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, along with knowing Latin, French and we are not certain but probably even Breton, 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] With the idea of her being of noble birth is consider that she might have been the illegitimate sister of Henry II.[3]

In the time of the 13th century, the land borders were not the same as they are today, therefore one cannot assume that Marie de France wrote the story while living in France. It is believed that she was from Continental Europe rather than England because of her choice of language. She used Norman dialects in her writing which suggests that she was originally from Normandy.[4]

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.They are primarily concerned with the theme of love and courtliness, and as such the heroes are usually knights or aristocratic ladies.[5] 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.[6] This poem is unique because it deals with love between a Man and a Women which is something new because most of the written poems that were saved were one that talked about a love that a Man would have for his leaders, whether is be his captain, overlord or King. In this poem we see a change in view along with an introduction to a female who can almost be seen as the white knight riding in to save the day. Which was unusually for this time period.[7] While she does this she makes little attempt to present a coherent message throughout the poems. Each poem considers a different element of love and life, but certain themes do resonate throughout.[8] In "Lanval" the protagonist greatly struggles with his own desires and recent promises made to the unnamed woman he is deeply in love with.[9]

Marie de France began writing shortly after Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (written around 1138),[10] 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. Geoffrey had laid out the main lines of legend for the Middle Ages, emphasizing Arthur as a King ruling over a unified Britain. Whereas Marie de France is more modest in depicting him as defending his own borders.[11]

Characters[edit]

Lanval - The main protagonist in this story. He is a soldier who is under the command of King Arthur. Lanval goes to a meadow and finds the most beautiful Lady that he had ever seen and falls in love with her at first sight. He makes a promise to her to keep their relationship a secret, which he breaks when the queen tries to seduce him and he refuses.

Unnamed women/Lady - In Lanval this Lady is never given a name but is described as being the most beautiful lady that anyone has ever seen. She falls in love with Lanval and ends up being the hero in the story because she saves Lanval from punishment from the King. When she arrives to save Lanval, he get up on her horse and they ride off into the sunset.

King Arthur - King Arthur, leader of the army, has to punish Lanval because his wife accused Lanval of seducing her. He knows that Lanval is a good man, and doesn't want to hurt him. He is happy to see the Lady appear to save Lanval.

The Queen - She sees Lanval while looking out a window and attempts to seduce him, which he refuses, making the Queen angry. The Queen has her revenge when she goes to her husband the King and tells lies about Lanval.

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. He is a knight possessed of great qualities including both beauty and valor, and as a result is envied by many other knights who would not have grieved had he suffered misfortune. Arthur never grants him anything, despite his loyal service, and neither do the other knights make any effort to help him. As he was born far away and has long since spent his inheritance, Lanval lives a sad, lonely life.[12] In search of fulfillment and help from his “sorrows,” [13] 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 (Peterson). 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",[14] 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." [15] One can’t help but wonder what consequences befell him from the unnamed woman who rode in on the medieval equivalent of a riding horse.

Lanval has a fairy-tale like simplicity, and leaves the realm of reality for a “happily ever after.” Avalon remains the utopic place accessed only through rejection of and by the real world. As readers of Lanval in the twenty-first century, we only have one reaction: Happiness, and maybe relief at the justice the story offers Lanval.[16]

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.[17]

"Lanval" is related to two other anonymous lais: "Graelent" and "Guingamor".[18] With "Graelent" it shares a plot structure involving a fair lover whose identity must not be revealed if her love is to be kept.

The idea of the women being more beautiful then any other women is an allusion to her being a fairy. Which in this story shows that this story is more fairy tale then factual. [19]

Form[edit]

The work was written in eight-syllable couplets, the standard form of French narrative verse.[20]

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. ^ Black, Joseph (2012). The Medieval period. (2. ed. ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. pp. 110–112. ISBN 9781551119656. 
  4. ^ Black, Joseph (2012). The Medieval period. (2. ed. ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. pp. 110–112. ISBN 9781551119656. 
  5. ^ http://www.gradesaver.com/the-lais-of-marie-de-france/study-guide/short-summary/
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Petersen, Zina Nibley, Dr. "Middle English, Oral (folk) and Written (clerical) and Mixed (civic)." British Literary History 1. Brigham Young University, Provo. Sept. 2014. Lecture.
  8. ^ http://www.gradesaver.com/the-lais-of-marie-de-france/study-guide/short-summary/
  9. ^ Black, Joseph (2009). The Medieval period. (2. ed. ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. pp. 180–181. ISBN 9781551119656. 
  10. ^ http://people.clas.ufl.edu/jshoaf/files/lanval.pdf
  11. ^ http://people.clas.ufl.edu/jshoaf/files/lanval.pdf
  12. ^ http://www.gradesaver.com/the-lais-of-marie-de-france/study-guide/section6/
  13. ^ Black, Joseph (2009). The Medieval period. (2. ed. ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. pp. 181–182. ISBN 9781551119656. 
  14. ^ Black, Joseph (2009). The Medieval period. (2. ed. ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. pp. 181–182. ISBN 9781551119656. 
  15. ^ Black, Joseph (2009). The Medieval period. (2. ed. ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press. pp. 180–181. ISBN 9781551119656. 
  16. ^ Finding Avalon: The Place and Meaning of the Otherworld in Marie de France's Lanval - Springer (Finding Avalon: The Place and Meaning of the Otherworld in Marie de France's Lanval - Springer) http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11061-013-9365-1#
  17. ^ Marie de France, "Les Lais de Marie de France", p. 151, traduits et annotés par Harf-Lancner, L., Livre de Poche 1990.
  18. ^ Maddox, Donald (2005). "Rewriting Marie de France: The anonymous 'Lai du conseil'". Speculum 80 (2): 399–436. doi:10.1017/s003871340000004x. 
  19. ^ http://www.illinoismedieval.org/ems/VOL4/donagher.html
  20. ^ "Lanval," Norton Anthology of English Literature, Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. New York, 2006.