Feb 25: Sir Launfal

First, don’t be confused if you have a memory of Marie de France’s Lanval: this Middle English romance is a version of that story (from a couple of centuries earlier), though as we’ll discuss in class, with some significant differences. But then, you knew most of that from reading the introduction to the poem. Today’s blog question:

What, throughout the poem, accounts for Launfal’s success? What accounts for his losses, his failures? 

9 thoughts on “Feb 25: Sir Launfal

  1. Launfal’s successes can be attributed to his generosity; his return to Arthur’s court can be attributed to both this and rumors of his prowess as a knight (as he defeats Sir Valentyne). His losses seem to be due out of pride; he is insulted when he is not gifted at the wedding by Guenevere, which makes him leave Arthur’s court and lose his status.

    • Edit: Both Launfal’s successes and failures are mostly due to his loyalty to King Arthur. Serving for 10 years as the Steward of the court, Launfal has an esteemed reputation. His loyalty and servitude to Arthur has earned him a great amount of respect, which is seen later in the story when the court sides with Launfal over Guenevere. Because he understands the bureaucracy of the court and is loyal to Arthur, Launfal’s downfalls are also apart of this. He elects to leave when Guenevere, who chooses not to bestow a gift upon him at the wedding (“she gave brooches and rings to every knight except Sir Launfal, and he was greatly offended.”), has tarnished his reputation. He understands that he can no longer exist in the same lifestyle in Arthur’s court so long as Guenevere has some power over him. This drives him into poverty in another town after he runs out of the money that he had before he left. Because of his loyalty to Arthur, Launfal also experiences loss and disappointment. He loses his status, his reputation, and his wealth all for the sake of not offending the King and Guenevere (despite hating her). Launfal’s losses and failures, while are due to his loyalty, are also unfortunately due to the cost of others.

  2. Launfal’s success comes from him generosity and the fact that he seems to be well liked. He held a high title in King Arthur’s court because he was loyal and generous, and Tryamour takes an interest in him because she believes he is a great knight; and great knights posses qualities like generosity and loyalty. His generosity also leads to Gyfre assisting him in the joust with Sir Valentyne, and without Gyfre’s help Launfal surely would have lost the fight. Launfal’s failures can be attributed to his disloyalty or his breaking of promises. For example, he lies to Arthur in order to leave his court and subsequently becomes shamefully poor. He also breaks his promise to Tryamour and tells Gwennere of their love, which leads to Gyfre and his horse leaving, Tryamour not coming to visit him at night, and the bag that Launfal has not producing gold like it used to.

  3. [posting for Sienna]

    Launfal is overly generous. This generosity at first wins him the favor of Arthur, but once he leaves the courts he spends some much in generosity that he falls into great debt. Eventually he could not longer attend events with the royal family because of his poverty. However he soon falls into the company of Tryamour who says that she’s loves him despite his poverty, in fact she loves him more than any king or emperor. She says she will make him rich and love him uno one condition: that he keep her a secret. If he brags for some reward then she will rightly disappear. Once he is endowed, he remains generous, sharing his wealth with everyone. This generosity and prowess attracted great attention. Many men challenge Launfal: the mayor, the knights at the joust, Sir Valentine. But the gravest circumstances fall on Launfal when he cannot hold his tongue. I guess everything in his life happens from an overflowing generosity: of words and riches and deeds. Had he stayed quietly at home he might have had a placid life.

  4. Launfal seems to make two major mistakes in this poem: the first is overspending, the second is allowing his pride to get the better of him.

    He also seems to have two major character traits that save him: generosity and loyalty.

    It’s interesting to me that these seem to be paired in the poem, Launfal’s generosity (when overdone) is what leads to his initial debt and poverty. There seems to be a fine line in the poem between generosity- giving in order to build someone up, as seen when he pays of prisoner debts, gives squires better clothes, etc.- and the type of frivolous spending found in lines 130-132: “So savegelych hys good° he besette° / That he ward° yn greet dette / Ryght yn the ferst° yere.” Launfal is punished for frivolous spending by becoming poor, but he is rewarded for his generosity by Lady Tryamour’s love and enchantments. Not only does she repay him for every gift he has ever give, she multiplies it as well as paying his love for others back with a seemingly supernatural amount of her own love for him (they hardly slept for lovemaking). In the same way loyalty to Tryamour is put at odds with Launfal’s pride. He has everything that he could possibly want in life when Guinevere tries to seduce him, but he allows himself to brag about Tryamour’s beauty in order to make himself seem superior to the queen and her pressures. In the last part of the story Launfal’s loyalty is truly tested. He is given multiple opportunities to claim that any of a number of maidens arriving at the court (all fairer than the queen) is his lover. Even though he knows he will die if he waits for Tryamour and she doesn’t show, he chooses death over betraying his loyalty to her. In the end he is rewarded more than ever for this decision, presumably taken off to live happily ever after.

