Sir Orfeo (T Feb. 5)

Do you think the castle in Sir Orfeo is representative of some sort of Limbo? Many of the captives held in the castle were dead or dying, how do you think they ended up there? Do you think the king saved their lives or caused their injuries? Also, why do you think some people were injured, while at least 60 women were spared? What could this mean within the context of the plot?

11 thoughts on “Sir Orfeo (T Feb. 5)

  1. It is an interesting musing to think of the castle as some sort of limbo or perhaps even a purgatory, and I am inclined to agree based on the mental state of those touched within, and even more so to the forgetfulness of the subjects. When Orfeo returns home he tests his most loyal subject and the man passes, “King Orfeo knewe wele bi than his steward was a true man”(554-555). This shows a clear sense of testing whether one is ready to ascend and be true much like the status of purgatory. It seems that perhaps this sort of judgement, for better or worse, is why some people are harmed and some are “saved” throughout the story. In the romance mode it seems that a test and judgement are essential pieces to the genre, much like the setting in Sir Orfeo.

  2. I think it does represent some sort of Limbo, but I do not think the king caused their injuries. Some are natural injuries such as dying in child-birth: “Wives ther laye on child-bedde” (399). He does not save them from dying in the real world, but saves them by letting them live in the fairy world. Also, since Heurodis is one of those women who rides about and is also seen under the same tree she slept when she became mad, it seems that there are sort of two of her: one as she was on earth and another as servant of the king. Though Orfeo sees these people in the gates as they were when their real lives ended ( “And some astrangled as they ete,/And some were in watre adreint” ) they also have a sort of after-life in the fairy world and have become servants of the king without the effects of their injuries (395-396).

  3. I am inclined to agree with Justin in interpreting the castle as a kind of purgatory, a sort of limbo between reality and the afterlife. Purgatory, by definition, is the state of temporal punishment for those who have died under the grace of God but still remain impure, and thus cannot enter into heaven. It’s this metaphysical waiting room for souls anticipating proper cleansing and final admittance into the heavens. If we read the description of the scene given by the narrator from lines 387-404, we get images of madness and delusional mentality, physical disfigurement and deterioration. Souls that are effectively stuck between a literal reality and a figurative afterlife as, “Sum ded and sum awedde, / And wonder fele ther lay bisides / Right as thai slepe her undertides” (400-402). Fundamentally, this is purgatory. These are beings who have, presumably, died under the grace of God and now suffer as they await a purification process to enter into the afterlife. They are physically maimed and of unsound mind, thus unfit to move forward and destined to remain in the King’s estate. Bearing all of that in mind, I don’t believe that the King saved their lives nor caused their injuries, but rather acts as a rest stop between two destinations, holding souls in suspension of either reality. I believe that the level of injury for each character depends on how their lives ended, such as, “Armed on hors sete” or “Astrangled as thai ete” (395, 396). Within the context of the plot this means that everyone’s fate is different and that we can never depend on circumstance to get us into heaven. Life and fate will always do as they please and we are subsequently subject to the forces of both entities.

  4. My response is yes and no. I disagree that the entire castle is representing purgatory, or a limbo state. In the introduction, it is mentioned that of Sir Orpheus’s “plot structure and main characters mirror those of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice” (pg. 149), where Orpheus must rescue Eurydice from Hades, or rather hell. My belief is that the King’s castle personifies all of Hades, with the different rooms and floors in the castle representing the different levels of Hades. Orpheus sees all of these people in the King’s main hall, where the King would be receiving those who came to him. It’s possible that the Great Hall symbolized the limbo state where it was decided whether the people could leave or move farther into the castle and receive a permanent room.

  5. I do not see the castle as a sort of limbo, but more like a zoo. I believe that the king did in fact injure all of those people, just as he “crached hir visage” (80), her being Heurodis. This leads to the inference that he salvaged these people to be his ‘personal play things’ both for entertainment and for amusement. There were 60 women who were spared, but it does not say whether or not these women were somehow different. It is possible that the women were of higher classification, or even supernatural. If this were the case, this would be the reason for the sparing of these 60 women. This could also mean that, even though Sir Orfeo holds Heurodis in high esteem, she is not necessarily the most beautiful woman alive as stated by Sir Orfeo.

