Song of Roland
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A critical response to the SONG OF ROLAND dealing with themes of Christianity chivalry ...... More...
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A critical response to the SONG OF ROLAND, dealing with the themes of Christianity, chivalry, and the role of Islam in the narrative. The heroic knight battle structure. The narrative plot.
At its most basic The Song of Roland is an adventure story of heroicknightly battle However it also portrays the values and practices of asociety governed by chivalry and it establishes characters withdistinctive personality traits who either do or do not live by those valuesand whose moral substance is determined thereby Chivalry becomes a featureof narrative suspense in the text because of the subplot of courtlyintrigue and jealous rivalry in Roland\'s somewhat dysfunctional family Furthermore the poem brings in religious themes linked
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Even so, there is no rest for the just. As Roland is furiously dying and his life is flashing beforehim, he recalls it in terms of his and his sword Durendal's service toCharlemagne: With thee I won him Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England also, where he his chamber makes; Won I with thee so many countries strange That Charles holds, whose beard is white with age! . He plans to lure Charlemagne's forces intothe field and ambush them. Even as they begin tounderstand that they are about to be overwhelmed by Spanish forces, theyinvoke the values and obligations of chivalry: "My anger is inflamed [says Roland]. That process was more or lesscontemporaneous with the historical rule of Charlemagne, and this lendsverisimilitude to the poetical text. / I'll slay him clean with mygood trenchant lance, / If Mahumet will be my sure warrant; / Spain I'llset free, deliver all her land (SR 866-69). A host of Marsila's vassalsproceed to take up the mission against Charlemagne and Roland: "Franksshall be slain, and France abased be," says one, and another adds,"Durendal [the name of Roland's sword] I'll conquer with this blade, /Franks shall be slain, and France a desert made" (SR 969; 988-89). Christian were he, he'dshewn good baronhead" (SR 895, 899). The narrative plot has the deceitfulking of Sarraguce, Spain (Marsila), aided by a traitorous member ofCharlemagne's court (Ganelon), sending word that he will convert toChristianity and become Charlemagne's vassal. Having beenoverwhelmed by grief and mourning for Roland and Oliver, Charlemagneproceeds to rout the pagans so strongly that Marsila himself dies of grief.Back in France, Charlemagne experiences grief upon grief with the death ofAlde, Roland's betrothed and Oliver's sister. That he has one hand in theeveryday world of chivalry and another in the God-preoccupied period ofmedieval Christianity helps explain the disposition of the trial of Ganelonand his kinsmen, which takes up most of the denouement. Never, please God His Angels and His Saints, 1 9 Never by me shall Frankish valour fail! All of this prepares him to dispose of the "cause" ofGanelon, who to the last attempts to wrestle out of justice; the fact thathe is drawn and quartered, from the poet's point of view, is mere justice.Charlemagne is, however, portrayed as merciful, allowing the "Queen of theSarazands" to be baptized with the name Juliane: "Christian she is by verycognizance" (SR 3987). Ganelon returns toCharlemagne with Marsila's false promise to convert to Christianity, inanticipation of receiving riches from Marsila. Charlemagne isreally the central character, and his response to and management of hissocial environment is the dominant theme of the story. It may be useful to discuss the last-named aspect of SR first. It is difficult not to conclude that the real message of SR allalong has been to encourage 12th-century Christians to take up the call toCharlemagne supposedly made by Gabriel in the 9th century. Roland and Oliver live and die according to ideal chivalric values,but they are also embedded in a kind of Christian idealism, and it is inthe name of Christianity as well as Charlemagne that they do their duty.Indeed, Durendal is embedded with saints' relics, which is why Roland wantsto destroy it before he dies: "It is not right that pagans should theeseize, / For Christian men your use shall ever be" (SR 2349-5 ). Charlemagne makes for Franceto prepare to receive the new convert, and Roland volunteers to hold therearguard for Charlemagne. The Song of Roland closes withan appearance by the angel Gabriel to Charlemagne and an injunction to goto the aid of another Christian king who is being attacked by the "pagans": "Summon the hosts, Charles, of thine Empire, Go thou by force into the land of Bire, . An example is the admiral of Balaguet:"Clear face and proud, and body nobly bred . However, the principal contrast iswith Roland and his de facto alter ego Oliver, who remain steadfast totheir promise to hold the rear and true to the code. In his character areunited attachment to Christian values and the prerogatives of royaltywithin a society governed by chivalric code. Chivalry becomes a featureof narrative suspense in the text because of the subplot of courtlyintrigue and jealous rivalry in Roland's somewhat dysfunctional family.Furthermore, the poem brings in religious themes linked to the culture ofthe Crusades, with Christianity being arrayed against Islam and constantlyunder attack--only to triumph eventually. Rather I'll die than shame shall me attain.
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