The theme of education in twelfth- and thirteenth- century French epic and romance
This study examines the description of characters' education in twelfth- and thirteenth-century French epic and romance with two broad aims: to establish how education is described, and to suggest reasons why it is portrayed in the particular way that it is. The discussion is divided into three parts. The first provides the contextual framework for the second two, and presents a brief overview of the history of education in the period, together with a survey of the theory and practice of education in school and at home. Critics and historians have noted the link between education and literature and we provide a model of contemporary educational background, theory and practice, against which literary descriptions may be compared and understood. In Part II we analyse these literary descriptions, hitherto not comprehensively explored. Taking a large corpus of works, we examine the content of characters' education, drawing comparisons across genre and timespan, and with the model from Part I. This, together with further examination of where poets draw their inspiration, what they choose to include and how it is presented, provides a context within which particular features, descriptions or texts may be discussed. Part III examines particularly interesting treatments of education. Five different studies of individual works or groups of texts illustrate the range of ways education may function, and help us to establish the status of the education description in Old French literature. We conclude that poets deliberately describe and exploit education in various ways. These range from delineation of character, where we see authors shaping the raw material of narrative for their own ends, to major thematic use, essential for understanding a text. Study of the theme of education reveals its contribution to and reflection of the importance of medieval education and its influence on vernacular literature.