France Literature – From the Origins to the 13th Century

The epic poetry

According to HISTORYAAH, the beginning of the Middle Ages coincides with the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476), but it is only under the Capetians (10th century) that we find the first expressions of French literature. The language gradually freed itself from Latin: the langue d’oïl (francien) established itself in the north of France and the langue d’oc (Provençal) survived for a long time in the south of France. It is in the bosom of the Church that the first known texts of the 10th century are elaborated. (la Séquence de sainte Eulalie and la Vie de saint Léger) and 11th (la Vie de saint Alexis, 1040). In the 11th-12th century. the feudal system reaches its apogee: the feudal society is represented in literature by the chansons de geste , epic poems in the language of oïl that sing the great deeds and memorable facts of popular heroes: the oldest is the Chanson de Roland (about 1080). The following can be grouped into three cycles: Carolingian or Royal (late 11th century – early 12th century), to which Chanson de Roland herself belongs, on the exploits of Charles and his paladins; Narbonese or William of Orange (early 12th century – early 13th century), on the struggles of the South against the Saracens; feudal (12th-13th century), on the enterprises of vassals rebelling against the king or in conflict with each other.

The troubadour art

Lyric poetry is cultivated by troubadours in the d’oc-speaking countries (➔ Provençal) and by the trouvères in the d’oïl-speaking countries. In fact, troubadour art (➔ troubadour) is the movement from which the literary tradition of all Western and Central Europe originates. With the gradual transformation of feudal society, lyric poetry is no longer inspired only by courteous society and its values, but moves on to a great variety of themes and ways. Among the trouvères, one of the most famous was Thibaud de Champagne, probably a pupil of Gace Brulé (poet who flourished around 1180), but at least Conon de Béthune, Gui de Coucy, C. Muset should also be remembered ., Adam de la Halle, Rutebeuf, J. Bodel.

The kind literature

The courteous novel, which in a first phase had chosen women, love and the marvelous as its object, shows the signs of a progressive refinement of medieval society. The “matter of Brittany”, introduced in France by R. Wacewith the by R. de Borron and a large number of adventure and love novels. The Roman de Renart, composed between 1174 and 1205, occupies an important place in medieval literature: the fox will be the protagonist of numerous later poems (Le couronnement de Renart, 13th century; Renart le Nouvel, late 13th century.; Renart le Contrefait , 14th century). The fabliaux belong to the same vein Roman de Brut (1155), inspired the most famous courtly novels, those of the cycle of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table, as well as inspiring the Breton novels of Chrétien de Troyes, from Érec et Énide and Cligès to Lancelot, Yvain and Perceval, written between 1160 and 1185. The Lais of Mary of France (second half of the 12th century), stories in verse, and the legend of Tristan et Iseut, are linked to the same cycle. told by the trouvères Thomas and Béroul. Still at the end of the 12th century. we should remember the cycle of the Saint-Graal, stories in verse without didactic or moralistic intentions, and dits, with a moral or comic background.

In the 13th century. the tradition of courtly poetry is linked to the allegory in the most famous poem of the Middle Ages, Le Roman de la Rose : started by G. de Lorris, who analyzes love with exquisitely courteous sensitivity, it was completed by J. de Meung, who gave the work a more didactic imprint.

The theater

The theater also develops progressively. Liturgical dramas in Latin gradually turn into semi-liturgical dramas in which the vernacular mixes with Latin (Jeu des Vierges sages et des Vierges folles, 12th century). The representation moves to the churchyard with texts entirely in French (Jeu de saint Nicolas by J. Bodel, 12th century). In the 13th century. the ‘miracles’ (e.g. Rutebeuf’s Miracle de Théophile) continue the religious theater, while the comic theater acquires a certain autonomy (Jeu de la Feuillée, 1276, and Jeu de Robin et Marion, 1283, by A. de la Halle).

The chroniclers

True literary prose was born in the 13th century. especially by the chroniqueurs, authors of the chronicles of the Crusades and of the Latin Kingdoms of the East (G. de Villehardouin, R. de Clary, H. de Valenciennes, J. de Joinville, who had followed Louis IX in the sixth crusade). The difficulties of the political situation of France, overwhelmed in the exhausting Hundred Years War and troubled by the turmoil of civil wars, corresponded in literature to a period of profound upheavals, during which a new spirit gradually imposed itself, both even in a contradictory way. The Provençal literature can be said to be finished and the French one is beginning to take shape in a clear way.

France Literature - From the Origins to the 13th Century

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