
Filz Aymeri de Nerbone, le saige,
Le gentill conte qui tant a vasselage…
Felon paien, toz vos confonde Dex !
Tant m’avez hui escharni et gabé,
Et marcheant et vilain apelé ;
Ge ne sui mie marcheant par verté…
Encui savroiz quel avoir j’ai mené !24

  • 25 Mancini, “L’Édifiant, le comique et l’idéologie,” pp. 210-11.

23As Mario Mancini recognizes, “le monde du Charroi n’est pas effectivement à l’envers: derrière Guillaume on perçoit toujours la présence de la maisnie et surtout de sa propre, inaltérable identité… Le comique, pour poussé et dégradant qu’il soit, ne devient jamais satire.”25

  • 26 Dufournet, “La Métamorphose d’un héros épique,” p. 35; cf. Joseph Bédier, Les Légendes épiques: Rec (...)
  • 27 Genette, Palimpsestes, p. 149.
  • 28 Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée, p. 12.
  • 29 Frappier, Les Chansons de geste du cycle de Guillaume d’Orange, vol. 2, p. 258.

24By consequence, Mancini resists attributing to the Charroi the “ton héroï-comique”26 whose emergence Jean Dufournet rightly discerns in those passages of the Prise that poke fun at the hero himself and not only at the style in which his story is told. If Guïelin’s gab about “Guillelme l’Amïable” were taken seriously enough, the Prise d’Orange could even be reconceived as what Genette would call a heroi-comic or mock-heroic caricature rather than the (self-)travesty of a chanson de geste. Where travesty treats a noble subject in a low style in order to satirize the subject, heroi-comic caricature treats a low subject in a noble style, directing its satirical aggression against the imitated style whose “traits stylistiques… sont à la fois exagérés et dépréciés par une application ‘disconvenante’.”27 Genette’s account of this hypertextual operation begins with the ancient Greek Batrachomyomachia, or Battle of the Frogs and Mice, which describes the eponymous animals’ epic clash using Homeric diction and themes. Is Guillelme, like these diminutive combatants, an ignoble, unfit subject of epic narrative, farcically pantomiming the gestures of a genuine chanson de geste hero ? Although the foregoing account of the Prise d’Orange as travesty has represented its content or action as epic and its style as (at least in part) courtly, the content of this “chanson de geste sans geste”28 might plausibly be identified as courtly or romanesque and its style as epic. The plot summarized above as “the Christian conquest of a Saracen city” is also the tale of an erotic amor de lonh that leads a knightly hero to seek out the object of his affections, woo and win her, and work his way through a series of adventures toward the realization of his identity and the discovery of his destined place in the world. On a formal and stylistic level, the poem adopts the decasyllabic line and assonanced laisse structure of the chanson de geste along with many of the genre’s formulaic expressions, motifs and themes, but uses them, as Bertran and Guïelin point out, to tell a tale that diverges in many ways from the Old French epic tradition. Indeed, why not go further and classify the Prise as the epic travesty of a courtly love story, a “roman d’amour dont le dénouement se fait à coups d’épée”29 ? If the text’s essential action were the inception, development and consummation of the relationship between Guillelme and Orable, then epic versification and the superficially militarized love plot’s conflation with a religious and territorial struggle between Christians and Saracens might define the style incongruously overlaid on it, “trivializing” it, from a courtly point of view, by reducing the erotic scenario to its functionalized bare bones and evacuating fine amor’s conceptual vocabulary of its rich emotional, psychological and aesthetic depth.

The Stakes of Satire and the Ends of Epic

  • 30 Genette, Palimpsestes, p. 11.

25 There is of course a reason, beyond the obvious influence of such paratextual factors as the Prise’s title, rubrication and manuscript context, why nobody has in fact argued seriously for its reclassification as a heroi-comic caricature or as the epic travesty of a romance. As Genette says, “la détermination du statut générique d’un texte n’est pas son affaire, mais celle du lecteur, du critique, du public, qui peuvent fort bien récuser le statut revendiqué par voie de paratexte.”30 But the fact that the Prise’s medieval and modern readers—including those who call it a “parody” or cite it as an example of “romance influence”—have concurred that it is (also) a chanson de geste reflects how the text presents and fashions itself in a manner fundamentally unobscured by its hypertextual play. It is difficult, however, to get at this kernel of epic meaning using the resources of Genette’s taxonomic system, largely because his exclusive attention to the formal and structural configurations of the various hypertextual modalities provides little purchase on the phenomenon of “satire” whose presence or absence is the functional criterion distinguishing travesty from parody and caricature from ludic pastiche.

