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M.Elbakidze:Spatial Dichotomy in the Medieval Chivalry Romance

The principle spatial dichotomy of the medieval chivalry romance – court/forest – reveals an artistic and structural opposition between courtly civilization (castle) and so-called “wild nature” - forest (the world outside the court/castle). Of course, the reader would not expect realistic or naturalistic depiction of spatial units of romance, such as landscape or an interior of a castle. The descriptive and geographical details are not mimetic also. They are determined both by the internal logic of narrative itself, and long literary tradition of representation of nature. The main character of the romance, the errant knight, begins his quest to confront the unknown, thus the defamiliarization of a well-charted territory produces just what romance calls for: a realm of adventure.

The Middle Age west has borrowed its cultural models from the Bible, where the “wild nature” – desert – as the symbol and as the historical and a geographical reality are ambivalent and is considered as an opposition of the civilized world – the city. The Biblical interpretation of desert as a “place of seclusion” has been transformed in the medieval romances to the forest; however it maintained the original, Biblical meaning of the wild area that is contrasting to the civilized habitat.

The forest also had its own contrasting element, which in the Middle Age system of values was taken on by the court/castle, as the civilized, organized environment. In chivalry romances it is the court of King Arthur (compare with Arabic, Indian and Mulghazanzar court idylls depicted in The Knight in the Panther’s Skin) – the embodiment of elegance, delicacy and courtesy. But the antithesis court/forest is more complex than it may at first appear, because in this case a reader can observe another binary opposition – hunting/adventure forest. Thus, the king and his knights could be regarded as the people of the forest, who periodically, in order to diminish the strain of court responsibilities, visit the hunting forest; there they delve into the same level of comfort and elation which they are used to at the castle (compare with the hunt of king Rostevan and Avtandil in the Knight in the Panther’s Skin).

On the other hand, in the wild forest the errant knight is feeling abandoned and lonely. Away from the ceremonies of the court, he is surrounded with indifferent, austere décor, the one in many ways antithetic to the exquisite culture and manners that the knights used to. From the moral viewpoint too, trackless forest is a homeless space. Here natural conditions coincide and correspond to the moral because the illegality, injustice, deception and disloyalty rule in a strange space. It should be noted that during description of a strange space the evaluation of own space always (although implicitly) present. Strange space is evaluated by means of one’s own, as a complete antipode to one’s own (good-bad, grateful-ungrateful, beautiful-ugly, friendly-hostile, quiet-risky, reliable-unreliable, safe-dangerous, etc). Thus to render forest scenes in courteous romances, the authors use the same motives as in description of the court but only with negative modulation. The meaning of the forest here is interpreted by means of terms denoting luxuriance and festive mood. However, it is outlined that unlike the court, the forest cannot offer these pleasures to his guests. Thus the court in these romances functions as a obvious norm to which the forest can’t correspond. Therefore, the knights’ life lack of the comfort of courteous world and festive mood of the court inhabitants proceeds in wild forest, which is indifferent and antithetic to that refined culture the followers of which they are.

The court is an ideal locus, where the courtly values can be explored, but in the accounts of the forest a concern for standards or refinement can continue to be a preoccupation of the narrative, precisely because it is cast as the inverted mirror image of the court or castle. The result is a setting capable of providing contrast without fragmenting the outlook which these romances offer on their fictive world.

Category: Abstracts | Added by: margalita (18.10.2009)
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