Steve Muhlberger

title.none: Santina, Tournament and Literature (Muhlberger)

identifier.other: baj9928.0106.006 01.06.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University, Nipissing University

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Santina, Mary Arlene. The Tournament and Literaure: Literary representations of the Medieval Tournament in Old French Works, 1150-1226. Sudies in the Humanities, Vol 49. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Pp. 197. $48.95. ISBN: 0-820-44280-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.06.06

Santina, Mary Arlene. The Tournament and Literaure: Literary representations of the Medieval Tournament in Old French Works, 1150-1226. Sudies in the Humanities, Vol 49. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Pp. 197. $48.95. ISBN: 0-820-44280-1.

Reviewed by:

Steve Muhlberger
Nipissing University Nipissing University

In the preface, the author says, "The task at hand is to examine the diverse ways in which tournaments figure in Medieval French literature, and to see the tournament as both an historical and fictional topic." This statement leaves the reader uncertain whether Santina is going to emphasize literary uses of the tournament by twelfth- and early thirteenth-century writers, or their works as evidence for the reality of early tournaments. This uncertainty is never cleared up. Santina is not well equipped to evaluate the literary accounts as historical sources; this detracts from her discussion of the literary uses made of the tournament by various Old French authors, a subject of potential value not just for literary scholars but for anyone who is interested in the cultural significance of the tournament.

Santina treats a corpus of twenty Old French works written between 1150 and 1226: seven lais, eight romans, two romans d'antiquite, two chroniques historiques, and one histoire. All of these works either describe tournaments, fictional or real, or, in the cases of the romans d'antiquite and chroniques historiques, use the word tornoi in an interesting way. The book begins with a discussion of Old French terminology for the tournament (Chapter 1) and then, in eleven more chapters, describes various aspects of the tournament as seen in the corpus: "Tournament Preparations," "The Announcement and the Wait," "Opening and Closing Procedures," "Who Were the Participants," "Heraldry," "The Lady and the Tournament," "Weapons and Techniques," "Location and Duration," "Casualties," "Tournament Winnings and the Victor," and the "Tournament as a Literary Device." There is a conclusion and an appendix, "Tournament Charts," in which various characteristics of the individual tournaments found in the chosen texts are compared in chart form.

Thus sketched out, The Tournament and Literature seems to promise quite a bit of interesting reading. However, the reader soon enough finds problems with Santina's handling of her material.

The tournament, like many historical phenomena, is poorly documented in its earliest stages. Much of what we know about it derives from fictional treatments, the romans and lais so important to Santina's analysis. Such a situation calls for a certain subtlety, and a thorough knowledge of all the sources for the phenomenon in question.

Santina's discussion of one of the most important sources does not give the reader much reason to be confident that she knows the background well. The only one of the corpus that purports to describe actual tournaments is L'Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, a verse biography of the famous Earl of Pembroke who died as Regent of England in 1219. William Marshal rose to prominence in the 1170s in part through the prowess he demonstrated in numerous tournaments. His biographer therefore described many of William's tourney triumphs (16 by Santina's count) in the poem.

L'Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal is a unique source for the history of Anglo-French chivalry in the twelfth century, but it is not an easy one to use. Georges Duby's interpretation of the work, William Marshal: Flower of Chivalry (London: Faber, 1986), suffered considerable criticism. (See John Gillingham, "War and Chivalry in the History of William the Marshal," in Thirteenth Century England II, ed. P.R. Coss and S.D. Lloyd (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1988), pp. 1-13) and David Crouch, William Marshal: Court, Career, and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147-1219 (London: Longman, 1990)). Not the least of the difficulties is that the anonymous poet wrote a full fifty years after the tournaments he depicts, relying on stories told him by William Marshal or perhaps relayed to him through surviving members of the Marshal's household.

The problematic nature of this single "factual" account is never really explored in The Tournament and Literature, although Santina knows and tells the reader that the tournaments of William Marshal's time are recorded only in a posthumous celebration of his life. Rather the Histoire is often left in the uncomfortable position of standing in for all "biographical" or "factual" accounts of early tournaments, which is hardly fair either to the Histoire or to Santina's reader.

On turning to the bibliography, the reader finds a possible explanation for the way Santina uses the Histoire. The bibliography indicates that Santina either does not know or has not seen fit to use most of the recent scholarship on the tournament and chivalry. For instance, Richard Barber and Juliet Barker's survey, Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages is missing (though Juliet Barker's The Tournament in England 1100- 1400 is present). Maurice Keen's Chivalry (which has two substantial chapters on the history of the tournament) is not cited. Duby's Chivalrous Society is in the bibliography but is not noticeably used. The bibliography contains instead a selection of old, obsolete or irrelevant works such as R. Coltman Clephan's The Medieval Tournament (1919), and F.H Cripps-Day's The History of the Tournament (1918), Dana Carleton Munro's The Middle Ages (1921), Stubbs' Select Charters and F.M. Powicke's King Henry III and the Lord Edward.

Such evidence of inadequate historical scholarship helps to account for some of the rather shallow interpretations found here. An important instance is the way all disapproval of the early tournaments is attributed to the church. If the author of the Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal does not discuss deaths at tournaments of half a century ago, Santina leaps to the conclusion that it must have been to protect him from clerical criticism (p. 133). It is also indicative of Santina's limitations that she accepts the "categorical" statement of Carl Stephenson (from Medieval History, 1951) that "The position of women during the Middle Ages seems to have been one of complete subordination" and proceeds to build on it. (p. 103)

After seeing a number of arguments of this sort, the reader is disinclined to accept Santina's generalizations, even when they seem attractive. In connection with "Opening and Closing Procedures," Santina refers to "gatherings of the participants which came to be known as parlements... a time to talk and discuss the day's events" (p. 49). But although Santina shows us a number of examples of post-tournament discussions in the Histoire and various romans, (p. 49-50), there is exactly one case cited where the word parlement is used, instead of some form of the verb parler. This leaves us in considerable doubt about whether twelfth-century tourneyers would have recognized such an institution.

There are enough flaws in this book's use of evidence and argumentation to make the reader wonder about the editorial presence. Similar thoughts are provoked by the numerous errors of English usage. William Marshal, an "exemplary" knight, is also the "penultimate" knight (p. 65); "men's" is spelled "mens'" (p. 150); we also read about "Anglo-Normand...narratives" (p. 121).

Although I feel it was no favor to the author to present this book to the public in its present form, it has some redeeming aspects, and they should be mentioned. Although the schematic approach adopted by Santina occasionally tempts her to say too much or get off track, it does give the reader a clear summary of what several Old French authors (including Marie de France and Chretien de Troyes) said about various aspects of the tournaments.

When presented with this material, the reader cannot help but be impressed by the rich possibilities that authors and audiences saw in the tournament as a literary device. Poets seem to have seized on the tournament as a metaphor for the challenges of noble life. It was a place where a very mixed group of participants showed up to assert their standing among the warriors and the warlords who ruled secular society. The tournament was a theater or a testing ground where all hoped to enter as equals, not to destroy an opponent, but to demonstrate one's worth. Repeatedly literary treatments show the importance of tournament performance for winning and losing reputation in the eyes of both spectators and other participants. And though the real tournament primarily tested men, it is clear enough that at least in literature women were tested there, too. This is a notable point in that, as Santina correctly points out, there were few concessions made to spectators in the twelfth-century tournament; yet they seem to have been there both in fiction and reality.

The positive contribution of this book is to illustrate how a rather new and perhaps disreputable competition became an important symbol of the noble life. This is perhaps not a particularly new insight, but one worth making nevertheless.