Cligès de Chrétien de Troyes

Here is a summary of the courteous novel by Chrétien de Troyes, Cligès or La Fausse Morte, written after Erec and Enide around 1176.

cligès the false dead

Summary of Cligès or La Fausse Morte

A young man lives in Greece and descends from the line of King Arthur. He is the son of a rich and powerful emperor, Alexander who owns Greece and Constantinople and a noble empress, Tantalis. His name is Alexandre and his much younger brother is called Alis. To acquire glory and renown, Alexander son wants to go to King Arthur in Brittany. Alexandre senior accepts, he knights him and gives him everything he needs: good horses, silk clothes...

They sailed during April and May and arrived in Southampton, England. They travel to Winchester where there is King Arthur who accepts the Greeks in his yard.

At that time King Arthur wanted to go to Brittany and entrusted England to Count Angrès of Windsor. On the boat sailing to Brittany are the king, his niece Soredamor and his young ladies and the Greeks. Alexander loves Soredamor and Soredamor loves Alexander but neither dares to look at the other.

At the beginning of October, messengers arrive via Dover from London and Canterbury to announce to King Arthur that Count Angrès of Windsor was a traitor: he intends to dispute his lands with him. Arthur gathers a huge army for which Alexander wants to be knighted. Kings give them weapons to him and his companions. When she hears this news, the queen decides to offer Alexander a counterpart. She offers him a white silk shirt on which Soredamor has crisscrossed, at the two sleeves and at the collar, one of her hair with gold threads.

The King and the army go to Windsor and have no choice but to camp by the Thames as the Traitor's Castle has been reinforced. But Alexander sees knights jousting under his eyes and without armor, he decides to confront them. Alexander and his companions unseat thirteen knights and bring back four knights which he donates to the queen because he knows that the king would have them hanged. But in the end they still fall into the hands of the king who decides that traitors must be dragged. Count Angrès is filled with anger when he sees his friends being dragged around the castle. Alexander visits Soredamor every evening. That evening, the queen discovers the golden hair on Alexander's wrist.

During the night, the soldiers of the traitor are surprised by the king's watchers and all leave quickly to arm themselves. Alexander then had a brilliant idea: to take the shields and spears from the traitors they killed in order to enter the castle. No sooner had they entered than the Greeks surprised the unarmed traitors and killed 31 of them at once. Alexander takes some prisoners including the count. All praise Alexander and to do this the queen reunites Alexander and Soredamor and their wedding is celebrated the same day, in Windsor. In the same day Alexander obtains three honors: the castle which he took, the promise which the king made to give him the kingdom of Wales and his marriage with Soredamor. From this alliance was born Cligès.

In the meantime, the Emperor of Greece dies but a storm surprises the messengers who were to seek Alexander in Brittany. Only one messenger survives and tells the lie that Alexander also perished in the shipwreck. They then take Alis, his little brother, and crown him. Alis receives the Empire of Greece and Alexander was not long in hearing the news. He does not want to fight with his brother but only to negotiate.

He takes Soredamor and Cligès and arrives, a month later, in the port of Athens. Alis lets Alexander rule the whole country but asks to keep the name of emperor. Alexander agrees if and only if Alis promises never to take a wife so that Cligès can inherit the throne. Alis solemnly promises never to take women. Alexander dies soon after and Soredamor also dies because of his too great sorrow.

Alis' advisors force him to take a wife and he agrees because he forgot his promise. They leave in Germany and go as far as Regensburg. The Emperor of Germany is happy to grant them his daughter, Fenice, although he has already promised her to the Duke of Saxony. Alis therefore decides to send his best knights to fight in Germany and takes his nephew with him. They meet the young girl in Cologne and Cligès falls madly in love with her, but Fénice is destined for her uncle. Cligès fights against the nephew of the Duke of Saxony who sends Fénice to him. Cligès overthrows him and Fénice, who has witnessed the fight, is under the spell of Cligès.

On the wedding night, Thessala, Fenice's housekeeper, makes a potion so that Alis never takes any pleasure in Fenice, but dreams awake while imagining himself with her.

When they return, the Saxons ambush them and they kidnap Fenice because the Greeks are busy fighting. Only Cligès notices his disappearance and he leaves, alone, to kill the Saxons and bring Fenice back. The duke again challenges Cligès who manages to put the duke in a bad position during the fight, they agree and the duke returns to Saxony.

Cligès wants to go to Great Britain, like his father, because he had promised it to him and his uncle accepts. Cligès takes goods and companions and four horses of different colors: white, chestnut, fawn and black.

They cross the sea and arrive at Wallingford. Cligès immediately went to the Oxford tournament. He wears his black armor and weapons and his horse of the same color. He wins Sagremor. At nightfall, without being seen, he returns to his home and hides the black weapons then exposes the green ones. Everyone is talking about the Dark Knight and everyone including King Arthur is actively looking for him.

The next day, Cligès, in green, defeats Lancelot du Lac and hides the green weapons again and takes out the vermeil armament. Cligès, in his vermilion armor, strikes down Perceval the Welsh. In the evening he hides these weapons and takes out the white ones but the knights realize that all have been defeated by one and the same man. The next day Gawain wants to face him but the king comes to separate them because he doesn't want anyone to get hurt. He invites Cligès to his court and he follows him. He performed many chivalrous feats and the king cherished him. However, he could not stay away from Fénice any longer and returned to Brittany.

Long after arriving, he regularly visits Fenice and the two decide not to live their love like Tristan and Yseut. They feign a plan for which Fenice asks for help from Thessala and Cligès that of Jean the craftsman. At first, the queen pretends to be sick and then pretends to succumb to her illness. The whole kingdom mourns her. That day pass three doctors from Salerno who ask to see her: all agree that she is not dead because her heart is beating.

They promise the king to bring her back to life otherwise they would be ready to endure hard suffering. At first, the doctors talk to her and try to negotiate, but when they see who will never get anything from her, they tear her from the coffin and beat her with a thong behind her bleeding back. They pour hot and boiling lead into her palms, but Fenice says nothing because she is under the effect of the Thessala potion. The young ladies of Fenice surprise them and push them from the top of the tower: the three traitors die.

During the burial all faint because they are very sad and Jean has the leisure to close the burial as he sees fit, that is to say in order to be able to reopen it. In the evening, Cligès and Jean come to look for Fenice, bring her to her secret tower, the tower of which only him knows the entrance.

Cligès and Fénice live long months in the tower. But when the beautiful season returns, they want to go out into the orchard. A hunter, Bertrand, who had lost his hawk, surprises them naked in the bed under the entente. Cligès fails to catch Bertrand but cripples him.

The lovers flee to Brittany where they ask for the help of King Arthur who promises them to set up a large army. Messengers arrive from Greece and tell that Alis had died of sadness not to have found his nephew.

The lovers return to Greece where they are received with joy. They are crowned and their marriage celebrated.