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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

d) The Middle Ages in contemporary fiction

3) Medieval kings and queens in Portuguese contemporary literature

Ana Machado

Texte intégral

1Following one of the four reception models proposed by Gentry and Müller (1991), I focus my medievalist analysis on creative reception—that is, on the way twenty-first-century Portuguese literature reuses medieval subject matters, motifs, themes, and genres. In the journey back in time that Mário Cláudio, a contemporary Portuguese novelist, takes in his two medievalist short stories, readers feel as if they are visiting another world but, at the same time, they look at it through the lenses of the characters’ first-person memories, a narrative tool unusual in the Middle Ages. By doing so, the author gives the narratives a peculiar frame where temporality plays a leading role.

2In a book entitled Portuguese Love’s Triumph (2004), echoing Petrarch’s Trionfi, the author rewrites famous medieval love stories: one tragic and the other famous for its level of infidelity. The path from their hypotext (the source M. Cláudio rewrites), mainly from Fernão Lopes’ fifteenth-century official chronicles about the Portuguese kings Pedro and Fernando, to the hypertext “Pedro I and Inês de Castro” and “Leonor Teles and João Fernandes Andeiro” reveals a very powerful, imaginative and modern vision, exploring the gaps of medieval text and language. The genre transformation of the historiographical narrative into fictional short stories opens the door of imagination; and, by changing the medieval heterodiegetic narrator into an autodiegetic one, Mário Cláudio is able to explore the inner self of his characters. So, in the two narratives, in addition to the author’s contemporary point of view, Mário Cláudio chooses to mediate his distance from the past by introducing first-person memories between himself and his medieval subject, therefore creating three temporality levels and developing the imaginary individual memories that frame the two short stories. If one thinks about Ricoeur’s Memory, history and forgetting (2004), those stories display an obvious conflict between characters’ personal remembrances, inherited collective memory, and studied historical memory. As a post-modern writer, Mário Cláudio personalizes and humanizes his vision of historical actors, changing the mainstream perspective. His concerns are neither historical nor political. He aims to understand how the victims—King Fernando and John of Avis, King Pedro’s sons and future successors—felt and how they behaved towards the pressure and power of strong personalities like the ones of King Pedro and Queen Leonor.

3The memories and traumas of the victims make evident the guilt those character-narrators carry and/or the transgressions they observed. By presenting a subjective reception of medieval love dramas, and by playing with different temporalities and reinterpreting characters’ psychology, the author creates a world that is sometimes realistic, othertimes phantasmagorical. Mário Cláudio reveals how he imagines the way sex and feelings were experienced at the time and how medieval people judged them. While being mostly faithful to the historical plot, the author artistically discloses a very modern perspective on a medieval laconic world. However, if one thinks about the attention he pays to violence, cruelty, and sexuality, one could say his image of the Middle Ages is what Umberto Eco (1986) called ““barbaric” and which, more recently, David Matthews named “gothic” or “grotesque” (2015: 15), that is, “entailing the assumption that anything medieval will involve threat, violence and warped sexuality.”

4In light of these stories, it can be said that the textual author reshapes historical characters and builds suffering hetero-imagotypes, thus filling medieval gaps with contemporary mentality. Almost all characters and even some figurants have a big or a small sexual abnormality, as if this were a common denominator of medieval nobility that history has hidden. More crucially, it can be said that those were themes medieval literature did not approach or even imagine, except in the very analytical references to the catechetical books of confession.

5This contrast between silence and sound in historiographical and fictional discourses, respectively, is also due to the genre constraints. Royal historiography served the crown and therefore was not devoted to analysing characters or intimate behaviours. It was enough to provide a simple allusion, never excessive details. By contrast, contemporary fiction has no limits. It is free to transfer its own perspectives onto aspects of human nature, such as sex and analysis of mental states, disregarded in the Middle Ages.


6Cláudio, Triunfo
Eco 1986
Gentry – Müller 1991
Matthews 2015
Ricœur 2004


University of Coimbra

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