March 3: Sir Degrevant Part 2

Melidor’s maid tries to convince Melidor to love Sir Degrevant by listing his strengths: he is handsome, wealthy, and generous. Although Sir Degrevant sounds like a great guy to me, Melidor shuns his advances until he proves his battle prowess by winning the joust and duel against the Duke of Gerle.

What does this say about Melidor’s idea of love specifically? What does it say about the reasons to fall love in the early 15th century vs modern reasons to fall in love?

9 thoughts on “March 3: Sir Degrevant Part 2

  1. I struggled with this idea as well. Melidor seems trapped between her growing desire for Degrevant and her self-protective instinct. Like Launfal, I think she is really operating within her own societal constraints, mainly the choice between which man will protect her reputation as well her physical body. I don’t think that she had the luxury of deciding based on looks or even valor unless those attributes could somehow secure the other facets of her life. To defy her father could be dangerous, and the poem also mentioned that she had other powerful suitors. It wasn’t until Degrevant rose to the top of the list by besting the duke that she really seemed to consider him a viable option. I don’t think most of us still live under similar restraints. Sure, our parents opinions matter because they affect our ultimate happiness, but I don’t think they carry the same kind of weight or consequence that they did during this time. Love and marriage were not concepts that were joined in the same way, I think. It was more of a duty to love the person you married and commit your attentions to them rather than marrying just because you really liked them as a person. Melidor was likely deciding who she would have to rely on for a secure life.

  2. I agree with Kaleb. I also think this “duel” is necessary merely as a trope of the medieval romantic genre. How romantic would it be if Sir Degrevant confessed his love for Melidor and she responded like, “Okay, yeah, I love you too.”? Not very. Instead he has to prove his devotion to her, fight for her, and ultimately win her over with his jousting skills and macho manliness. Melidor is vulnerable simply because she is a woman; if she is to leave her father’s care and marry, it is natural for her to want to make sure that her potential husband is someone who is willing and able to protect her and defend her honor. So perhaps the issue is less about love and more about protection. Futhermore, decent dueling abilities were vital to chivalry; and chivalry is vital to Arthurian romance. So not only does this joust fit in perfectly with Melidor’s expectations of a chivalric suitor, it aligns the text with topoi of the genre as well.

  3. In this story, Melidor resists Sir Degrevant’s seduction and does not pursue his favor until after his battle with the Duke of Gerle. This decision reflects love as a social operation for Melidor, who can be seen as an archetypal mistress around which the aristocracy’s betrothal process is demonstrated. Melidor is initially offended by Sir Degrevant’s pursuits because her father has already chosen the Duke of Gerle as a husband, so Sir Degrevant is trying to circumvent a process dictated by familial formality. However, an even larger part of the betrothal process is the medieval love for elaborate pageantry. It is not enough for the Duke to accept the earl’s decision; he must ceremoniously demonstrate his worth to Melidor by hosting a jousting tournament. It may seem odd that the Duke would put the marriage at stake, but consider the poem’s ending. When Sir Degrevant and Melidor recognize their love for one another, the poem goes on to describe the pageantry of their wedding and the importance of their love’s recognition from others, rather than celebrating the exclusivity of a one-to-one marriage. Thus, love is recognized in the remnants of medieval culture when the relationship is made into a public spectacle for all to enjoy. This cultural element allows Sir Degrevant to re-enter the process via the jousting tournament, and he is able to replace the Duke.

  4. I think one thing to consider about Melidor’s reluctance to submit (I use that word intentionally) to Sir Degrevant is her relationship to her father, the Earl. Although Degrevant is certainly a powerful and wealthy man, Melidor is under the care of her father, whom still believes he is superior to Sir Degrevant. As a woman in this time period, I can only imagine that Melidor’s is completely at the will of the patriarchal system that surrounds her. Until Degrevant can prove his undeniable masculinity in combat with the Duke, Melidor was probably unconvinced of Degrevant’s identity as a man, considering how lenient he was with the Earl, and how caring and compassionate he has acted towards Melidor and her maids. Although such gentlemanly traits are desirable, a knight must ultimately prove his worth on the battlefield to prove his worth as a man.

  5. In my opinion, the concept of love has been pretty shallow in the romances we’ve read. The man and woman always fall in love at first sight, without even speaking. Though, I think the duel in Sir Degrevant can be attributed to the romantic aspect of the story. It’s very typical for stories like this, so I don’t really think that it’s a reflection of vanity or shallowness on her part. With all this being said, I think it’s respectable in some ways how Melidor kind of plays hard to get with Sir Degrevant. Usually in medieval romances, the man would confess his love and then the woman would follow suit and sleep with him and then marry him. Or, with Bertilak’s wife or Gwennevere in Sir Launfal, the woman tries to seduce the heroes and lead them away from their knightly duties. So I thought it was a little refreshing that Melidor waited to be impressed before falling for Degrevant, and waited to sleep with him until after they were married. This gives some insight to the possibility that woman during medieval times weren’t as two dimensional or malevolently seductive as many Romances make them appear.

