Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Shield as the Physical Manifestation of Wish Fulfillment in Crétien de Troyes’ Cliges

    While Crétien de Troyes in his Arthurian Romance Cliges tells the story of both Cliges and his father Alexander, there exists an important parallel between Alexander and his brother, the emperor of Constantinople, Alis that relates to the heart of the medieval romance- wish fulfillment. The line “The shields made them take appearance for reality, like a man who dreams and takes a lie for the truth.” (Troyes 148) best illustrates this point by summing up both Alis and Alexander’s wish fulfillment. Alis wants to be emperor and Alexander wants to be a knight of Arthur’s court. The lie that Alis takes for truth is multifold.  He believes that his brother Alexander is dead when a disreputable messenger tells him the ship carrying Alexander to England sank. Alis also believes that he has had carnal knowledge of his wife Fenice, and later believes Fenice is dead. These beliefs are in fact the wish fulfillment of Alis. He wishes to be emperor, and so believes the lie of his brother’s death that allows him to be emperor. Alis wishes to marry Fenice, even though he breaks his word to Alexander in doing so and starts a war with the Duke of Saxony. It is not so much that Alis takes the lie for truth, as that he makes the lie become truth, as does his brother Alexander.
Alexander imagines that the only way to prove his worth is to travel to King Arthur’s court and become a knight. He feels it is the only way for him to seek the glory that he believes is his. The reader knows nothing of King Arthur’s court at this point, Troyes offers no description, yet the place has importance because Alexander gives it importance; having created a fantasy in which the only place where he can prove his worth is to travel to Arthur’s court and become a knight. This fantasy, or dream, is taken to be truth by Alexander.  Because he believes it is must be so.  Therefore, the story parallels how each of these characters make a dream true for themselves.
Alexander travels to England, and in order to earn his knighthood, leads his Greek troops in a campaign for Arthur against Count Angrés who betrayed Arthur in his stewardship. In order to gain access to a keep Alexander has his men don the shields and clothing of the Count’s men. Later, when the dead bodies of the Count’s men are found wearing the Greeks’ shields and clothing, the rest of Alexander’s men mourn him “The shields made them take appearance for reality”. The shield here represents the lies, the untruths that shield both Alexander and Alis from the truth that stands between them and the fulfillment of their dreams. In this case, the shield calls to mind the verb form, “to shield” because that is what it does for Alexander and Alis.  For Alexander, it shields him from the truth he does not with to face, that he can remain behind in Constantinople and earn his glory and valour.  For Alis, it shields him from the truth of Fenice and Cliges’ love as well as the truth that he has betrayed his brother.
An argument can be made that Alis is lead astray and helped along in his belief in these lies; the messenger tells him his brother is dead, Alis wants to believe he has carnal knowledge of Fenice, he sees her dead, however, even if Alis is duped in these situations he still wants to believe the lie; the shield that Alis has is entirely of his own making, as is Alexander’s.  Alexander has no proof that he can only prove himself at Arthur’s court; he knows only that “the king and his barons, who are so greatly renowned for courtesy and valour.” (Troyes 125) Alexander has created a fantasy about Arthur’s court that makes it the only place where he can prove his worth- where his wish of taking part in a courtly romance can come true. Alexander and Alis do not take appearance for reality; rather, they use their shields, their own beliefs, to create reality as they wish it. The shield not only protects them from the reality they do not want to recognize or be a part of but also projects itself outwards.  Alexander’s shield projects outward and convinces his father the emperor that Alexander should go to Arthur’s court whereas Alis’ shield projects outward shaping his marital and martial decisions as well as his death.  
Both characters initially get their wish fulfilled; Alexander does become a knight of King Arthur’s court, participates in a courtly romance and marries.  Alis becomes emperor and marries. The conclusion of the wish fulfillment is different for both men, and it is through these conclusions that a value judgment can be made in regards to the characters.  Alexander representing good, is given the true happy ending of his wish.  He achieves all he could ask for, and succeeds in making his initial fantasy fo Arthur’s court real enough that his son, Cliges follows in his footsteps. Alis on the other hand, represents evil and has a very different ending. As punishment for his betrayal of his promise to his brother, as well as the betrayal of standing in the way of the true love of Cliges and Fenice Alis has to watch his reality, as he has come to believe in it, the appearance of all he desires, crumble.  In a series of events that reveal the actual world, and not the one he has shielded himself within, Alis learns that not only is Fenice not dead, but that she and Cliges have both betrayed his. Alis cannot cope when he can no longer deny reality, and therefore goes insane and dies.
The shield at this point takes on a more symbolic meaning. For Alexander, it is the physical symbol of his knighthood and proof that he has fulfilled his wish. For Alis it is an ill omen, of soldiers being carried home dead on their shields. While these particular ends of the characters are not certain to the reader, at the mention of this line, it becomes apparent looking back, that this symbol of the shield is prophetic in the endings of the characters. This is particularly clear in regards to Alexander and Cliges. The culmination of Alexander’s wish is that he now has a son that can carry on the knightly tradition; there is someone to pick up Alexander’s shield and carry it forward. However, because Alexander has succeeded in making his fantasy world, his lie, the truth, Cliges has no need to create a better reality; instead, he must simply face the challenges that exist within that reality. Alis has no son, as he has never known Fenice; therefore no one is left to mourn Alis, and he leaves no legacy behind. Once Alis’ created fantasy is taken down, there is nothing left so not even the remnants of the lie he took for truth remain as a memorial.

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