Lanval

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"Lanval" is one of the Lais of Marie de France. Written in Anglo-Norman, it tells the story of Lanval, a knight at King Arthur's court, who is overlooked by the king, wooed by a fairy lady, given all manner of gifts by her, and subsequently refuses the advances of Queen Guinevere. The plot is complicated by Lanval's promise not to reveal the identity of his mistress, which he breaks when Guinevere accuses him of having "no desire for women". Before Arthur, Guinevere accuses Lanval of shaming her, and Arthur, in an extended judicial scene, demands that he reveal his mistress. Despite the broken promise, the fairy lover eventually appears to justify Lanval, and to take him with her to Avalon. The tale was popular, and was adapted into English as Sir Landevale, Sir Launfal, and Sir Lambewell.[1]

Historical context[edit]

During the 12th and early 13th centuries it was common for married women to have their work claimed by their husbands, but Marie de France made a strong effort to identify herself in all of her writing, possibly implying that she was not married. It is clear from her writing that Marie was highly educated and multilingual, which demonstrates a level of education that was not available to the common or poor at this time. As a result, we can gather that Marie was of noble birth, but probably, because of her marital status, had no wealth.[2]

Lanval is one of Marie's 12-lai collection. At the time of these writings, many male poets were writing lais that dealt with a high level of romantic tension. Although Marie’s writing also had a level of tension, it differed from her male colleagues because it focused more on the eternal struggle of the promises and expectations within a romantic relationship.[3] In "Lanval" the protagonist greatly struggles with his own desires and recent promises made to the unnamed woman he is deeply in love with.[4]

Marie de France began writing shortly after Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, which seems to be the base for much of the story of Arthur and his knights, who figure so prominently in this and other lais.

Analysis[edit]

Marie De France’s "Lanval" gives historians and readers alike an interesting insight into many aspects of Medieval Britain at a time when romantic storytelling was just becoming popular. In the story of "Lanval", Marie De France is able to get at the basis of the contemporary cultural norms by beginning her story with an individual, prepubescent boy.

Marie De France’s story begins with a young knight of the Arthurian court named Lanval. Lanval is a "king’s son" who feels he has great potential because of lineage, but is not treated accordingly by his fellow knights. In search of fulfilment and help from his “sorrows,” [5] Lanval saddles a horse and rides off into the forest in search of enlightenment as to the meaning of his life. Marie De France’s understanding of Lanval’s, and most adolescents’, psychology is impressive. She continues to follow this psychology and Lanval’s transition from boy to man throughout her lais, but does it in a more symbolic and cryptic form. Lanval enters the forest in search of something. The forest is a common representation of the unknown or discovery that we later see in early American literature, and that still exists today (Petersen). Once Lanval enters the forest, it is clear the forest truly represents discovery. As he enters the forest he finds a nameless woman who "[grants] him her love and her body", [6] facilitating his transition from boyhood to manhood. This transition comes strictly from finding his sexuality, which will later be threatened by the very court that caused him his previous turmoil.

By realizing the whole purpose of Lanval’s journey to the woods, and his new found sexuality we also understand the purpose of the unnamed woman. Her whole existence is based upon Lanval and awaking his sex drive. This gives great insight into how many women felt throughout this time period, but also how they were viewed: as necessary objects for the future generation. By the end of the poem Lanval’s ultimate lover still has no name. Nevertheless, she shows Lanval mercy by saving him from a terrible fate, despite his having broken his only promise to her. Many people view "Lanval" as being a rather revolutionary story for its time in regard to feminism because of the unnamed woman’s heroic ending. She saves Lanval instead of the traditional knight who saves the damsel in distress. Although this is a reasonable assumption, it is a superficial one. The mere fact that a woman, who has no name and has been betrayed, still comes to save her betrayer is not a story of feminine strength but of pure grace and mercy, two traits stereotypically attributed to women. The true strength of the woman comes from her riding up on a palfrey and putting Lanval behind her. The story ends with "No one ever heard another word of him, and I can tell no more." [7] One can’t help but wonder what consequences befell him from the unnamed woman who rode in on the minivan equivalent of a riding horse.

Allusions[edit]

This lai makes a number of references to ancient history. When describing the opulence of the fairy lady's lodgings, Marie de France describes them as being superior to those of the Assyrian queen Semiramis and the Roman emperor Octavian. Another example is Guinevere's denouncement of Lanval, which is an allusion to the story found in Genesis 39:7, where the wife of the powerful Potiphar falsely accuses Joseph of trying to seduce her against her will.[8]

"Lanval" is related to two other anonymous lais: "Graelent" and "Guingamor".[9] With "Graelent" it shares a plot structure involving a fair lover whose identity must not be revealed if her love is to be kept.

Form[edit]

The work was written in eight-syllable couplets, the standard form of French narrative verse.[10]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Colette Stévanovitch, "Enquiries into the Textual History of the Seventeenth-Century Sir Lambewell (British Library, Additional 27897)", in Palimpsests and the Literary Imagination of Medieval England, eds. Leo Carruthers, Raeleen Chai-Elsholz, Tatjana Silec. New York: Palgrave, 2011. 193-204.
  2. ^ Petersen, Zina Nibley, "Middle English, Oral (folk) and Written (clerical) and Mixed (civic)." British Literary History 1. Brigham Young University, Provo. 24 Sept. 2013. Lecture.
  3. ^ Petersen, Zina Nibley, Dr. "Middle English, Oral (folk) and Written (clerical) and Mixed (civic)." British Literary History 1. Brigham Young University, Provo. 24 Sept. 2013. Lecture.
  4. ^ Black, Joseph (2009). The Medieval period. (2. ed. ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. pp. 180–181. ISBN 9781551119656. 
  5. ^ Black, Joseph (2009). The Medieval period. (2. ed. ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. pp. 181–182. ISBN 9781551119656. 
  6. ^ Black, Joseph (2009). The Medieval period. (2. ed. ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. pp. 181–182. ISBN 9781551119656. 
  7. ^ Black, Joseph (2009). The Medieval period. (2. ed. ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. pp. 180–181. ISBN 9781551119656. 
  8. ^ Marie de France, "Les Lais de Marie de France", p. 151, traduits et annotés par Harf-Lancner, L., Livre de Poche 1990.
  9. ^ Maddox, Donald (2005). "Rewriting Marie de France: The anonymous 'Lai du conseil'". Speculum 80 (2): 399–436. doi:10.1017/s003871340000004x. 
  10. ^ "Lanval," Norton Anthology of English Literature, Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. New York, 2006.