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chanson de geste.

chanson de gesteplural chansons de geste French, literally, song of heroic deeds

Any of several Old French epic poems that form the core of the Charlemagne legends.

More than 80 chansons de geste have survived in manuscripts dating from the 12th to 15th centuries, but they deal chiefly with events of the 8th and 9th centuries during the reigns of Charlemagne and his successors. In general, the poems contain a core of historical truth overlain with legendary accretions. A few poems have authors' names, but most are anonymous.

Chansons de geste are composed in lines of 10 or 12 syllables grouped into laisses (irregular stanzas) based on assonance or, later, rhyme. The poems' lengths range from approximately 1,500 to more than 18,000 lines.

The fictional background of the chansons is the struggle of Christian France against an idolatrous "Muslim" enemy. The emperor Charlemagne is portrayed as the champion of Christendom. He is surrounded by his court of Twelve Noble Peers, among whom are Roland, Oliver, OGIER the Dane, and Archbishop Turpin.

A subordinate cycle of 24 poems concerns Guillaume d'Orange, a loyal and long-suffering supporter of Charlemagne's weak son, Louis the Pious. Another cycle deals with the wars of such powerful barons as DOON de Mayence, Girart de Roussillon, Ogier the Dane, and Raoul de Cambrai.

The earlier chansons are heroic in spirit and theme. After the 13th century, elements of romance and courtly love came to be introduced, and the austere early poems were supplemented by enfances (youthful exploits) of the heroes and fictitious adventures of their ancestors and descendants.

The masterpiece and probably the earliest of the chansons de geste is the CHANSON DE ROLAND. Appearing at the threshold of French epic literature, Roland was the formative influence on the rest of the chansons de geste. The chansons, in turn, spread throughout Europe. They strongly influenced Spanish heroic poetry such as the mid-12th-century Spanish epic cantar DE MIO CID ("Song of the Cid"). In Italy stories about Orlando and Rinaldo (Roland and Oliver) formed the basis for the Renaissance epics Orlando innamorato (Matteo Boiardo; 1483) and Orlando furioso (Ludovico Ariosto; 1532). In the 13th century the German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach based his epic Willehalm on Guillaume d'Orange, and the chansons were recorded in prose in the Icelandic Karlamagnus saga. Charlemagne legends were long staple subjects of romance.

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Publication:Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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