  • 31 See, e.g., the approach adopted by Isabelle Arseneau, Parodie et merveilleux dans le roman dit réal (...)

26Genette repeats that satire is a form of “aggression” toward the hypotext that “degrades” or “derides”, “deprecates” or “compromises” it, but the capacious concept of satire remains underexplored, and so, consequently, does the question of its stakes. Reading Palimpsestes, it can seem that all satire’s aggressive energies power a purely stylistic or aesthetic agon between hypertext and hypotext. Medieval hypertextualities can undoubtedly be subjected to fruitful analysis on the level of a primarily poetic contestation of inherited models,31 but where the major medieval narrative genres are concerned, poetics is so thoroughly interwoven with extraliterary ideology and genres are so directly dedicated to the exploration of particular ideological questions or fields that it is difficult to conceive of an ideologically neutral satire of generic style. This is especially true when the category of “style” is expansively taken—as it seems to be by Genette, and as it must be in order to account usefully for more than a small subset of textual transformations—potentially to include all of the resources of an écriture, including thematic as well as formal elements, and even narrative ones to the extent that they are understood, on the basis of inevitably imprecise and situation-specific evaluation, as pertaining to “how the story is told” as opposed to “what story is told.” In a chanson de geste or romance of the twelfth or thirteenth century, for instance, both intrageneric and intergeneric contestations or critiques of stylistic models can hardly avoid intervening in a set of yoked ideological debates concerning the real and ideal configurations of feudal politics, aristocratic identity, gender performance and gender relations, often among other issues. This is not to say, however, that satirical transformation or imitation necessarily seeks to attack, overturn or invalidate the ideological underpinnings of the hypotext. Which norms and values are mocked or rendered humorous, which are (instead or also) treated seriously, and how the contextualized interplay of ironic and sincere representation shapes the ideological physiognomy of the text will determine what is at stake in a given hypertextual operation and how that operation’s meaning must be interpreted.

  • 32 Cf. Jean-Charles Payen, “Considérations sur la Prise d’Orange: À propos d’un livre recent,” Le Moye (...)
  • 33 It seems that “le trouvère n’a pas voulu ridiculiser ni discréditer son héros,” but only to “démyth (...)
  • 34 William Calin, “Rapport introductif,” in Essor et fortune de la chanson de geste, ed. Limentani et (...)
  • 35 Lachet, “Introduction,” in La Prise d’Orange, ed. Lachet, pp. 64-65; see also Lachet, La ‘Prise d’O (...)
  • 36 Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée, p. 201.
  • 37 Cf. the argument that “la présence infléchissable d’une idéologie” in the Charroi de Nîmes prevents (...)

27 In the case of the Prise d’Orange, satire takes aim at the narrative and ideological paradigms of the chanson de geste, and uncertainty about the hero’s and the text’s ability to perform in accordance with the conventions of those paradigms is deliberately fostered and intradiegetically foregrounded as a source of readerly pleasure, precisely because of—not despite—the fact that the text’s structuring premises and values remain unequivocally epic. Courtly discourse, serving as a tool of travesty, is itself ridiculed from the inscribed ideological perspective of a narrator who pays only markedly ironic lip-service to private, individualistic, politically oblivious erotic passion:32 the strategic pastiche of certain aspects of courtly style hardly introduces courtly thinking as a viable alternative to the logic of the chanson de geste in a world where “Guillelme l’Amïable” remains intrinsically improper, entertainingly out of place. Nor does corrosive irony nihilistically sabotage the foundation of that epic world without substituting another value system in its place. Rather, epic ideology, like Guillelme himself, is gabé in a mischievous, affectionate manner by a text whose spirit is mirrored in the attitude of Guïelin. The young man’s appreciation of a good joke at his uncle’s expense never diminishes the fidelity that he unhesitatingly voices when asked to return to Nîmes as Guillelme’s messenger while the count remains in Orange: “Oncle Guillelmes, vos parlez de neant. / Ne vos leroie por les membres perdant ; / Mielz vueil morir en ceste tor ceanz…” (1425-27).33 In other words, the Prise’s poetic “sourire colore les procédés littéraires plus que le référent qu’ils mettent en forme.”34 Thus, although it is true that the themes of religious and feudal duty are not explicitly belabored in the Prise, it does not follow that “désormais la quête individuelle de l’amour et du bonheur compte plus que la guerre sainte et la défense du royaume” or that “la chanson de geste n’est plus une œuvre de propagande, véhiculant une idéologie féodo-religieuse, mais une œuvre ludique et comique.”35 Lachet is right to investigate how the Prise poet “s’en prend non seulement au style mais aussi à l’idéologie et à l’univers imaginaire de son modèle,”36 but he misses the point that the Prise is a playful, comic text and an ideologically conservative epic poem. Indeed, its humor and superficial self-subversion not only coexist with, but are recruited to serve epic ends.37

