Courtly Contradictions: A Case for Guenevere

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Natania Johanne Barron (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Denise Baker

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to examine unusual characterizations of Guenevere in the Arthurian tradition relating to the tensions between courtly love, chivalry, and Christianity. Texts are drawn from the medieval and Victorian periods and include works from Marie de France, Thomas Chestre, and William Morris. Part one of the paper involves the intertextual relationships between Marie de France's twelfth century "Lai de Lanval" and Thomas Chestre's fifteenth century retelling. Variances in the characterizations of Guenevere are examined and a pattern begins to emerge. While Marie de France's Guenevere is sympathetic from a courtly point of view, Chestre's rewriting significantly magnifies the character's shortcomings, resulting in a more brutal treatment of the queen in the text. Marie de France's Guenevere, then, appears as a courtly failure while Chestre's is a chivalric failure. Morris, writing some four hundred years after Chestre, and working from a direct influence by Malory, recasts Guenevere in two poems, "The Defence of Guenevere" and "King Arthur's Tomb". His treatment utilizes a dramatic form with minimal commentary. The two poems further illustrate tensions inherent in Guenevere's life; the former depicting a victory of courtly love over chivalric loyalty, and the latter of Christianity over courtly love. Ultimately, Guenevere chooses Christianity, and as such, reclaims her own autonomy and agency.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2007
Guenevere, Arthur, Arthurian, Women in Arthur, Intertextual Medieval, William Morris

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