For the study of this text, Erec and Enide, we will use the edition of Jean-Marie Fritz, according to the manuscript BN. En 1376, The book de Poche, “Gothic Letters” No. 4526, 1992. Here is the first part of the study: La Folie d'Erec.
From the first pages of the novel, Érec is presented to us, despite his young age, as a being of reason, capable of analyzing a situation and developing a strategy: thus, challenged by the sinister trio of Wickedness, Pride and Violence, he is careful not to rush into an unequal fight:
Madness is not vasalage;
Of both fist mut Erec and wise (v. 231-232)
The "madness" of Erech does not manifest itself until after his marriage to Enidus; it will be analyzed a little below, about the Text 2.
This madness, fleeting blindness, is only an accident for the hero, a temporary error, and a test to be overcome in his personal realization; he will have to overcome it to become what he really is, the perfect knight and king.
The other characters
Throughout his adventures, Erec will meet characters whose madness often takes the form of excess.
She is embodied by Ydier and his lady; proud to the point of letting his dwarf offend Queen Guinevere without intervening, persuaded to always prevail in the game of the hawk - and forced by Erec to humiliate himself and confess his defeat. But at least in single combat, Ydier abides by the rules of chivalry. And, once defeated, he submits in the most frank manner.
Whether it is the three pillaging knights, the five robber knights, the giants attacking the virgin, the hero's opponents are characterized by extreme violence, which no moral barrier counterbalances; dwarves or giants, by their size or their deformity, carry this barbarity within them. They are necessarily defeated by the Knight.
More subtle, the violence of a Galoain or a Count of Limors is accompanied by cunning unworthy of a knight, with a disregard for the laws of hospitality - both benefit from their host's trust. to try to seize his Lady - and an inordinate pride. And if Galoain's "madness" may seem fleeting and capable of healing (and in fact, seized with remorse, he will end up giving up his criminal enterprise), that of Limors seems intrinsic to his person, and can only be resolved through the death.
A world on the verge of a nervous breakdown?
But most of the characters, good or bad, seem to be living on a razor's edge, ready to tip over at the slightest opportunity into murderous madness; all it takes is an unrecognized silhouette, a misunderstood word for a violence that is very difficult to channel to explode.
Two examples bear witness to this:
- The meeting between Erec and Sénéchal Keu: when Erec refuses to follow Keu to court, the latter wants to bring him there by force, and does not hesitate to attack him (v. 4023-4046)
- The second meeting between the bellicose Guivret and Érec: not having recognized his friend, Guivret is ready to massacre him! (v. 4992-5014).
However that may be, when it is a question of a passing error, one word suffices to calm the bellicose ardor, and the hero then becomes again pitiful, welcoming and generous; he easily recognizes his fault; and if the madness persists, then he is doomed and dies miserably.
But there is also another kind of madness, which arises less from excessive violence than from an inadequacy to social, that is to say, chivalrous rules.
Mabonagrain and his virgin
In the curse called "Joy of the Court", the madness is twofold:
- Madness of Mabonagrain, who gave himself up hand and foot bound to the wishes of his friend, without even knowing what she would ask him; but the oath taken absolutely binds him, and he must accomplish, willy-nilly, what he has promised. And it's a series of incessant fights, which completely isolates him from the Court, and prevents him from doing what he was born to do!
- This madness responds to that of her friend, who indulges uncontrollably in a destructive and deeply selfish love, which also isolates her completely from society.
Both fail to recognize the true nature of courtly love, which Erech too almost forgot in his period of “recreating”, and which he is in the process of winning back.
The victory of Erec will mean the healing of Mabonagrain and his friend, and their return to society: it will be the famous "Joy of the Court", superior to any individual joy.
Madness therefore consists in a misunderstanding of oneself, of one's limits, and of one's mission within society. A knight does not live for himself, not even for his "Lady"; at least this, if it is wise, does encourage him to accomplish what he was born for: to serve the "Court", that is to say society, contribute to its harmony, while respecting and upholding its values.
Fighting against barbarism, taking up the defense of the weak, the Chevalier therefore has an eminently civilizing role in this violent and brutal society.