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A Different View Of King Arthur And Queen Guinevere

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A Different View of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table have been the subjects of countless works of literature for hundreds of years. In many of these tales King Arthur is accompanied by his lovely wife, Guinevere. Not all of the Arthurian romances depict King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in the positive light that most people have become accustomed to. Thomas Chestre's Sir Launfal is one of these types of tales. This poem expresses different views on the normally idolized characters of Arthur and Guinevere while at the same time offering a comment on how people felt about the kingship in the 14th century.

King Arthur is normally portrayed as a leader who is not easily manipulated but this is not the case in Sir Launfal. A trait of a good king that Arthur usually possesses is that he is not easily influenced. Unfortunately, this is not so with the Arthur in this tale. He is easily turned against Launfal by Queen Guinevere when she accuses Launfal of coming on to her. Even though Arthur knows how loyal Launfal is to him, he still flies into a rage. This is evidenced by "King Artour was well worth, / And by god he swor his oth / That Launfal shuld be sclawe." (Sir Launfal 721-23.) Guinevere is able to persuade Arthur with her womanly charms to kill one his most trusted knights. This is not an act that would be expected from the noble and loyal King Arthur without first investigating to get to the truth of the matter.

Another trait of good leader that King Arthur normally possesses but does not in Sir Launfal is decisiveness. Arthur is in a rage over what Launfal had supposedly proposed to Guinevere but he still will not punish him without the consent of his council. When Guinevere lies to Arthur about what really happened between her and Launfal, Arthur is outraged and calls for Launfal's head. Arthur, as king, does not need anyone's approval for action but in this instance Arthur felt he needed the approval of his council. Arthur then called his Council together and demanded them "To yeve jugement on Launfal / And dampni him to sclo" (Sir Launfal 836-37.) When Arthur asks for their answer the council tells him to wait, so he did. He did not order Launfal to be killed, as was his right. This is a far cry from the Arthur in Chrйtien de Troyes tale of Eric and Enid. When Sir Gawain questioned one of Arthur's demands, Arthur states, "Nevertheless I shall not renounce my plan on that account. The word of the king should not be contradicted." (Eric and Enide p.2)

The normally true and good natured Guinevere is seen as an evil and vindictive shrew in the tale of Sir Launfal. In tales such as Chrйtien's Eric and Enide or The Knight of the Cart, Guinevere is the epitome of what a woman should be. She is beautiful, wise, motherly, and possesses so many other wonderful traits it would be impossible to name them all. In Eric and Enid, she demonstrates motherly pride and love towards Enide even though they just met. The queen gives Enide a gorgeous dress and many other fine gifts and "Delight filled the Queen because she loved the maiden and took such satisfaction in her beauty and in her manners." (Eric and Enide p.22) On the other hand, in the tale of Sir Launfal, she gives gifts to all of the knights except Launfal because she knew that Launfal was against the king marrying her. This caused the loyal Sir Launfal to leave Arthur's court: "But Sir Launfal she yaf nothing; / That grevede him many a sithe. / And whan the bridale was at ende, / Launfal tok his leve to wende" (Sir Launfal 71-74.) Another way that Guinevere reveals her spitefulness is when she does not receive Launfal's love in return for her own. She then mocks him and retires to her apartment where she awaits Arthur's return. She mocks Launfal by calling him a coward and saying "Thou lovyst no woman, ne no woman thee / Thou were worthy forlore!" (Sir Launfal 689-90.) When Arthur arrives, she lies to him and tells him that Launfal attempted to seduce her, "I spak to Launfal in my game, / And he besoghte me of shame; / My lemman for to be;" (Sir Launfal 715-17.) Then she demands Arthur to exact revenge on Launfal for disrespecting and humiliating her. In this part of the poem, Guinevere demonstrated how vindictive she could be if she did not get what she desired. These are just a few examples of how Guinevere's evil nature was brought to light.

Queen Guinevere's infidelity is often romanticized in Arthurian Romances but in Sir Launfal it turns her into the villain.



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