  • 38 Sharon Kinoshita, “The Politics of Courtly Love: La Prise d’Orange and the Conversion of the Sarace (...)

28 Guillelme’s love for Orable, in particular, is the motor driving both the Prise’s satirical thrust and what Corbellari calls its machinerie épique. As Sharon Kinoshita has persuasively shown, the intergeneric or interstylistic écriture of the Prise “emphasizes the congruence of love-as-war, and of war-as-seduction,” in a way that mobilizes the “quintessential scenario of desire, crusade and conquest” constituted by the identification of the seduced and converted Oriental woman with appropriated Muslim-controlled territory “to produce an ideologically powerful vindication of Frankish colonial expansion.”38 From the moment she is introduced in absentia, Orable’s beauty, already identical to that of an aristocratic European woman, cries out to be simultaneously reclaimed for the Christian God and enjoyed sexually by a Christian man. As Gillebert says,

Tant mar i fu la seue grant beauté,
Quant Deu ne croit et la seue bonté !
Uns gentils hom s’en peüst deporter ;
Bien i fust sauve sel vosist creanter. (257-60)

  • 39 See John W. MacInnes, “Gloriette: The Function of the Tower and the Name in the Prise d’Orange,” Ol (...)
  • 40 According to Arragon, his aged father has “fet mout grant folie” (618) by taking an inappropriately (...)
  • 41 The representation of Orable both draws on and deviates from the stock epic motif of the Sarrasine (...)

29At the same time, Orable’s irresistible appeal fuses with that of the palace and city she metonymizes.39 Any fiefless bacheler might say of both lady and lands what Guillelme admiringly declares as he enters Orange: “Tant par est riches qui l’a a gouverner !” (416). Perhaps unbeknownst to him, but in a manner patently intended by the poet, even Guillelme’s talk of desverie couches—travesties ?—the project of interfaith conflict and conquest in the language and style of fine amor. This rhetoric constructs an instrumentalized eros that distorts Guillelme’s immediate personal performance of epic masculinity but, far from interfering with his military duty to God and his lord (Guillelme may become amïable, but never recreant), pushes and helps him to fulfill that duty. Meanwhile, Orable’s desire for Guillelme quickly emerges as equally political or transactional in its bases and orientation. Although Arragon suggests that his father’s queen is the kind of malmariée who “maine ses drüeries” (622) while her husband is away, her enthusiastic reaction to the disguised hero’s boastful self-portrait betrays less interest in his handsome body or virile charm than in his ability to rule and defend a domain: “Par Mahomet il doit bien tenir marche ; / Liee est la dame en cui est son corage” (731-32).40 Later, Orable makes liberating the Franks conditional on a promise “que ma paine i fust sauve, / Que me preïst Guillelmes Fierebrace” (1374-75). What she wants is not a lusty lover, but a powerful and preferably Christian husband.41

  • 42 Kinoshita, “The Politics of Courtly Love,” p. 276; La Chanson de Roland, ed. and trans. Short, l. 1 (...)
  • 43 Kay, The ‘Chansons de geste’ in the Age of Romance, pp. 30, 45.

