Evaluation of the Conceptualized Tradition of Love Depicted In Medieval Writing and Arthurian Folk Tales

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Everyone has heard a story about a young, handsome, and virtuous man who sets out on a quest to either save or win the heart of a young and beautiful woman. This type of story is known as a tale of courtly love. The Theme of courtly love is very common in medieval literature and especially in Arthurian legends. Most of these medieval tales of courtly love centered around a knight in shining armor that would go to extreme lengths to prove his worthiness to a beautiful young woman. Chivalry and nobility are two of the prominent themes in stories of courtly love. Marie de France, one of the few female authors that were credited for their work during this era, wrote a lai titled Lanval that does not fit the tradition mold of courtly love that was common in her time. Through my analysis of Lanval and the use of the tale of Gareth, a more traditional tale of courtly love, I will show how the story of Lanval does not fit the typical structure of a tale of courtly love.

In a way this story follows the typical courtly love pretty well except the roles of the man and the woman are reversed in this story. It is the brave and handsome knight that is pursued by the beautiful woman. This is evident when the fairy says, “Sweet love, because of you I have come from my land; I came to seek you from far away” (de France, 156). Not only is she the one, who sought him out but also, she is the one who is proving her love to him through gifts and service. Another way the roles are reversed is that it is Lanval who submits to the authority of the fairy out of love. Typically once the knight in shining armor has won the heart of the young maiden she submits herself to him, however it is Lanval who tells the fairy, “If such joy might be mine that you would love me, there is nothing that you might command, within my power, that I would not do for you, whether foolish or wise” (de France, 156). In the male dominated society of the medieval era this idea of a man submitting completely to a woman was very uncommon. In many tales of courtly romance the man must go out and do a great act of heroism to save the woman from some great threat, like a dragon or a wizard. In Lanval it is the fairy that rides in on a white horse to save Lanval from the wrath of queen Guinevere. The story of Lanval has altered the traditional roles of a courtly love story. Instead of having a knight in shining armor and a damsel in distress Lanval Has a damsel in shining armor, and a knight in distress.

It would not be hard to argue that Sir Gareth is the ideal knight in shining armor. First off Gareth looks the part, he is described as handsome and fair at the beginning of the tale. Someone would have to search quite a few round tables to find a knight that embodies the idea of chivalry better than Sir Gareth. The knight’s code of chivalry holds Arthurian Knights to a high code of honor that at times seems paradoxical. A chivalrous knight must be bold, brave, and fierce on the battlefield, but loving, humble, and gentle when serving a woman. Gareth fights his way through knight after knight in this tale, yet he allows Lynet to mock and belittle him for most of the time they are on his journey together. Then after all that he has already done for Lynet Gareth still has to serve Lynet for a year and win a tournament in order to win her affection. It is not the fact that he does all of this that makes Gareth the ideal knight in shining armor, but the fact that he does it all with humility and chivalry. Gareth clearly fills the stereotypical male role in a tale of courtly love.

Jack Parsley

Lanval and Courtly Love

Lanval and Gareth have a lot of similarities in these two stories. Both knights are described as handsome, kind and, virtuous men. Lanval and Gareth both had to work to earn the respect of their fellow knight. Despite both of them being handsome and kind neither of them had fallen in love prior to the tales they were in. In the beginning of his tale Lanval was a foreigner and a loner who was not well liked by the other knights. Gareth was ridiculed and mocked by the knights shortly before becoming one, and his reputation revolved around his “pretty hands” and being a kitchen boy. Lanval and Gareth had several differences as well. Lanval was the opposite of an archetypal knight in shining armor while Gareth embodied everything about being a good and chivalrous knight. Gareth had to defeat evil knights, fight off thieves, fight in a tournament, and give a year of service, to earn the love of Lynet. Lanval had the love of the fairy lady offered to him on a silver platter. In addition to being pursued by his love Lanval was also spoiled with gifts from her. These two knights have very similar personalities, but they are in extremely different situations. If Lanval had been written into a traditional tale of courtly love I have no doubt that he would have made a great knight in shining armor. If a beautiful and powerful fairy woman had sought after Gareth, I believe that he too would have acted in a very similar way to Lanval. Ultimately it was the plot that provided the differences between these two very similar characters.

