Marie de France’s ‘Lanval’ (Abrams, 2006. p. 142-157) is a 12th century lais that tells the tale of a knight who is caught between two different worlds; that of his lover’s and his own. Forced to live between both worlds, Lanval finds himself stuck between a world of solitude and a world of love. Through the trials and tribulations that result from the circumstances that he finds himself in, Lanval is confronted with the challenge of keeping his love with the Queen of Avalon a secret. This essay aims to show that in order to become a better knight Lanval must confront the challenge that results from him being unable to keep his love with Queen Avalon sacred.
Lanval’s oath to hide his relationship with his lover is his biggest challenge and ultimately proves to be the lais’s central dilemma and unravels a series of consequences which almost bring about his undoing. It is by facing up to the consequences of his actions that he is able to grow personally through learnt humility, develop an understanding of what’s most paramount and mature and become a better knight.
In order to develop an understanding of why Lanval failed the challenge of keeping his love secret, we must first develop an understanding of Lanval’s physical and emotional isolation. In the beginning of the lais, Lanval is absent of two things - women and land. He is described as a noble foreigner who resides far from his homeland, living by what appears to be the only profession he knows, being a knight (Ireland, 1977. p. 132). King Arthur rewards the service of all his other knights but inexplicably passes over giving Lanval neither women, land nor money. King Arthur’s behaviour is undoubtedly unfair inexplicable, given Lanval moved from a foreign land and has no ancestral rights to any land in the area so is left with nothing. According to Ireland in the ‘Narrative Unity of the Lanval of Marie de France’ such omissions by royalty are not uncommon in medieval literature (Ireland, 1977. p....
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