Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Modern Languages and Literatures

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Kathleen Loysen

Committee Member

Lois Oppenheim

Committee Member

Rabia Redouane


Chrétien de Troyes--active 12th century--Criticism and interpretation, Knights and knighthood in literature, Peasants in literature, Chivalry in literature, Courtly love in literature


Considered the founder of the novel genre, as well as the creator of the Grail myth that resonates into modem times, Chrétien de Troyes’ writings oppose the outmoded image of the Dark Ages and instead depict a refined society led by the values of chivalry and courtly love. Behind this apparent glorification of the knight, however, the author criticizes the individualistic excesses and deviations of chivalry and courtly love.

This thesis analyzes the subversive discourse of Chrétien de Troyes on the pillars of medieval society: the political powers-that-be lack leadership, and chivalry and courtly love are depicted as anti-social values. The argument shifts the approach of the knight and defines his representation from a perspective outside the chivalric world. To that effect, this study defines feudal society as portrayed by Chrétien de Troyes, and focuses on the order of the laboratores (peasantry) in order to determine how the latter perceives the knight. By doing so, this inquiry juxtaposes the traditional representation of the knight with a new and more realistic vision from obscure characters with which the knight is acquainted: the hermits, the salt of the earth, the peasants. Typically, courtly literature focuses on the order of the nobility, therefore leaving out about 95% of the medieval population. Rarely is the peasant represented positively in Chrétien de Troyes’ writings; the peasant is always perceived in negative, animalistic manner, however when the knight is in direct contact with him, his depiction changes completely and he becomes humanized. The knight is also humanized in the meeting by means of losing arrogance and demystification. The hermit and the peasant show the knight the way to an adventure, which, in the end, will help him find his true self, and leads him quite often to disregard chivalry and courtly love in favor of establishing a more genuine, artless myth.

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