Lanval is not your typical Arthurian legend so I will use the tale of Gareth from Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. The tale of Gareth begins with Gareth arriving at King Arthur’s Pentecost feast as an unknown guest. Gareth is mocked for his appearance and is called “Beaumains” or pretty hands. Gareth does not get offended by the mocking and does not get offended by being forced to go and help in the kitchen. A young damsel named Lynet arrives in King Arthur’s court and asks Arthur to send knights to help save her sister who’s castle is under attack from the Red Knight. Arthur refuses to send any knights to help the young damsel, but Gareth asks Arthur to send him on this mission and he asks to be knighted by Sir Lancelot. Arthur agrees to these requests and makes Gareth a knight and sends him away with Lynet. Lynet is not pleased that she is being send off with only the help of this kitchen boy. Lynet abuses Gareth throughout all the trials they face on the way to save Lynet’s sister. These trials included fighting off thieves, fighting the Black Knight, fighting the Green Night, and finally fighting the Red Knight. It is not until Gareth defeats the Red Knight that Lynet grows fond of him, but in order for him to prove his love for her he must serve her faithfully for a year. At the end of his year of service Gareth and Lynet plan a tournament for Gareth to win the hand of Lynet. Gareth fights his way through several knights in this tournament and then goes on to marry Lynet.

Marie de France wrote the tale of one of the lesser know knights in King Arthur’s court, Lanval. Lanval is the son of a king from a land far away. Lanval could actually play the role of the knight in shining armor or prince charming very well if Marie de France had written this story differently. At the beginning of the story Marie de France states, “For his valor, for his generosity and his bravery, most men envied him” (de France, 154). Despite Lanval being described as the kind of man that any woman at the time would have loved to be pursued by, the handsome and charming prince is not the hero of this story. Lanval is lonely and not treated well in King Author’s court. Lanval’s loneliness ends when he meets a beautiful and powerful fairy in the woods. She pursues him and spoils him with riches in order to win his affection. Lanval has everything he has ever wanted but there is one catch, he cannot tell anyone about his love. Lanval’s inability to keep his love a secret is what causes the main conflict of the story. Queen Guinevere recognizes some changes in Lanval’s behavior after he falls in love, and she thinks that these changes have made him much more desirable. The Queen decides to try and seduce Lanval and after he refuses she accuses Lanval of having no desire for women. This gets under his skin and gets him to say that not only is Guinevere not as beautiful his mistress, but she is not even as beautiful as the servants of his mistress. This causes two problems, he has broken his promise to the fairy to keep their love a secret, and he has insulted the most powerful woman in the kingdom. The queen, enraged by Lanval’s comments, goes to Arthur and gets Lanval put on trial for insulting the queen. Lanval has to either prove that his love is as beautiful as he says or he will be punished. Even though Lanval broke his promise his promise the fairy comes in a reveals herself to the court. Once Lanval’s love is in the court King Arthur can clearly see that she is as beautiful as Lanval described and he clears Lanval of the charges. After that the two of them ride off on her horse into Avalun, the land of the fairies.

While the two knights are very similar characters the ladies they loved were not. The fairy lady that won Lanval’s heart is very different than most ladies in Arthurian Legends. The fairy lady is strong, independent, powerful, and virtuous. These are a lot of the same categories that would usually be associated with the heroes of the legends. Lynet falls into a more typical female role for the time. Lynet is completely dependent on Gareth to save her kingdom. Lynet is also not kindhearted or sweet at first to her knight in shining armor. She makes Gareth work hard to earn her affection and she does not treat him well while works to earn that affection. Lynet is a pretty good example of a damsel in distress while she does not have a whole lot of substance to her character. There is another type of lady in these Arthurian legends that I think deserves mention, Queen Guinevere. Guinevere is powerful like the fairy lady but does not appear as virtuous. Guinevere tries to seduce Lanval and after he refuses her advance tries to get him killed for insulting her beauty. Guinevere sometimes plays the role of damsel in distress and Arthur or another knight must come and save her. Guinevere also helps to highlight another theme in courtly love that it is acceptable to commit adultery if it is out of love. Guinevere does not commit adultery with Lanval in this tale but she sleeps with Sir Lancelot in several other legends. Guinevere and Lynet were typically how women were portrayed in medieval literature and the fairy lady was something of an anomaly.

The attitude towards courtly love in Lanval isn’t necessarily negative. Marie de France isn’t trying to attack the idea of courtly love and she still highlights nobility and chivalry in her story, but she is ultimately trying to say that both men and women can play either role. If I had to define her attitude towards courtly love I would define it as progressively feministic. Being one of the few female writers of the time to actually get credit for her work it would not be a stretch of the imagination to assume that Marie de France wanted to advance the role of women in literature. Marie herself was progressing the role of women in literature so it makes sense that she would use a strong female character in her story to help advance the role of women in literature.

Lanval is far from your typical tale of courtly love because the roles of man and the woman are reversed, but Lanval still has several similarities to typical Arthurian legends like the tale of Gareth. Marie de France still portrayed the ideas of chivalry and honor in her tale while still promoting the role of women in literature. I believe Marie de France was trying to show that courtly love could come in a nontraditional form.

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