Review of Week 13 (Nov 14, 16) and Preview of Week 14
Review of Week 13 (by Victor Imko)
On Monday, we read Sir Orfeo with special attention to its parallels to the Greek Orpheus myth. Both Orfeo and Orpheus function as musical figures, both lose their loves to an “Otherworld” (Orfeo to fairyland, Orpheus to Hades), and both use their musical expertise to regain their loves (Orpheus, though, looses his again soon after for looking back at her before their journey is over). Our discussion moved towards the peculiarities of fairies as an “other.” Fairyland is oddly located on (and easily accessible from) earth (the forest, to be exact). Fairies also abide by many human social conventions (patriarchy, aestheticism). For another, they are not too far removed from humanity.
On Wednesday, we continued our discussion of what constitutes humanity with Yonec (I’m going out of order to preserve the parallel). The young lady in Yonec dehumanizes her old husband by demonizing him (he is supposedly baptized in hell and denies her Sunday service). When she meets her knight, he appears to her in non-human form (as a hawk, actually), arousing her suspicions. He must confirm his humanity by taking communion. Humanity is aligned with Christianity. We read Equitan with an emphasis on style conventions, namely those of the romantic tragedy and the fabliau. While the lai opens with a moral worthy of a noble, tragic romance, the petty and dishonest actions of the protagonist reduce it to a tricky, icky fabliau (and Marie updates it with an appropriately lecturing moral).
From Sir Orfeo
“‘Nay!’ quath the king, ‘that nought nere
A sori couple of you it were,
For thou art lene, rowe and blac,
And sche is lovesum, withouten lac” (457-60)
The fairy king refuses Orfeo his lady because of the disparity between their appearances. Not only does this demonstrate the convention of love designated for the beautiful, it demonstrates that certain human social conventions transfer to fairy society (they are quite an odd “other,” different in many ways, the same in some).
“Whoever indulges in love without sense or moderation
recklessly endangers his life
such is the nature of love
that no one involved with it can keep his head” (17-20)
Marie’s opening moral about love in moderation anticipates a passionate, romantic tragedy. The lai slowly departs from this genre, though, leaving behind a misleading introduction.
“Anyone who aims higher in love
than his own wealth entitles him to
will be frightened by every little thing that occurs” (143-5)
The wife’s anxiety about starting an affair with the king is largely grounded in class anxiety. She fears that Equitan’s superior social position will entitle him to a superior position in their domestic affair.
“he who plans evil for another
may have that evil rebound back on him” (309-10)
Marie concludes with a moral much more fitting of a fabliau than a romantic tragedy. This perhaps pardons the extreme, exaggerated violence of the ending (which might otherwise be read as terrifying and tragic).
“when he should have been baptized
He was plunged instead in the river of hell” (87-8)
The lady demonizes her husband, and therefore dehumanizes him. Humanity and the human body are important tropes in this lai.
“Her body had now become precious to her,
She completely recovered her beauty”
Love restores beauty to the lady’s body. Love is evidenced in the body through beauty.
Fabliau – A fabliau is a low-brow lai. Its plotline is sexual (often telling of affairs between young men and the young wives of old men), its humor vulgar and bawdy. Marie borrows certain conventions of the fabliau in Equitan, though not quite to the extent of Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale.
Preview of Week 14 (by Dr. Seaman)
We conclude our reading for the semester on Monday with the unusual and intriguing Middle English romance Sir Gowther. Our hero (in one but not both remaining versions of the poem) rapes a convent of nuns, and sets the stage for his rehabilitation and recuperation. (He also thus gives the rapist knight of the Wife of Bath’s Tale a run for his money.) You’ll recognize Degare’s origins, to some extent, in Gowther’s; consider what accounts for differences between the two knights’ developments, thereafter, in their respective narratives. Consider, too, the way here the false belief of Le Fresne’s mother is made real. Consider, too, how Reason functions here in ways akin to how Love (and Faith) have functioned elsewhere, in defining the human. I look forward to our narrative-reconstruction-in-the-round on Monday.
We will also talk on Monday about medieval manuscripts, particularly those in which Middle English literary texts appeared. This is an area that has received much critical attention from literary critics over the past 20 years (whereas before it was rather strictly the purview of manuscript scholars—scholars of the book, in essence). Please be sure to read the introduction to Sir Gowther in preparation for that discussion.
On Tuesday night at 11pm, your paper proposals are due. Please remember my office hours on Monday from 1-2 and 4:40-5:10 and make use of them, and email, to help you make your way through/to your proposal.