30 For neither Guillelme nor Orable, then, and certainly not for the narrator, is the Prise d’Orange focused on the individual passion or private happiness of the protagonists. Orable’s love, or more precisely the abandonment of husband, race and religion that it justifies, is essential to “her narrative and ideological function… to embrace,” and so to materially benefit and theoretically exalt, “Christianity—and feudal Christian society—in their place,” enacting the erotic correlative of Roland’s politico-theological axiom that “paien unt tort e chrestïens unt dreit.”42 As for the absurdly besotted “Guillelme l’Amïable” who will throw everything to the winds for a kiss, he exists as an affective subject almost exclusively in Guïelin’s gabs, which purposefully misrepresent his uncle’s priorities (given ample opportunity, Guillelme never even speaks of his “love” to Orable) to the latter’s indignation and the reader’s delectation. Moreover, the pursuit of Orable that Bertran and Guïelin repeatedly stigmatize or mock as folie turns out in each instance to have exactly the functional utility that their gibes deny it, ironizing the very assumptions that inform the gabs. Guillelme does manage to infiltrate Orange and attract Orable’s attention; the queen does equip the Franks with arms and armor; she does act to save them from execution, free them from prison, and establish communication with their comrades in Nîmes. As Kay suggests, the agency conferred on the Saracen amie is not “the ‘price’ that is paid for a fashionable modification of the chanson de geste,” but the cornucopian “‘gift’… given by the narrator to his hero.”43 By the time Guillelme announces to Bertran his intention to wed a converted Orable in the city that the Franks could never have seized without her intervention, how can the erstwhile strongest critic of his uncle’s amorous folly respond except as he does: “Qu’alez vos atarjant ?” (1857).

  • 44 Cf. Minette Grunmann-Gaudet, “From Epic to Romance: The Paralysis of the Hero in the Prise d’Orange(...)
  • 45 Luke Sunderland, Old French Narrative Cycles: Heroism Between Ethics and Morality (Cambridge: D. S. (...)

31 Satirizing epic poetics in a way that affirms epic ideology, the Prise d’Orange fashions the “courtly” couple’s minimally psychologized love story and its associated narrative and rhetorical ressorts into tactical resources in the chanson de geste’s arsenal.44 Like the secret passages of Orange, the convenient boves and voltes soltives that the narrator produces ex machina to move characters around and the plot forward toward its foregone, impeccably conservative, triumphal conclusion, the Prise’s hypertextual maneuvers might be understood as unconventional routes past narrative impasses that open suddenly onto new fields of poetic possibility. “Comedy adds to the spectacle of Saracen humiliation” and enables both Guillelme’s and the poem’s fulfillment of the political, social, religious and literary obligations interwoven in their overriding “duty to the geste.”45 Ultimately, then, Genettian formal taxonomy is valuable to the extent that it prompts rather than preempts interpretation. It is useful to have a conceptual language for understanding and articulating how the Prise d’Orange functions hypertextually, but the “travesty of a chanson de geste” is something—one among many operations—that the Prise performs, not something it “is”, and that operation’s meaning and stakes can be assessed only in the light of the text’s larger literary and ideological work.

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Notes

1 On the Guillaume cycle’s composition and manuscript transmission, see Jean Frappier, Les Chansons de geste du cycle de Guillaume d’Orange, 2 vols. (Paris: SEDES, 1955-1965); Dominique Boutet, “Introduction,” in Le Cycle de Guillaume d’Orange, ed. Boutet (Paris: Livre de Poche, 1996), pp. 13-25; and, with a tighter concentration on the Prise d’Orange, Claude Régnier, “Introduction,” in La Prise d’Orange: Chanson de geste de la fin du xiie siècle, ed. Régnier, 4th ed. (Paris: Klincksieck, 1972), pp. 7-40. The possible relationships between the transmitted Prise and one or several earlier redactions—on which see also Claude Lachet, “Introduction,” in La Prise d’Orange: Chanson de geste (fin xiie-début xiiie siècle), ed. and trans. Lachet (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2010), pp. 49-54 (11-72)—and the differences between the five extant variants of the Prise are issues beyond the scope of the present study, which focuses solely on the A version of the text.

2 Claude Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée (Geneva: Slatkine, 1986). See also Philip E. Bennett, ‘La Chanson de Guillaume’ and ‘La Prise d’Orange’ (London: Grant & Cutler, 2000), pp. 7, 59-86.

3 Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée, p. 177.

4 Dominique Boutet, La Chanson de geste: Forme et signification d’une écriture épique du Moyen Âge (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1993), p. 267. On the humor of the chansons de geste, see also Philippe Ménard, Le Rire et le sourire dans le roman courtois en France au Moyen Âge (1150-1250) (Geneva: Droz, 1969), pp. 19-144; William C. Calin, The Old French Epic of Revolt: ‘Raoul de Cambrai,’ ‘Renaud de Montauban,’ ‘Gormond et Isembard’ (Geneva: Droz, 1962), pp. 202-10; and William Calin, The Epic Quest: Studies in Four Old French Chansons de Geste (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1966), pp. 118-71, 215-35.

