Romantic works of the Arthurian age have existed over a number of eons tracing back to quite a number of languages native to the writers that immortalized the tales, this including Welsh, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Scandinavian. Medieval romance is defined by the ideals that stood out from the tales including the romance, honor, loyalty and the moral authority as well as it explicated the social order which left a lot to be desired of the position of feminism in the society. Marie de France perhaps the only female write of her time has quite a number of Arthurian tales to her name up to including Equitan, Le Fresne, Bisclavret, Larval, Yonec, Laustic, Chaitivel and Chevrefoil. Her two works, Lanval and Cheverefoil, which elicit the position of feminism when juxtaposed with Sir Gawain and the green knight, transform the perception of Arthurian Romance especially in context of the portrayal of the feminine figure.
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th-century Middle English alliterative romance that outlines an adventure of Sir Gawain, a knight of the round table of King Arthur. In the tale, the challenge from a mysterious warrior is accepted by sir Gawain. The warrior looks completely green from his clothes and hair to his beards and skin. He audaciously offers the knights a challenge for one who would chop off his head for a similar fate ten months later and when they are reluctant incites them by calling Arthur’s Knights cowards. Sir Gawain then takes the challenge bravely and honorably. The comparison Marie de France's lais "Lanval" and "Chevrefoil" to "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" in terms of medieval concept of romance and the role of women/femininity offers an inkling to feminine traditional roles throughout history as to submit herself to the husband, maker of home and cast in the part of ‘seen but not heard’. But quite on the contrary women have been seen as exceptional in some illustrations from the stories coming out as strong characters that directly influence men. They reverberate the chauvinistic fear of the interpretations of why Knights often was fighting over courtly love and their ladies. “Love,' she said, 'I admonish you now, I command and beg you, do not let any man know about this...”. Women although generally seen as the weaker sex always garnered a subliminal wand of control over their men.
The romantic tales also apparently make it is oblivious of what the medieval concept of what the feminine figure represented and the role they played in the society. In the medieval literature, the role played by female often is a representation of many familiar traits and characteristics which the society still preserves. The issue of beauty, grace, attractiveness, loyalty and honesty almost completely exemplify the powerful attributes of women in both present and in the past. In medieval literature it separates the traits of women into distinct roles of women in the society. Women are seen to be the greatest gift to mankind revealing every thing that is good, beautiful and pure in the life. They are portrayed to share earnest love and pure honesty. Here Marie de France depicts her characters so. In Lanval and Cheverefoil the female characters are true to what their convictions, eliciting the deep feelings like love and loyalty regardless of the insinuated repercussions.
Women were seen as possessions of their men and were thus required to show loyalty. This is what the writers sought to capture whether compelled or not the female characters espoused loyalty. In Marie de France Chevrefoil and the Lanval, loyalty even to Tristan is shown by the queen as well as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the same kind of loyalty and honor can be seen when the ladies and damsels grieved for him, since they believed Gawain was going to his death. Whilst Chevrefoil portrays honor and loyalty of the queen to the cause of love and her lover Tristan, which is noble, Lanval showed both loyalty and honor. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight there are women who show loyalty yet he also points out to others who are quite the contrary like Bertilak’s wife’s attempt to woo the good knight Gawain.
The feminine figure is basically outlined in the traditional archetype and feminine roles of home making and country love. Women are expected to embody the ideals and morality which is associated with biblical Virgin Mary and seeks to have them profess complete and earnest loyalty to God and their husbands and they are not allowed to think for their own leave alone love the men they choose to. Like the queen who was in love with Tristan was denied the pleasure of her own choice and Sir Gawain would have probably passed as Bertilak’s wife’s choice.
On the flip side most women are compared to everything that is harmful and evil, that creates a witch-like or qualities that are temptress for the character; In medieval concept of romance, the fear that women can control men or go out of character and demolish social order or even be harbingers of tragedy like ancient Helen of Troy or Eve and the fall of man, the women are feared and loved at the same breath. Women are thus seen in two aspect showing that the power of women is depicted through evil and good. Marie de France reveals disloyalty and dishonor in the Chevrefoil via the deeds of Tristan and queen Ysolt. The king’s nephew, Tristran and the Queen loved each other so much. “King Mark was full of angry spite / at his nephew Tristran because the knight / Loved the Queen” (Marie, 156). By loving Queen so much, Tristran and especially Ysolt do not only dishonor the king, but also shows his disloyalty to the societal institution of marriage. On the other hand it is seen that Queen Ysolt shows her disloyalty and dishonor to her husband who is the king by loving Tristan. Under the same connection, the lovers show disloyalty to each other by keeping the love that is forbidden a live. This shows that women have played the part of disloyalty and dishonor in the society.
These characters are what the stories especially sir Gawain and the Green knight make so apparent. Women are seen as dubious schemers and able to bring about the ruining of the men. Bertilak’s wife is a classical example when she, on countless occasions’ tries to woo sir Gawain who is an embodiment of honor and chastity and by his designs he manages to keep her advances at bay. Morgan is instigator and is strong enough to move into the castle of Bertillon, turn him green and orders him to walk and talk. The women are seen as the object of perversion of the society as they drive men to deeds that are in fact unimaginable as Tristan betraying his own uncle and the king just for the love of the queen who entertains his advances. They are allayed as the biblical insinuations for instance Eve, Delilah, Bathsheba and other women who similarly delude men into sin and destruction. Eve in medieval times represented the symbol of lust and the dangers of the flesh, taking all the blame for the fall of mankind (William 188).
In conclusion, women are seen in different perspectives as being evil and dishonorably and also being good and honorable. They are the greatest gift to man yet are the main reason man falters in most instances. Men in trying to explain their vulnerability to women and their downfall over several instances have come to label the women as temptresses and possession hypnotic witch like qualities that baffle men to their damnation. The medieval chauvinistic prejudices are portrayed in the poems which show the attitudes of medieval romance towards feminism and perception of women in society. In the three poems, the concept of romance, the two aspects shows that the power of women is depicted through evil and good.
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