    Unless there’s drama in fairyland.

  5. Throughout the poem, Launfal’s success is mostly the result of his generosity and charity. Launfal’s generous gift-giving nature catches the attention of King Arthur and makes him a steward in his court. Launfal’s kindness is what ultimately makes him successful. But when he is embarrassed and humiliated at the wedding of Arthur and Guenevere (because he does not receive a gift), he leaves the court and loses his position and income. Perhaps Launfal’s sensitivity and his unwillingness to accept shame/ disgrace at the wedding could be considered one of his failures. Had he been able to swallow his pride, he could have stayed in the court and avoided his later poverty and imprisonment. Pride is again seen as one of Launfal’s failures when he boasts of Tryamour—the one condition she gave him was not to reveal her existence. Launfal fails by telling Guenevere. Again, Laufal’s pride leads him to brag. As a cause, he is imprisoned and has failed once again.

  6. Sir Launfal’s success can be attributed to his lack of hubris. Throughout the poem, he is put in situations in which he can choose to uphold an exulted image or take the road less travelled in order to stay true to his morals. First, he chooses to leave Arthur’s court at his disapproval of Arthur’s marriage to the promiscuous Guinevere. This choice strips him of his status amongst the court and leaves him in debt. Next, he swallows his pride and rides through town to enter the forest despite the persecution he is sure to endure from the common people. Finally, when he is accused of lying about a mistress in order to anger the queen, he denies the many women who claim his partnership, rather risking his life than risking his honesty.

    Sir Launfal’s failure can be attributed to his highly reactive emotional temperament. First, he makes a knee-jerk move to take Arthur’s nephews and abandon court. This decision puts him in the dilapidated condition he attempts to then overcome for the rest of the story. Also, his pact with Tryamour is safe until his anger gets the best of him during conversation with Guinevere, during which he throws an insult and inadvertently exposes his relationship in the process. In examining Sir Launfal, we can assign more weight to his moral and emotional characteristics than his knightly grandiosity, traits which come to grant the best of rewards as well as his most damning afflictions.

  7. This poem focuses on knightly reputation, the superiority and perfection of supernatural entities and knightly self control. Launfal’s success in the story come from the magical gifts and presence of the fairy-mistress he is courted by. These supernatural gifts are entirely pagan, the fairy queen comes from a non-earthly realm and possesses a natural powerful force from some other realm. She is the most powerful woman in the realm and therefore the most beautiful. Her earthly beauty proves to be a supernatural force as well. Although Launfal is labeled as the most generous knight in Arthurs court, he does not hold a high reputation in the eyes of Arthur and Guinevere and he is unable to find success elsewhere due to his urge to share his economic gains. When the fairy queen begins to build his reputation back (granting him monetary success and success in combat) Launfal fails her by believing that he has gained all of his success through his ownership of her. Admitting his “ownership” of a powerful and beautiful fairy queen is the one thing that the fairy queen has asked him not to do. When he uses the fairy queen’s beauty to reject Guinevere he fails once again. He is only successful in the end of the story when he comes up with the idea for the fairy queen to enter the court before he is executed and save him by blinding Guinevere. The fairy queen is powerful through magic and could have saved him in any other way. Instead, she waits until she has adequately taught Launfal a lesson in staying true to the words of his lover rather than proving his own status as a lover to others. There is also a very valuable lesson about vanity in this story: a woman is blinded as a result of comparing herself and being compared by others to the beauty of another woman. Once she is blind, beauty has no meaning to her. Launfal is the most successful when he remains obedient and accepts the life that he has rather than acting through the frustration that comes with being under-appreciated. This poem teaches readers the dangers of comparison and the importance of being humble…and also beautiful.

  8. Launfal’s successes seem to stem from his desire to be well-liked, and to display behavior that is considered admirable within his courtly, knightly culture. Because he presents himself so well, good things come to Launfal. The loyalty he shows as a steward of King Arthur’s court accounts for his success at home. Later, the same sort of loyal behavior towards the fairy queen results in a number of magical gifts.
    Launfal seems to fail when he allows his underlying emotions to overtake his understanding of courtly posturing. Launfal hurts his own reputation when he displays anger towards Arthur for not conducting himself by the same knightly standards. He loses the favor of the fairy queen when pride takes the place of humility. When Launfal can live by the high standards he has set for himself, he is very successful. Yet because those standards are so high, he ends up having trouble meeting his own demands, which results in his personal failures.

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