5 Sarah Kay, The ‘Chansons de geste’ in the Age of Romance: Political Fictions (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995), pp. 1-5, 14-15, 25-31. Cf. William W. Kibler, “La ‘Chanson d’aventures’,” and Donald Maddox, “Les Figures romanesques du discours épique et la confluence générique,” both in Essor et fortune de la chanson de geste dans l’Europe et l’Orient latin: Actes du IXe Congrès international de la Société Rencesvals pour l’étude des épopées romanes, Padoue-Venise, 29 août-4 septembre 1982, ed. Alberto Limentani et al., 2 vols. (Modena: Mucchi), vol. 2, pp. 509-15 and 517-27 respectively.

6 Frappier, Les Chansons de geste du cycle de Guillaume d’Orange, vol. 2, p. 282; Alain Corbellari, “Le Dehors et le dedans dans La Prise d’Orange,” Le Moyen Âge 107.2 (2001), p. 241 (239-52).

7 La Prise d’Orange, ed. and trans. Lachet, l. 265. Quotations from this edition, based on the version of the A-text preserved in MS Paris, BnF, fr. 1449, are hereafter cited parenthetically by line number.

8 Claude Lachet, “Introduction,” in La Prise d’Orange, ed. and trans. Lachet, pp. 65-66.

9 Gérard Genette, Palimpsestes: La littérature au second degré (Paris: Seuil, 1982), p. 14.

10 Genette, Palimpsestes, pp. 33-37. The supplementary Genettian categories of transformation and imitation in a serious register, respectively called “transposition” and “forgery”, are irrelevant to the present discussion.

11 See Le Charroi de Nîmes: Chanson de geste du Cycle de Guillaume d’Orange, ed. and trans. Claude Lachet (Paris: Gallimard, 1999), ll. 1085-90.

12 La Chanson de Roland, ed. and trans. Ian Short (Paris: Livre de Poche, 1990), ll. 1010-11.

13 See Nelly Andrieux, “Une ville devenue désir: La Prise d’Orange et la transformation du motif printanier,” in Mélanges de langue et de littérature médiévales offerts à Alice Planche (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1984), pp. 21-32; Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée, pp. 153-55; and Lydie Louison, “La Réécriture ludique et distanciée de motifs lyriques dans la Prise d’Orange,” Cahiers de recherches médiévales 15 (2008), pp. 99-111.

14 Genette, Palimpsestes, p. 131.

15 Boutet, La Chanson de geste, p. 270.

16 See William W. Kibler, “Humor in the Prise d’Orange,” Studi di letteratura francesa 3 (1974), pp. 5-25.

17 Much has been made of women’s agency as evidence of “romance influence” on the chansons de geste, but problems with this assumption are dissected by Kay, The ‘Chansons de geste’ in the Age of Romance, pp. 25-48.

18 Boutet, La Chanson de geste, p. 270; see pp. 267-71.

19 Or does the “folly” denounced here also signpost the tangled skein of erotic and bellicose desires expressed by the hero and the resulting subjective inversion of liberty and captivity—a courtly motif if ever there was one?

20 On the epic gab, see Ménard, Le Rire et le sourire, pp. 21-28.

21 On comedy in the Charroi, see Jean-Charles Payen, “Le Charroi de Nîmes, comédie épique?,” in Mélanges de langue et de littérature du Moyen Âge et de la Renaissance offerts à Jean Frappier, 2 vols. (Geneva: Droz, 1970), vol. 2, pp. 891-902; Mario Mancini, “L’Édifiant, le comique et l’idéologie dans le Charroi de Nîmes,” in Société Rencesvals, IVe Congrès international, Heidelberg, 28 août-2 septembre 1967: Actes et mémoires (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1969), pp. 203-12; and Lisa R. Perfetti, “Dialogue of Laughter: Bakhtin’s Theory of Carnival and the Charroi de Nîmes,” Olifant 17.3-4 (1992-93), pp. 177-95.

22 Jean Dufournet, “La Métamorphose d’un héros épique ou Guillaume Fierebrace dans les rédactions A et B de la Prise d’Orange,” Revue des langues romanes 78 (1968), p. 33 (17-51).

