In our discussion of Yonec the question was raised of why the zombie-king was executed after his change of heart. Personal journeys of spiritual redemption are commonplace in Marie’s works, yet the king’s redemption (he “never assaulted or abused [the lady]” after the knight’s death) is disregarded (456). Marie’s denial of the king’s redemption reflects a fundamental flaw in his change of heart- it is the ring that exerted its agency to change the king’s ways, overwhelming the agency of the king who would otherwise have preferred to be an abusive husband. In an assemblage, agency shifts between different actants within, and in the king’s network the ring shifted agency from the king’s will, rendering his redemptive actions as morally weightless as they were not backed by the king’s true will. Marie seems to be saying that virtue can only exist in a knightly world if it comes from the soul, something the zombie-king either lost to the ring or never possessed in the first place.
One thing that strikes me as interesting in Guigemar is the necessity placed upon love. I read Guigemar after reading the introduction to The Lais of Marie de France and it discusses how other contemporaneous courtly romances “differ from the Lais in that they are concerned with both love and chivalry, with the proper balance between a knight’s responsibility to his society, his service to others, and the fulfillment of his own desires while Marie’s primary concern is with the personal needs of the knight” (Hanning and Ferrante 11). I would like to disagree here because I think that Marie pushes this balance as well.
The importance placed upon this balance first appears in line 57 for “in forming him nature had so badly erred/that he never gave any thought to love” (Marie de France). So far we have learned that Guigemar is bright, valiant, and a good knight. Is that not enough? Dr. Seaman discussed on Wednesday that the French love ideal is at work here, so apparently love needs to enter the picture or else Guigemar remains flawed. I would like to argue that love is not a “personal need” of Guigemar’s, and if “Marie’s primary concern is with the personal needs of the knight” such importance would not be placed on love—Guigemar’s physical health even depends on finding this cure: love.
Guigemar, after staying with his family, is suddenly “seized by the desire to hunt” (76). It sounds like Guigemar really values being a knight which in turn makes his pursuit of being a great knight a personal need. I imagine him waking up and proclaiming, “I must hunt!” In fact, Marie even writes that hunting “gave him much pleasure,” and until that incident with the deer happens it appears that Guigemar is happy in his life. Wouldn’t you say then that his personal needs have been satisfied? Everyone harps on Guigemar about the love thing and eventually they just “g[i]ve him up for lost” because it is that serious (68). This “personal need” for love, as described in the introduction, sounds more like his “responsibility to his society”—to become natural (57) and satisfy everyone else.
While I certainly understand love as a value it is not a value of Guigemar’s until his identity as a knight (the curing of his wound) depends on it. Because of this I do not think that love is a personal need of Guigemar’s –meaning he did not seek it out on his own accord: after he was injured he wants to be healed by someone and not cured by love (125-32)—but a requirement placed upon him by society. Therefore, Marie is also concerned with the balance that her contemporaries were.
One point that stood out to me from the past two readings of this week was the difference in the level of virtue exhibited in each story. I noted a couple of aspects of Guigemar that contrasted some classic ideas of virtue. Whereas, I thought Sir Cleges was pretty moral in its entirety.
Although the moral of Guigemar distills the timeless notion that “love conquers all”, it seemed to me that there were some aspects of the story that were a bit unusual in terms of what one expects from a classic moral tale. It all started at the point when we learn about Guigemar’s future lover and her jealous husband. First off, as we noted in class, the description of her chapel exhibited some obvious ironies. The location of the mural of Venus, although consistent with the story’s underlying theme, is not only unusual, but even blasphemous as a decoration in the chapel. The second aspect that I found odd didn’t occur to me as immoral until I gave it a second reading. Although I initially read over the lines “It appears to me that Guigemar/ stayed with her a year and a half./ Their life was full of pleasure” without a second glance, I gave it a little more thought the second time over and came to the conclusion that not only were Guigemar and his lover lying to her husband, but they continued to lie successfully for well over a year. So in these lines alone we’re reminded that they lied, committed adultery, and did so for a prolonged period of time. I think because everything worked out for the best in the tale’s happy ending, it was easy for me to ignore the moral inconsistencies.
Sir Cleges, on the other hand, did not exhibit the same type of moral inconsistencies. The scene where he brutally beats the porter, the usher, and the steward does stand out as a bit harsh in comparison to the rest of the story, yet Sir Cleges’ actions are never frowned upon. The three men at the castle took advantage of Sir Cleges’ kindness and generosity to begin with, so he maintains his moral character because it can be widely agreed upon that these men deserved what they got.