The Woman In Arthurian Legend Essay, Research Paper
The Woman in Arthurian Legend
Sir Thomas Malory spent his twilight years weaving tangled webs of adventure, love, lust, and deceit. These stories hold their origins in the kingdom of Camelot, where the masculine figure of the Knight of the Round Table dominates. At the helm of this fraternity was King Arthur, as vassal of God. Galahad, Gaheris, Gareth, Lancelot, and Sir Bors are only a sampling of the great men that graced the seats around the great table. However, it would be careless to disregard the female characters within Arthurian Legend. Malory uses women in his tales to illustrate personal views, and the views that may have been held during the ancient times when Camelot stood proudly as a staple in the English countryside. A plethora or women tend to crop up in stories such as The Knight of the Cart, The Poisoned Apple, and The Fair Maid of Astolat. Two in particular, Lady Guinevere and Elaine prove to be particularly intriguing. With their part in their respective stories comes a new view on the feminine role in Arthurian Society. Guinevere is a symbol of temptation and power. Elaine brings with her the stereotype of young, na ve girl seeking love.
First, the character of Guinevere is as complex as they come. She offers the unique personality of the strong woman while at the same time catering to Arthur as another one of his servants. Her strength comes to the reader in an unconventional way, and is becomes apparent through her affair with Lancelot. This point may be argued, but it is plausible to claim that Lady Guinevere was responsible for her relationship with Lancelot as she sought to be his lover. Granted, Lancelot was involved and thus responsibility lies within him as well, however, Guinevere saw what she wanted, obtained it, and had her way with her husband s most prized knight. Although we find that Guinevere regrets her torrid love affair with Lancelot, her intentions at the time of action were clear. She wanted Lancelot despite her marriage to the King of England, Arthur. By the same token, Guinevere may be described at the woman who brought Camelot to its knees. By triggering the series of events following the unfaithful relationship, turmoil swept through the kingdom and it was hardly long afterward that King Arthur met his death by Mordred. Therefore, the tempting power that only a woman could possess, illustrates both the strength and the malignity that would bring the fall of Camelot.
Next, in defense of the majority of women in Arthurian Legend, Elaine of Astolat may be presented. This fair maid of Astolat symbolized the epitome of feminine na vet . When Lancelot visits the town of Astolat, he encounters his hostess, a beautiful maiden by the name of Elaine le Blanke. This young girl is hardly used to meeting strangers, since she had been surrounded by the men of her court, family, and friends for her entire life. When she sets her eyes on Lancelot, she falls in love instantly. Lancelot s charming ways and smooth dialogue do nothing to prove anything other than his mutual love for this sheltered girl and she is pushed further into the throws of emotion. She was so blinded by her one sided love for this wandering knight that she keeps his sword in a tower while Lancelot takes part in a duel. After being injured by a blow from his opponent, Elaine sees her duty in nursing the wounded Lancelot to full health. In recognition of her sincere hospitality, Lancelot grants Elaine anything that she wishes, but with one condition. Lancelot was to leave Astolat soon and Elaine would have to make her request with haste. Upon hearing that Lancelot would be departing from her presence, Elaine asks for nothing but death. Her melodramatic existence is doomed if she is to lose sight of the man who brings her divine fulfillment. This young maiden has fallen head over heels in love for a man that unfortunately does not return the sentiment. Her personality could be described with words such as flighty, dramatic, emotional, and submissive. Other women highlight these characteristics throughout Arthurian Legend. Elaine le Blanke is merely an example of Malory s attitude toward the female persona and the place of women in societal hierarchies.
It may have been a good thing that Sir Thomas Malory spent the final twenty years of his life locked up in an English prison. His attitude toward women proved to be both negative, demeaning, and at the same time, inspiring. The fair maid of Astolat is clearly less worldly, dominating, and wise as Queen Guinevere, but she offers a window into the role of the standard woman of the time. Guinevere s strength sets an example that even young women today could follow, assuming they don t pursue a love affair and break the bonds of marriage. Nonetheless, her strength and desire to procure what she seeks is respectable. In any case, women play varied, yet crucial roles in Arthurian Legend. The image of the woman is one that may be studied for ages and has it s relevance to the time period of character s lives as well as the time period of the reader.