Here we have Chretien's second Arthurian tale, and once again I could see that many common tropes (habits?) of the Arthurian tradition have not yet quite gelled. There is a town or two and the traditional storyline is not there yet. This all makes it really interesting to read, since Chretien is creating much of the tradition as he writes.
|Cligès proves himself at a tournament (in disguise, of course)|
Cligès does not show up until at least halfway through the story. It starts with his parents! Alexander is the crown prince of Constantinople (which seems to be the capital city of Greece; we never hear of an empire, but Alexander and all his knights are called Greeks), and as a young man he sets off for Britain, for he knows that all the best knights are there and he is determined to be knighted by none other than Arthur himself. Alexander joins Arthur's court and falls in love with one of the queen's maidens, and there is a very long description of both of their longings for each other. At last they marry and have a son: Cligès. They go back to Alexander's home, but his younger brother, thinking him dead, is now king. He agrees to let Alexander rule in all but name, and to make Cligès his heir.
|Felice fakes her death|
I thought it was interesting how Chretien consciously duplicates the Tristan and Iseult storyline, but makes this second Iseult a different person, which changes the whole thing. Mind you Felice is still willing to live with Cligès while officially married to Alis, but I gather that since she was made to marry him and he was breaking his vow and she fixed it so he never touched her, it didn't quite count in their opinion. Or something.
I always enjoy how the Arthurian setting allows for a lot of fairy-tale magic. Alexander and Cligès visit Arthur about 20 years apart, but that doesn't matter a bit; Gawain is as valorous as ever. There is a tower full of wonderful secret cupboards and gardens that no one knows about in the middle of Constantinople--but of course no one lives in Constantinople except knights anyway. Sure, Chretien talks about London and real places, but that doesn't matter.
I read Yvain just a couple of years ago, so I'm going to skip that and move on to Lancelot and the story of the cart.