Rachel, you weren’t the only one who was surprised by the views of morality found in Guigemar, a work which predates the height of the mystery play by a mere fifty years. I’m well aware of the courtly love tradition and its importance to knight tales, yet a knight’s relationship with a lady is meant to boost one’s honor and loyalty. But to me, the relationship in this tale seems to do nothing but diminish Guigemar’s honor.
Really, was Guigemar such a bad knight at the start of the tale? He doesn’t do anything as sexually depraved as rape and pillage with wanton abandon. Rather, he lives a life of sexual purity and chastity, while continuing to serve his land through his knightly deeds. Yet this is unacceptable, as he is shot in the “thigh” (if you don’t use it, you lose it?) for living such an ignoble life. The speaker truly believes that the punishment fits Guigemar’s crime, which further complicates things as the story progresses.
Guigemar’s adulterous relationship is directly endorsed by the speaker, who “[hopes they also enjoy whatever else / others do on such occasions” as they “lie down together and converse” (532-534). The speaker is well aware that the knight is taking another’s woman, a woman he has just met and formed a relationship with based solely off of their Barbie x Ken comparability. Yet she endorses this as the right thing to do, refusing to allow sympathy for the sexually inadequate husband. As readers, we are frequently reminded that this is a tale of passion and romance, but I still find it difficult to forgive the implicit morals found in this tale.
To me, the most hypocritical part of this story lies in its conclusion, where a new knight claims the lady Guigemar has lost. Guigemar saw nothing wrong with taking another’s woman earlier in the story, but when it is he who is wronged he sees death as a suitable punishment for womanizing. Unlike her husband, this new suitor is sexually capable and loves her more than any woman he ever had, so this exchange of hands should be less than punishable if anything. Yet Guigemar only profits from his adultery and murder.
Am I blowing smoke here? I’m not arguing about the morality of adultery in today’s world- I’m just trying to understand how this story and its morals could fit into a supposedly pious world, especially when its hero is a representative of the ideal. Am I wrong about the apparent hypocrisy of the tale?