The Transmedial Knights of the Round Table: Character-based Worldbuilding in the Manuscripts of Chrétien de Troyes

Teaching, research, and more

Some of twelfth-century writer Chrétien de Troyes’s most significant contributions to the world of medieval Arthurian romance are characters: Lancelot, Perceval, and the other knights with whom he populated Arthur’s court fundamentally changed the Arthurian world from what Roberta Pearson calls a “character transfiction” centered around Arthur to a “time-place transfiction” in which Arthur’s knights move in and out of the orbit of the court. Yet some of his less famous characters have contributed in remarkable ways to the coherence and flexibility of the Arthurian storyworld. If Sagremor the Unruly, Orgeuilleux de la Lande, and the Gornemant de Gohort are less familiar to modern audiences, Chrétien’s medieval audiences recognized these recurring characters and the ways in which Chrétien exploited them to connect a series of ostensibly separate narratives into a unified storyworld. This project takes as its starting point the sites of overlap between Chrétien’s modes of narrative accumulation and contemporary narratological theory, theorizing character as a site where the storyworld realigns itself as new installments are added or different combinations of romances are juxtaposed in manuscripts.I explore the transformations effected on this world by scribes, manuscript illuminators, and the four expansions of the storyworld by the Perceval continuators, building on the work of Matilda Bruckner, Leah Tether, and other scholars of the continuations. By examining the ways that not only narrative expansion but also other media—illumination, rubrication, and the physical arrangement of texts—provide stereoscopic views of even Chrétien’s less well-known recurring characters, I hope to demonstrate the importance of individual manuscripts in understanding medieval audiences’ response to Chrétien’s romances and these audiences’ roles in creating a participatory and transmedial Arthurian storyworld.