Intertextuality in Chrétien De Troyes, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Hideki Kamiya.

Richard Kish - English

Final year dissertations in English at Cambridge can be very wide ranging, some people go for more canonical texts like Paradise Lost (something I wrote on for my second-year dissertation) and so on, while others go off into odd and specific niches. Due to the way the course is structured, you have to do one dissertation but you have the option of swapping an exam paper for another dissertation and that’s what I went with. It meant that I had the freedom to study two areas that interested me in great detail. In one, I focused in on the works of Arthur Miller (As I loved studying Death of a Salesman at A-Level) as part of an American dissertation, looking at Miller’s presentation of failure through sight, as well as the effect of seeing failure presented on stage for an audience. Considering it allowed me to look at two of Miller’s lesser known works, his first Broadway play, The Man Who Had All The Luck, and his only novel, Focus, it was fascinating to see how deeply ingrained failure is to how Miller writes and gave me an even greater appreciation of what he achieved in Death of a Salesman. This dissertation was certainly on the more typical end of the spectrum, so I decided to go for something completely different and unique for my other dissertation: Intertextuality in the works of Chrétien De Troyes, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Hideki Kamiya.

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That collection of names may sound incredibly odd together, and they are. Chrétien De Troyes was a medieval French romance writer whose texts paved the way for Arthurian Romance, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are contemporary filmmakers known for their incredibly geeky genre-comedy films, and Hideki Kamiya a video game director at a Japanese studio called PlatinumGames. Throughout my degree I had always wanted to cover these types of texts, but, other than dealing with Chrétien in my Early Medieval paper, they did not fit into Part I of the course. I seriously doubted that I would be allowed to cover them in a dissertation, but as long as you have some theoretical underpinning the English faculty will allow you to cover pretty much anything. My supervisor told me that every year there are also at least a few dissertations on video games, and film forms a huge part of the Literature and Visual Culture paper, so there is definitely the opportunity to cover what interests you.

My way of combining these three very different mediums was through intertextuality (the moments where the text references or alludes to another text) and how all of them formulate  stylistic and generic conventions that create continuity throughout each writer’s body of work. I specifically zoned in on the interplay between intertextuality, intratextuality (when a text alludes to other moments in that text, although in this dissertation I extended its definition to within a writer’s group of texts), and interactivity, which develops an authorial literary identity that engages the audience of the text and turns them into a connoisseur audience. This may sound needlessly convoluted, but, it boils down to each writer referencing both their own and other people’s texts in their romances/film/game which makes them easy to identify (i.e. you can tell when you are playing a game directed by Hideki Kamiya, or when you’re watching an Edgar Wright film) which then in turn creates a loyal fanbase that gets heavily involved with the text. The writers, despite the difference in time, culture, and media, all effectively play the same ‘game of intertextuality’ to foster interactivity between their texts.

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When you start introducing postmodern theory about intertextuality like multiplicity (people enjoying multiple things at once – think about the way you browse the internet or use your phone) and hypertexts, you end up with an ‘infinitely recenterable system’ in which the reader is an active participant in enjoying what they consume. This lead to a focus on circularity and recentring that occupies the texts. Chrétien’s Cligès tells the story of the knight Cligès and his love, Fenice, but precedes that with the tale of his parents, Alexandre and Soredamor, all the while threading the narrative of Tristan and Iseult (a very well-known medieval narrative) seamlessly throughout the text. Chrétien therefore asks the reader to read the three stories in relation to each other and furthers this connection in his Percival, which returns to ideas and themes seen in his earlier writings like Yvain, Lancelot, and Erec and Enide. A similar way of thinking is found in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Cornetto Trilogy, the films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. The World’s End explicitly takes narrative elements like prefiguring the narrative of the film in its opening monologue from Shaun of the Dead, but also changes things up as in the fence gag. Hideki Kamiya’s games all focus on an uber-stylishness and constantly reference themselves (‘Let’s Rock, Baby!’ is a line repeated throughout) but they find an intertextual peak in The Wonderful 101 which has the visual style of Viewtiful Joe, the scoring and level structure from Bayonetta, the enemy juggling from Devil May Cry, and the special attacks created through drawing from Ōkami. In each case, there is a desire for these texts to be re-experienced and re-centred constantly, to be interacted with and to therefore have an active connoisseur audience which will seek out the intertextual and intratextual references.

Everyone I spoke to about my idea for this dissertation thought I was a bit mad, although all wished me luck because they thought it was exciting. If anything the vast difference between the texts (the cause of everyone’s bewilderment) was the biggest challenge to overcome. However, because of the theory underpinning my argument and my enthusiasm for the subject, I managed to get it to work and create a unique dissertation to be very proud of. There is a degree of risk involved with doing ‘out there’ dissertations as they are not always well received, but if the University will allow you to study them and they cover areas you really enjoy or want to study further, they are definitely worth doing.

Further Exploration

Four Arthurian Romances by Chretien De Troyes (includes Erec et Enide, Cliges, Yvain, and Lancelot)

Page with partial translation of Perceval, the Story of the Grail

Complete Romances of Chrétien De Troyes, translation used in the dissertation. 

Shaun of the Dead (Foreshadowing Scene)

The World's End – "Good Fences Make Good Jokes" Featurette