Study Guide

Le Morte D'Arthur Love

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So whan the duke and his wyf were comyn unto the Kynge, by the meanes of grete lordes they were accorded bothe. The kynge lyked and loved this lady wel, and he made them grete chere oute of mesure – and desyred to have lyen by her. But she was a passyng good woman and wold not assente unto the Kyng. (3.8-12)

Uther's love for Igrayne causes all kinds of trouble for his kingdom, since she's the wife of his duke, Gorlois. This love-triangle hints at the many love triangles to come, like the Arthur-Gwenyvere-Launcelot fiasco, or the Mark-Igrayne-Trystram affair. It's fitting, then, that Arthur is the product of one of these love triangles, because eventually a similar entanglement will be his undoing.

"Well," seyde the damesell, "ye ar nat wyse to kepe the swerde fro me, for ye shall sle with that swerde the beste frende that ye have, and the man that ye moste love in the worlde – and that swerde shall be youre destruccion." (42.23-25)

Whoever this man is that Balyn will slay, he sure does seem to love him a lot. In fact, it sounds a lot like the romantic devotion between men and women, which tells us that in the world of <em>Le</em> <em>Morte</em> distinctions between types of love might not matter as much as they do to the modern reader. What matters most is loyalty and devotion.

"I love Gwenyvere, the Kynges doughtir of Lodegrean, of the londe of Camelerde, the whyche holdyth in his house the Table Rounde that ye tolde me had hit of my fadir Uther. And this damesell is the moste valyaunte and fayryst that I know lyvyng, or yet that ever I coude fynde." "Sertis," seyde Merlyon, "as of her beauté and fayrenesse, she is one of the fayrest on lyve. But, and ye loved hir not so well as ye do, I scholde fynde you a damesell of beauté and of goodnesse that sholde lyke you and please you – and youre herte were nat sette: but there as mannes herte is sette, he woll be loth to returne." (62.14-23)

Arthur's love for Gwenyvere is motivated by her "beauté and fayrenesse," which basically just means beauty and, well, beauty. So this means that Merlin's offer to find Arthur a woman who's both beautiful <em>and </em>virtuous<em> </em>is not much more than a thinly veiled hint that Gwenyvere lacks of the latter trait. Merlin knows what's up. He's well aware that Gwenyvere's love affair with Launcelot will contribute to Arthur's downfall. But he's equally aware of the stubbornness of love, so he decides to help Arthur marry Gwenyvere anyway. Do you think that was a wise decision? Should Merlin have pulled the plug?

So this Sir Launcelot encresed so mervaylously in worship and honoure: therefore he is the fyrste knyght that the Frenysh booke makyth mencion of aftir Kynge Arthur com from Rome. Wherefore Quene Gtwenyvere had hym in grete favoure aboven all other knyghtis, and so he loved the Quene agayne aboven all other ladyes dayes of his lyff, and for hir he dud many dedys of armys, and saved her from the fyre thorow his noble chevalry. (152.1-7)

If the dynamic duo of desirability in women is beauty and virtue, its counterpart in men is what Launcelot has: "worship and honoure," or a good reputation and trueness to his word. It's this combo in Launcelot that causes Gwenyvere to fall in love with him. Really, who could resist?

"Because that we undirstonde youre worthynesse, that thou art the noblest knyght lyvyng, and also we know well there can no lady have thy love but one, and that is Quene Gwenyvere – and now thou shalt hir love lose for ever, and she thyne. For hit behovyth the now to chose one of us foure." (155.8-12)

Throughout <em>Le</em> <em>Morte, </em>Launcelot is constantly being propositioned by women who attempt to lure him away from Gwenyvere. He proves his devotion to her by not giving in, even when his or her lives depend on it.

"But hit is noysed that ye love Quene Gwenyvere, and that she hath ordeyned by enchauntemente that ye shall never love none other but hir, nother none other damesell ne lady shall rejoyce you – wherefore there be many in this londe, of hyghe astate and lowe, that make grete sorow." (164.27-31)

Uh oh, Shmoopers, the love between Gwenyvere and Launcelot is "noysed." That means fair gossiping game, and public opinion is <em>not </em>in Gwenyvere's favor. Plus, it's just plain selfish of her to hog a great knight like Launcelot when she already has a king for a husband. So we're thinking it's spite that feeds the rumor that Gwenyvere has cast a spell on Launcelot.

<em>"</em>Go thy way, Sir Bewmaynes, for as yet thou shalt nat have holy my love unto the tyme that thou me called one of the numbir of the worthy knyghtes – and therefore go and laboure in worshyp this twelvemonthe, and than ye shall hyre newe tydyngis."

