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Ysaie le Triste, an analysis, and a study of the role of the Dwarf, Troncq Beardsmore, Barrington Francis

Abstract

The romance is essentially an account of the lives and adventures of two knight-errants, Ysaie le Triste, and his son, Marcq l'Essilliet. In many instances, the author has been content to reproduce conventional Arthurian adventure motifs. His knights set forth on perilous quests, participate in numerous tournaments, and are occasionally permitted to enter the realm of the Fairies which lies on the fringe of their own Arthurian world. By the end of the romance, both knights have won the love of fair princesses. The author has also included in his story the biography of a hideous dwarf-character, named Troncq, who accompanies each of the knights on his quests and acts as his valet. He has permitted this strange character to play the principal role in the numerous comic episodes with which he has interspersed his narrative. The dwarf's role is, in fact, as lengthy as that of either of his masters. Nevertheless, it is only towards the end of the story that the author reveals his true identity. He is a supernatural being who has been obliged by a curse to appear on earth in a grotesque form, so that he might seek there a mortal hero capable of accomplishing various difficult tasks on his behalf. When the knight, Marcq, eventually proves himself equal to these tasks, Troncq experiences metamorphosis and regains his former beauty. The story then concludes with a description of his triumphant return to Fairyland. That the author should have permitted a hideous dwarf-valet to play such an important role in his tale of chivalry represents a drastic departure from Arthurian tradition. A survey of the dwarfs who appear in other romances reveals that they are almost invariably supernumerary characters. It is possible, however, that the author of this romance has given to the role of his dwarf a significance which is not immediately apparent to the modern reader. A study of Troncq's role reveals that his creator was a master of the difficult art of fusing together themes borrowed from very diverse sources. Troncq resembles other Arthurian dwarfs in so far as he is ugly, and plays the humble role of valet. But his true literary counterparts are not to be found in romance, but rather in certain Celtic folklore tales. Like Ysaie le Triste, these tales relate the experiences of supernatural creatures who have been obliged to appear on earth in the form of grotesque dwarfs. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to determine whether the author of the romance borrowed the theme of the ugly dwarf from the Celtic storytellers or whether they were indebted to him for it. For his description of Troncq's experiences on earth, the author has drawn upon his own observation of everyday reality; he has modelled his character after the dwarf-entertainers who are known to have frequented various medieval courts. Interestingly enough, a study of these dwarf-fools reveals that theirs was, in the eyes of their contemporaries, the most degrading function that a man could possibly exercise in society. The significance of Troncq's role is therefore quite obvious. He is a caricature of the human condition. He is a creature of supernatural origin, just as Everyman is a child of God; and the curse which has obliged him to live in exile on earth is symbolic of the mark of Original Sin which Everyman has borne since the Fall. As for his assumption of the humiliating role of entertainer, it represents the state of degradation that all men must endure while they earn their redemption. Troncq's biography and the romance of Ysaie le Triste end upon a note of optimism. The dwarf's triumphant return to the land of the Fairies is obviously intended to symbolize the happy lot awaiting all good Christians on the Day of Judgement.

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