  6. Though I agree with the points my classmates have raised already, one could also argue that Melidor’s reluctance (and, actually, downright hostility at first) toward Sir Degrevant is a deliberate plot device that lends the poem its interesting structural flair. It is definitely a trope of medieval romance; turn to any knightly figure in romance and you’ll see that they nearly all face trials challenging their masculinity and don’t really see success until the end of their quest (think Launfal: he had to prove to Tryamour that he was serious about their relationship even after she betrays him and after he has fallen victim to his own pride). But Erik Kooper in the Introduction to Sir Degrevant explains that the poem represents an “artful alteration of battle and love episodes” that “provides variation and is undoubtedly a major factor in the appeal of the poem.” I think Melidor’s behavior has a lot to do with this; since she is the primary conduit for the poem’s theme of love, the cyclic plot structure could not finish off the same without her. In a way, Melidor’s sequence of love-related actions reminds me a little bit of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath; Melidor first curses her love interest and holds a uniquely feminine and extremely potent power over him for a large portion of the poem. Eventually, though, she gives into his knightly honor as if to finally grant him what he “deserves.” That, of course, is what sets Melidor apart from the Wife of Bath – Melidor is a pivotal figure for the structure of romance and the Wife of Bath operates under her own pretenses (or so she says). Either way, though, without the battle between Degrevant and the Earl, Degrevant would not have met Melidor. Without the battle between Degrevant and the Duke, Melidor would not have been prompted further to pursue him. It’s a strangely symmetrical form that could not exist as convincingly without Melidor’s role as a romantic trope.

  7. The fact that Melidor rejected Degrevant until he had proven himself on the battlefield shows that her idea of love is based heavily on her status and her reputation. She was aware of the idea that Degrevant was a good guy, but that wasn’t enough. Along with being generous, handsome and wealthy, she also wants a man that has status and can prove his place in high society to her. By defeating the Duke of Gerle, Degrevant finally proved to Melidor that he has what it takes for her to call him her husband. This belief seems to very prominent in the 15th century. Women would look for a husband of status, for a man that will provide for her and make her look good to people in court. This idea differs drastically from modern relationships. Today. relationships are based on what the other person is like, not how other people see them and how it will make you look. If relationships were still based on pride, honor, and reputation, then that would make us a very conceited species that has no care for others.

  8. I agree with many of the posters before me, that it was Sir Degrevant’s display of physical prowess and domination that finally won over Melidor’s affections and commitment; that love at this time served a practical function with regard to something such as physical protection and safety.

    I think your question, however, also raises some questions about the very nature and essence of love. At what point does Melidor truly “fall in love” with Sir Degrevant? Is it actually at the very moment that he wins the joust that Melidor loves him? Or is this merely when she allows her love to be expressed; when she allows herself to act on her feelings? Is her love really so bound up and defined by utility and practicality?

    Your question is phrased: “What does it say about the ‘reasons to fall love’ in the early 15th century vs modern ‘reasons to fall’ in love?

    Perhaps it doesn’t say anything about the reasons to fall in love, but rather the reasons that make it okay to have fallen in love. One of the ideal chivalric, knightly, attribute that Sir Degrevant represents/displays in this poem is his capacity to make their love (which is not truly based on any practical considerations, but is automatic “love at first sight) acceptable and reasonable. He is motivated by his love to win the joust and to make that love substantial and socially acceptable.

  9. As we discussed a little in class on Tuesday, women in medieval tales we’ve read so far are either negative and challenge the protagonist (think Guinevere or Lady Bertilack) or are positive and support the protagonist (like Treyamore). However it seems that the Earl’s countess and daughter play a different role; they exist to encourage moderation in both the Earl and Sir Degrevant. I do agree with what Kaleb said about Melidor having to work within her respective societal restraints, but I think her resistance of Degrevant’s courtship is in part due to her “job” of encouraging moderation. As Ayre suggests in her prompt, Melidor is crazy for not immediately giving herself to her handsome, wealthy and generous neighbor, and we know that Melidor does have feelings for Degrevant but she does her best to resist them. In doing so she is able to teach Degrevant a certain level of moderation. We see a perfect example of her encouragement in restraint when she says, “Thou touchest non swych thing / Or thou wed me with a ryng, / And maryage fulfylle” (1534-1536). She is vowing to resist Degrevant until he decides to marry her. Although Melidor’s resistance to submit to Sir Degrevant might seem foolish in a modern sense of love, she is acting with grace and a certain level of reasonableness, which in return helps mold Degrevant into a better version of himself—he must learn to function with a certain level of moderation as well if he wishes to be with Melidor.

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