On Monday, I posted the first part of a paper I wrote about how well Sir Lancelot meets the standards of courtly love. Here’s the second part, much shorter I’m afraid—or perhaps that’s some sighs of relief I hear? Not having written for college in a number of years, I forgot to subtract the work’s cited page from the paper’s length, so you get to enjoy a shorter post today.
So without further ado, here you are: the second half of Lancelot’s strengths and weaknesses as a lover.
Rule eighteen states that, “Good character alone makes any man worthy of love,” certainly applies to Lancelot. Throughout Chretien’s narrative, multiple women besides Guenever desire his love. The woman who offers him hospitality in exchange for sleeping with her demonstrates that she desires his love by following him on his quest for a time. Even Lancelot perceives her motives by referring to them as “lovers” when he requests she tell him the reason for her laughter. The woman who guards Lancelot for Meleagant once he has been captured also desires her prisoner’s love and even attempts to make him promise it in exchange for allowing him to attend the tournament. Lastly, the sister of Meleagant not only desires but earns his love after freeing him. All these women see the great valor with which Lancelot conducts himself as a knight, and all know of his noble character. The love of this last woman also allows him to fulfill the nineteenth rule, “If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives,” in regards to his love for Guenever.
However, Lancelot seems incapable of conforming to rule twenty. “A man in love is always apprehensive.” Lancelot is anything but apprehensive. In fact he is so relaxed and distracted that he is completely unaware of his surroundings and even reality at times, “And his thoughts are such that he becomes oblivious of himself, unaware of whether or not he exists, not remembering his name, not knowing if he is armed or not or where he is going or where he comes from.”
The rule stating that, “He whom the thought of love vexes eats and sleeps very little,” does not stop Lancelot from enjoying numerous dinners and restful nights. Chretien often goes into detail about the exemplary quality of the food Lancelot eats. Additionally, not even having a lance hurtled at him and his bed catching fire in the middle of the night seems to prevent Lancelot from appreciating a restful sleep.
Supposedly according to rule twenty-four, “Every act of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved.” The key word in this rule is “every,” and even though the majority of Lancelot’s thought are of Guenever no matter the situation, there is an instance or two where they are not. When he is asked by the woman who holds him captive why he is so sad he replies, “’Ah, my lady, in God’s name don’t be surprised that I’m miserable, for I’m truly very despondent when I can’t be where all the good in the world will be; at the tourney where the earth trembles beneath all the people gathering there.’” Although Guenever is present at this tournament, Lancelot’s sadness and desire to go are not because of her. Nor when at the tournament, does he seek her out.
“A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved,” is courtly love’s twenty-fifth rule. Lancelot clearly follows this and also rule twenty-six, “Love can deny nothing to love,” in that all his actions are based around Guenever’s pleasure. Even when given the choice to walk or to ride in the cart, he only hesitates two steps before choosing what is best for his quest to free Guenever. When he hears she desires he stop fighting Meleagant, he ceases. At the tournament, when she commands that he win, he wins and when she desires he lose, he loses. All these actions are for her pleasure.
“A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved,” rule twenty-seven, also applies to Lancelot. He wishes to be with her even when she desires to never see him again. “Lancelot accompanies her with his eyes and heart as far as the door; but for his eyes it was a short journey as the room was very close by, and they would dearly have liked to go in after her, had it been possible. His heart, with its greater seniority and authority and being far more powerful, did pass through after her while his eyes, full of tears, remained outside with his body.” Also, Chretien never tells of a time when Lancelot does not want to be near his beloved.
Rule twenty-eight, “A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved,” applies to Guenever rather than Lancelot, but still affects their relationship. Because Lancelot paused a mere two steps before getting into the cart, Guenever becomes furious with him and refuses to speak to him. This, though only a minute mistake on Lancelot’s part, is enough to make Guenever suspect his love for her.
Lancelot has no difficulty in following rule twenty-nine, “A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love.” In fact, he is most content in his passion for Guenever. When Lancelot sneaks into Guenever’s room, “All that night Lancelot experienced great joy and pleasure.” At no other point in the narrative does Chretien describe Lancelot in such terms.
As rule thirty states, “A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the though of his beloved,” it has been demonstrated before that Lancelot is completely obsessed by thoughts of Guenever. He is so overtaken by them, in fact, that he does not even notice a knight yelling at him not to enter his ford. Nor does he notice when the knight approaches and strikes him. Indeed, it is not even the blow that startles him from his thoughts but the impact of the water which he falls in.
The last rule, “Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women,” most definitely applies to Lancelot. Both Arthur and Lancelot love Guenever, and Lancelot is loved by Guenever and Meleagant’s sister simultaneously. However, this does not get in the way of a courtly love relationship. But, it does mean, according to rule seventeen, that Guenever could only love Lancelot or Arthur at one time, and that Lancelot could only love Guenever or Meleagant’s sister.
Finally, there are three rules that are not addressed in Chretien in any form: rule four, “It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing,” rule six, “Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity,” and rule ten, “Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice.” The question of how Lancelot’s love waxes or wanes is never brought up. He only insists that he loves her greatly. Chretien does not speak a single word regarding the age of maturity, nor does greed affect Lancelot or Guenever. The only character in Chretien that expresses avarice is Meleagant who is desirous of the queen, and this helps prove the validity of rule ten in that Guenever refuses to love him.
Clearly, based upon his fulfillment of these rules, Lancelot follows some of the codes of courtly love. However, because he only manages to maintain seventeen of the thirty-one, the notion that he is the epitome of courtly love seems unfounded. Based on these facts, it is difficult to see how Chretien’s Lancelot transformed into the archetype he is regarded as today.