  6. I agree with Sarah in that the castle of the fairy king resembles less of a limbo and more of a hell. Just as Sarah mentioned, Sir Orfeo draws heavily from the Greek story of Orpheus and Eurydice. This would parallel the castle to Hell, the fairy king to Hades, and Sir Orfeo and his queen to Orpheus and Eurydice. Interestingly enough I view another setting in the story more representative of limbo than the castle. When Sir Orfeo first lays his eyes upon his queen after leaving his kingdom she is standing at a river (lines 305-322). In Greek mythology the Styx River separates the living Earth from the dead in Hell. In this sense the river is more like a state of limbo than the castle in that Sir Orfeo most pass it to reach the land of the fairy king, a figurative hell.

  7. I agree with what a lot of the other students said. I believe it is limbo or purgatory. But I also do see it as hell. Which to me can lend an interesting idea, that instead of it being our modern day perception of hell, it is instead the people who are in the stories hell. The underworld described in this story is not the one we are use to in modern day, there is no eternal fire and what not. Also, the 60 women that were saved could represent a number of ideals. It could mean that these women were summoned there, rather then forced. It could should that these women are special for a certain reason. Sir Orfeo even stated that Heurodis was the most beautiful woman alive. So maybe these women have a supernatural or are of an importance to the king.

  8. After reading this question, I took some time to really think about it before deciding on my respond. I find the idea of the king’s castle being a sort of purgatory for wandering souls, but I agree with the other students when they mentioned how it resembles a sort of Hell. As I was reading Sir Orfeo, I was thinking of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and how they relate– both include men going through trials in order to save their love. Also, I feel as though the people who are trapped in the castle are miserable souls. Line 400 says “Sum deed and sum awedde.” I would not think of someone as being “driven mad” in purgatory, but in Hell? Definitely. Also, Kathryn is right, this version of Hell is not a Hell of fire like the Hell we are used to, but a Hell of torment, emptiness, and entrapment.

  9. The castle is very purgatory-esque. I can’t see any indications that the King caused the dead and dying people to be there, but more so allowed them to choose their fate, and they chose this delusional half life half death mixture in the castle.The injuries are due to deaths due to injury, but the women died due to complications from birth.

  10. Since we are discussing the castle as being part of Heaven or Hell, is interesting that the castle is described as wonderful and light; in fact to Orfeo it seems “The proude court of Paradis” (line 154). However, despite the glorious surroundings, the internal state of the castle and of the people therein sharply contrasts. They bear disfigurements that probably reflect the circumstances of their near-deaths. Furthermore, Herodis is forced to come to the fairy’s land; she is given no choice in the matter. However, there is clearly a difference between the role of the disfigured people and the sixty ladies. Regarding the disfigured people, the castle is definitely some kind of afterlife, perhaps just the default where those who are “thought dede, and nare nought” are brought (line 390). If they are not dead, this cannot be a true Hell. I think I have to agree that it is a sort of Limbo where, as Matthew mentions, people are half dead and half alive. Furthermore, the women are allowed to leave, and they certainly do not seem to be dead or suffering. I am not so sure that we can simply categorize the castle into the Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, or Limbo; but I think it would most closely fit a vague concept of Limbo.

  11. I do not think that the castle was in any sort of limbo, or afterlife, because if I read the story correctly, Orfeo was able to walk there and stumbled upon this castle during his voyage to nowhere, because he did not leave his kingdom to find his wife. I just read it as a different land in the setting, Fairy Land, as the King of Fairies resided there. I think that the dying creatures found there where people, woman especially, frozen at the time of the attack, and maybe the King abducted them and kept them in the form which they were taken, not aging, to have beautiful women there? I am not really sure, because there is no indication that he the King of Fairies has any sexual desire towards them. I also think that the King designed their injuries, maybe some of their injuries were due to the individual not coming with the King in the first place? I don’t the reasoning behind the King’s actions actually add to the plot very much becasue the poem is centered around Sir Orfeo and his steadfastness and quick wit with the King, but maybe I am having a very flat reading of the poem in general.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>