23 These two episodes featuring the disguised hero are compared in detail by Hélène Gallé, “Déguisements et dévoilements dans le Charroi de Nîmes et la Prise d’Orange (comparés à d’autres chansons de geste),” in Les Chansons de geste: Actes du XVIe Congrès international de la Société Rencesvals pour l’étude des épopées romanes, Granada, 21-25 juillet 2003, ed. Carlos Alvar and Juan Paredes (Granada: Universidad de Granada, 2005), pp. 245-77.

24 Le Charroi de Nîmes, ed. and trans. Lachet, ll. 1334-66.

25 Mancini, “L’Édifiant, le comique et l’idéologie,” pp. 210-11.

26 Dufournet, “La Métamorphose d’un héros épique,” p. 35; cf. Joseph Bédier, Les Légendes épiques: Recherches sur la formation des chansons de geste, vol. 1, Le Cycle de Guillaume d’Orange (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1908), p. 74.

27 Genette, Palimpsestes, p. 149.

28 Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée, p. 12.

29 Frappier, Les Chansons de geste du cycle de Guillaume d’Orange, vol. 2, p. 258.

30 Genette, Palimpsestes, p. 11.

31 See, e.g., the approach adopted by Isabelle Arseneau, Parodie et merveilleux dans le roman dit réaliste au xiiie siècle (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2012).

32 Cf. Jean-Charles Payen, “Considérations sur la Prise d’Orange: À propos d’un livre recent,” Le Moyen Âge 76 (1970), pp. 328-29 (323-30).

33 It seems that “le trouvère n’a pas voulu ridiculiser ni discréditer son héros,” but only to “démythifier” him (Dufournet, “La Métamorphose d’un héros épique,” pp. 28, 31). See also Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée, pp. 162-76.

34 William Calin, “Rapport introductif,” in Essor et fortune de la chanson de geste, ed. Limentani et al., vol. 2, p. 421 (407-24).

35 Lachet, “Introduction,” in La Prise d’Orange, ed. Lachet, pp. 64-65; see also Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée, pp. 226-27.

36 Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée, p. 201.

37 Cf. the argument that “la présence infléchissable d’une idéologie” in the Charroi de Nîmes prevents “la continuelle corrosion comique” from breaking “l’arc de l’action épique positive” (which comedy can only threaten and never serve) presented by Mancini, “L’Édifiant, le comique et l’idéologie,” pp. 208, 212.

38 Sharon Kinoshita, “The Politics of Courtly Love: La Prise d’Orange and the Conversion of the Saracen Queen,” Romanic Review 86.2 (1995), pp. 267, 285 (265-87).

39 See John W. MacInnes, “Gloriette: The Function of the Tower and the Name in the Prise d’Orange,” Olifant 10.1-2 (1982-1983), pp. 24-40.

40 According to Arragon, his aged father has “fet mout grant folie” (618) by taking an inappropriately young and beautiful bride. Is Guillelme’s amorous folie in some sense “rationalized” by Tiebaut’s construction as a jealous old husband whose own folly portends the seizure of his wife and lands by a worthier man?

41 The representation of Orable both draws on and deviates from the stock epic motif of the Sarrasine amoureuse; see Charles A. Knudson, “Le Thème de la princesse sarrasine dans La Prise d’Orange,” Romance Philology 22.4 (1969), pp. 449-62, and Lachet, La ‘Prise d’Orange’ ou la parodie courtoise d’une épopée, pp. 79-129.

42 Kinoshita, “The Politics of Courtly Love,” p. 276; La Chanson de Roland, ed. and trans. Short, l. 1015.

43 Kay, The ‘Chansons de geste’ in the Age of Romance, pp. 30, 45.

44 Cf. Minette Grunmann-Gaudet, “From Epic to Romance: The Paralysis of the Hero in the Prise d’Orange,” Olifant 7.1 (1979), pp. 22-38.

45 Luke Sunderland, Old French Narrative Cycles: Heroism Between Ethics and Morality (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010), p. 40; see pp. 23-62.

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Lucas Wood, « Reading “Guillelme l’Amïable: Hypertextuality and La Prise d’Orange »Perspectives médiévales [En ligne], 42 | 2021, mis en ligne le 30 juin 2021, consulté le 16 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/peme/38264 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/peme.38264

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Texas Tech University

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