Song of Roland or La Chanson Term Paper

Pages: 15 (4736 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Drama - World

¶ … Song of Roland or La Chanson de Roland, whose author is unknown, is the greatest, oldest and a very popular medieval epic poem in French, believed to have been written between 1098 and 1100. It relates and presents events that supposedly happened several centuries earlier and during the reign of the Christian emperor Charlemagne (Crosland 1999) as a narrative that omits and ignores historical records. This study will investigate and analyze the epic as a literary work and as a propaganda material. It will explore its historical authenticity as well as establish its literary worth. Previous studies found that the first extant version was rewritten to inspire a holy war against the Muslims of Spain and that this finding is replicated today in the campaign of Christians against the Al Qaeda, the Iraqi militants and enlightened liberals (Lafoley 2005). The present study will use the normative-descriptive method of research in gathering, interpreting and analyzing data derived from an English translation of the epic in 1999 and published accounts, criticisms and analyses on the text from 1991 to the present.

The Song of Roland as a Literary Work

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This is one of the hundreds of surviving epics from the 11th to the 14th century, coinciding with the First Crusade and very popular. It is a legendary account on the slaughter of Charlemagne's army in Roncesvalles pass of the Pyrenees mountains by the Saracens o "pagans" and the events before and after the slaughter (Crosland 1999). Charlemagne was the great and famous king of the Franks and a very loyal and militant Christian who lived between 742 and 814. In 800, he was crowned emperor by his ally, the pope, who legitimized his rule over the former Roman empire in Western Europe.

Term Paper on Song of Roland or La Chanson De Assignment

As the background of the poem, Charlemagne has been fighting the Muslims in Spain up to the last city, Saragossa. Fearing Charlemagne's might, Saragossa's Muslim king Marsilla sends the emperor a peace offer of treasure and conversion to Christianity if they would just return to France. Charlemagne accepts the offer and his bold warrior Roland nominates his stepfather, Ganelon, to accompany the Saracen messengers with the message of acceptance. Ganelon resents Roland's selection of him out of fear for his life in the hands of the Saracens and out of hate and envy for Roland. Ganelon retaliates by plotting out against the Franks with the Saracens and ambushing the rear guard in Roncesvals.

The epic relates how the Saracens overcome the Christian army, led by Roland. His faithful companions Olivier and Turpin urge him to blow his Oliphant horn to call for help from the Frankish army but, at first, Roland refuses, but does so when they begin to lose out to the attackers. Roland dies as a glorious martyr's death (Crosant 1999). Charlemagne's army later comes to find only their dead bodies and the pagans fleeing in the river Ebro and drowning there. In the meantime, the powerful emir of Babylon, Baligant, and his army have combined forces with Marsilla against the Franks and, together, they meet Charlemagne's forces in Roncesvals, while the Christians mourn for and bury their dead warriors. Charlemagne kills Baligant and the pagans scatter and run away. The Franks now take Saragossa and ride back to France victoriously.

Before this event, Ganelon is imprisoned and tried by the council of barons (Crosant 1999). The council is at first swayed by Ganelon's claim of legitimate revenge but Thierry argues that Ganelon committed betrayal against the emperor, whom Roland served. Ganelon's friend, Pinabel, challenges and engages Thierry in a duel to settle the conflict and, although weaker, Thierry wins and kills Pinabel by divine intervention. Ganelon is brutally torn by galloping horses and 30 of his relatives hung.

Like other medieval songs of great and heroic deeds, the Song of Roland was transmitted from generation to generation orally and sung by wandering performers called jongleurs during feasts and festivals before it was written down (Bourneuf 2005, Crosant 1999). The written form was derived from a manuscript by a medieval scribe on the performances of these jongleurs. The narrator's voice was that of the jongleur who does the recounting not on a neutral, third-party and omniscient point of observation but as historical facts, which his medieval audiences learn to accept. The events are all in the form of myths and inventions that occurred in the distant past and this separateness makes the heroes and their deeds seem all the more grand and glorious. The narrator does not pretend to know these tales from eye witness but only from his knowledge of such tales and chronicles in order to produce the best effect of credibility for his narrations. One example is his description of the number of foes Roland, Turpin and Olivier killed at Roncesvals. It is also likely that the historical chronicles he uses as basis for the claim are as fictitious as the events he narrates (Crosant, Bourneuf).

The Song of Roland, like other chansons de geste, does not possess the element of surprise: the jongleur tells the story the audiences already know but would like to hear again and again (Crosant 1999, Bouneuf 1999). They know all about the treachery, trial and execution of Ganelon and the vengeance that Charlemagne exacts for Roland's death. Right at the start of the narration, the audiences know that Charlemagne will eventually capture Marsilla and that Ganelon is a traitor.

As an epic poem, the Song of Roland is divided into verse paragraphs of different lengths, called laisses (Crosant 1999, Bourneuf 2005). Many poetic devices hold each laisse together. The epic's structure is symmetrical throughout and centers on the four major and great scenes that balance one another perfectly. The first is Ganelon's treachery and plotting with the Saracen messengers; the second is Roland's martyrdom; the third is Charlemagne's vengeance at Roncesvals; and Ganelon's trial and execution. Repetitions and parallel passages of the poem contribute to the overall purpose and symmetry of the poem. For example, the battle between Roland's rear guard and Marsilla's army is similarly staged and related as the battle between Charlemagne's and Baligant's armies. The two battles are also presented in the same order (Crosant, Bourneuf).

The time element is also slowed down, almost at a standstill, and displays the noble as well as the wicked gestures of the characters in quick summaries with the change of tableaux (Bourneuf 2005, Crosant 1999). After the first laisse, the council of Marsilla unfolds like a drama, the poet or narrator describes the setting of the action and gives the spiels of the advisors of Marsilla. After a quick summary of how Marsilla's messengers ride out of Charlemagne's camp, the tempo goes slowly again. This fast-slow rhythm alternates through long dramatic scenes at regular intervals. Each sentence and each phrase in each laisse stand separately. The reader or spectator must connect one element to the next on his own. The unknown poet or author of the epic does not connect or relate the elements on his own but simply puts them side by side. This technique is called parataxis, meaning "placing side by side" in Greek. The epic is composed roughly of 400 lines of verse, divided into 298 laisses. The lines are mostly decasyllabic and connected by assonance or rhyme. And like all orally recited epics, the Song of Roland has many so-called formulaic phrases ready and on-hand to complete a line and easy to remember. These phrases possess the requirements of the meter and a pleasing repetition of the poem. These formulas are most and particularly present in the battle scenes, which are also highly ritualized (Crosant, Bourneuf).

Songs of great and heroic deeds, like the Song of Roland, are written and meant to be performed (Bourneuf 2005, Crosant 1999). AOI appears on the margins throughout the poem but its meaning remains a mystery. Many believe that it refers to some instructions to the musical accompaniment or some gesture by the jongleur or performer. It, however, does not appear at the critical scenes or mood changes. What the letters exactly mean can only be a matter of speculation. This chanson might not have been played all at once. A proficient jongleur could have summarized the first parts and performed only a small portion of the entire epic. On the whole, the epic as a literary work is meant to be seen and heard with the accompaniment of music and within the context of celebrations and social events (Crosant, Bourneuf).

The basic theme in the Song of Roland is the struggle between good and evil, with the Christian Franks, led by Charlemagne, representing the good and the will of God on one side and the Muslim Saracens, led by Marsilla and Balligant, represented pure evil on the other (Bouneuf 2005, Crosant 1999). According to the line of thought of medieval chansons, good always wins in the end and that such is the inevitable outcome and direction of a good and almighty God who is personally interested… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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