Cligès is a poem by the medieval French poet Chrétien de Troyes, dating from around 1176. It is the second of five Arthurian Romances; Erec and Enide, Cligès, Yvain, Lancelot and Perceval. The poem tells the story of the knight Cligès and his love for his uncle's wife, Fenice. Because of the story's de-romanticized depiction of adultery, it has been called a criticism or parody of the Tristan and Isolde romances.
Cligès has come down to us through seven manuscripts and various fragments. The poem comprises 6,664 octosyllables in rhymed couplets. A 15th century prose version also exists. The first modern edition of Cligès was in 1884 by Wendelin Foerster.
There are many stylistic techniques that set Chrétien de Troyes and his work Cligès apart from his contemporaries and their work. Chrétien used many Latin writing techniques such as nature topos, portraiture, conjointure, amplificato and interpretatio to convey a realistic romance story.
Cligès can be better understood by dividing the text into two parts, or two nearly separate stories. The first story consists of Cligès's father's adventures and the second story consists of Cligès's adventures. Cligès scholar Z.P. Zaddy supports the dual story approach, but also divides the text even further. Zaddy creates a new structure where the two stories are divided into 8 episodes. This approach is intended to make the text read more dramatically.
Cligès begins with the story of his parents, Alexander and Soredamors. Alexander, the son of the Greek emperor (also called Alexander), travels to Britain to become a knight in King Arthur's realm. While at court, Alexander gains favor with King Arthur, is knighted, and assists in retaking Windsor Castle when it is taken by the traitor, Count Angrès. During his time at court, Alexander meets Arthur's niece, Soredamors and falls in love but is unable to express his feelings to her. She feels the same, but neither party is able to tell the other how they feel. Queen Guinevere takes notice and encourages them to express their mutual love. They immediately marry and a child is born. This child is Cligès. Alexander and his family then return to Greece and find out that Alexander's brother, Alis, has claimed the throne to Greece since their father has died. Although Alexander is the rightful heir to the throne, he concedes to Alis with the condition that Alis will not marry or have children so that the throne will pass to Cligès. Alexander dies and Cligès is raised in Greece. Many years after Alexander's death, Alis is persuaded to marry and he chooses the daughter of the German Emperor, Fenice. Thus begins the story of Cligès and Fenice. Cligès falls in love with his uncle Alis' wife. She also loves Cligès but he follows in his father's footsteps to Arthur's kingdom to be knighted. Like his father, he does well in King Arthur's court, participating in tournaments and displaying courtly manners. He is knighted and returns home. Cligès and Fenice still love each other and Fenice concocts a plan to use magic to trick Alis to escape. Using the magic of her governess, she fakes her death so that she and Cligès can runaway together. They succeed and hide in a tower but are found by Bertrand, who tells Alis; Cligès goes to Arthur to ask for help in getting his kingdom back from his uncle, but Alis dies while he is away. Cligès and Fenice are free to marry and Cligès is now emperor.
In "Cligès and Courtliness", Norris J. Lacy examines the characters found in Cligès and argues that Chrètien uses the story as an ironic presentation of chivalric character. Although Cligès displays the ability to master the social forms and rhetoric of the court, it is without substance. Lacy claims that the actions of Cligès and Fenice may seem to represent courtliness or chivalric traits, but at their core they are not moral. Lacy believes that Chrètien's Cligès is meant to throw doubt on the value and validity of courtliness.
Cligès scholar Lucie Polak verifies the Tristan and Isolde reworking found in the text, but also suggests that Cligès may be modeled after Ovid's character Narcissus. Cligès' opening lines give some of the only extant information on the creator's biography and earlier work.
Another version of the romance is known, a few fragments of a German version. The character Cligès himself appears in other stories. In the fifteenth century, an unknown Burgundian author created a prose version of Chrétien's Cligés, under the title "Le Livre de Alixandre Empereur de Constentinoble et de Cligés Son Filz". This prose version differs from the original in several aspects, and the story is thought to have been adapted to the cultural and political circumstances of the Burgundian court at the time.