Not So Chivalrous

Sir Orfeo is portrayed as a heroic figure in this poem, and in many ways he is. After all, he is able to rescue his kidnapped queen and return to his kingdom at the end, which solves nearly all the problems that had developed during course of the poem. This being said, I noticed several faults of Orfeo that make him less chivalrous in my eyes. For example, when his queen is taken, he does not go on any quest to search for her – rather, he abandons his kingdom and community to become a recluse, using his harp to create melodies for the pleasure of woodland creatures and, for the most part, spends his days sulking in his depression. This state reminded me of some of the ideas the narrators in the Exeter Book Elegies were concerned about. It is as if Orfeo had accepted Fortune/Wyrd’s will, and let it be, miserable as he was. It is not until he lays eyes on his wife in silent passing that he leaves his self-imposed exile and finds a way to rescue her. This is an interesting depiction of our main character and hero, despite the ultimate happy ending of the poem.



2 thoughts on “Not So Chivalrous

  1. In light of this, something else really stood out to me as I was reading Orfeo. As you say, he never really searched for Heurodis, but instead, sort of mopes around until he sees her, then when he does get her back (after playing his harp for the Fairy King) there is no description of the reunion of the two like I expected. After ten years of being apart, I imagined there would be some “chivalrous” scene when the two are together again. Instead, the tale abruptly shifts to Orfeo testing his steward while his wife is basically forgotten about until the last stanza.

    Though this is obviously a story of Sir Orfeo (hence the title) I think it would be interesting to see more of Heurodis’s side of things–she had to live in this horrible fairy world for ten years, away from her husband and home…not to mention, the state she is in in the beginning of the tale.

  2. We do hear quite a bit of Heurodis’ state in the beginning, as she is tormented by the fairy king and then abducted by him. We get a glimpse of her life there among the fairies, hawking and dancing and so on, through Orfeo’s eyes as he himself lives quietly in the forest. The emotional investment of the poem, at least in terms of its descriptive intensity, seems to be in those early scenes, before she is permanently taken, and then at the moment where they recognize one another in the forest. The reunion, though a significant change to the standard version of the story, doesn’t seem to be its emotional hub.

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