Character of Roland in The Song of Roland

 
 
 
 
The character of Roland in the epic poem The Song of Roland may be partially a historical character, a knight in the court of Charlemagne and a key figure in the battle against one specific ruler in a battle at Roncesvalles in northern Spain. Roland and his followers represent Christian values fighting against the pagans, and the initial demand is that each ruler who comes under the sway of Charlemagne is to renounce his old religion and convert to Christianity or be put to death. The nature of Roland as a hero is somewhat different than other heroes because he is often at odds with other leaders on the same side as himself. His participation in this battle begins with what seems an act of betrayal of his stepfather. One of the reasons for the odd structure of the story is that the people of the time knew the story well already, so they knew that Ganelon would commit treason and that Roland's hostility toward Ganelon really derived from an anachronism--Roland seems to know that Ganelon is a traitor before the latter becomes one. Other aspects of Roland's story have to be considered in light of this odd structure so that elements are taken for granted, suspense is, as it were, suspended, and characterizations can be slight because the audience for this poem already knew each character well.

The lack of suspense is evident as Ganelon is introduced, for there is no pretense that what he will do later is now already known to the audience:

     
 
 
 
    

 

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