"Alas, fayre lady!" seyde Sir Bewmaynes, "I have nat deserved that ye sholde shew me this straungeness. And I hadde wente I sholde have had ryght good chere with you – and unto my power I have deserved thanke; and well I am sure I have bought youre love with parte of the beste blood within my body."<em> </em>(202.14-23)

It's pretty common in medieval romance for a knight to have to prove his love for his lady by winning honor in the battlefield. But this whole set-up makes Beaumains (or Gareth) unhappy, and when he complains to his lady-love, he does so in a way that makes it perfectly clear what he's after. "Good chere" can be a double entendre for sex, and Gareth's reference to buying her love with his body suggests that he wants Lyonet to return the favor.

But as longe as Kynge Marke lyved, he loved never aftir Sir Trystrams. So aftir that, thoughe there were fayre speche, love was there none. (245.33-35)

The lack of love between Mark and Trystram is caused by their love for the same (already married) lady. Head spinning yet? Well then consider this: their love-lost is especially unfortunate because, as kinsman, these two owe one another <em>extra </em>love. So this episode provides yet another example of how the love between men and women can wreak havoc on the love between lords and vassals. Sheesh, when did it all get so complicated?

Then they lowghe and made good chere, and eyther dranke to other frely, and they thought never drynke that ever they dranke so swete nother so good to them. But by that drynke was in their bodyes, they loved aythir other so well that never hir love departed, for well nother for woo. And thus hit happed fyrst, the love betwyxte Sir Trystrames and La Beale Isode, the whyche love never departed dayes of their lyff. (257.2-8)

Trystram and Isode drink a potion that causes them to love one another forever. The flavor of the love potion is described in just the way love itself can also be described in medieval romance – as a sweet, intoxicating thing that is the best feeling the lovers have ever had, but which also entraps them forever. Okay, here's the real question: if they feel it because of a potion, is it really love?

Than seyde Sir Launcelot, "Fye uppon hym, untrew knyght to his lady! That so noble a knyght as Sir Trystram is sholde be founde to his fyrst lady and love untrew, that is the Quene of Cornwayle! But sey ye to hym thus," seyde SirLauncelot, "that of all knyghtes in the worlde I have loved hym [moost and had moost joye of hym], and all was for his noble dedys. And lette hym wete that the love betwene hym and me is done for ever." (272.7-13)

It makes sense that Launcelot, paragon of faithfulness in love, would criticize Trystram for his hasty marriage to the other Isode. What's even more interesting is how this failure causes Launcelot to withhold <em>his </em>love from Trystram. So all this love between men is affected by the love between women and men. It's a regular soap opera, and Launcelot and Trystram are the stars.

Then, as the booke seyth, Sir Launcelot began to resorte unto Quene Gwenivere agayne, and forgate the promyse and the perfeccion that he made in the Queste; for, as the booke seyth, had nat Sir Launcelot bene in his prevy thoughtes and in hys myndis so sette inwardly to the Quene as he was in semynge outewarde to God, there had no knyght passed hym in the Queste of the Sankgreall. But ever his thoughtis prevyly were on the Quene, and so they loved togydirs more hotter than they dud toforehonde, and had many such prevy draughtis togydir that many in the courte spake of hit. (588.10-18)

Launcelot has a one-track mind. It's all about his love for Gwenyvere, and that love prevents him from devoting any of his thoughts, time, or energy to anyone else like, say, God. Plus, it prevents him from keeping his cool around her. He just can't resist showing his affection, which eventually spells trouble when Arthur's court wises up.

"Why sholde I leve such thoughtes? Am I nat an erthely woman? And all the whyle the brethe ys in my body I may complayne me, for my belyve ys that I do none offence, though I love an erthely man, unto God; for He fourmed me thereto – and all manner of good love comyth of God, and othir than good love loved I never Sir Launcelot du Lake. And I take God to recorde, I loved never none but hym, nor never shall, of erthely creature; and a clene maydyn I am for hym and for all othir." (615.27-34)

Elayne of Ascolat's defense of love sounds about right, right? It's a natural emotion that comes from God. Her love for Launcelot is especially Godly, moreover, since so far it has been chaste, just as God's love for his children is. Of course Launcelot doesn't give a hoot about any of this, because his heart's with Gwenyvere.

"I love nat to be constrayned to love, for love muste only aryse of the harte selff, and nat by none constraynte."

"That ys trouth, sir, seyde the Kynge, "and with many knyghtes love ys fre in hymselffe, and never woll be bonde; for where he ys bonden he lowsith hymselff."<em> </em>(617.33-38)

Launcelot and Arthur express a romantic notion of love as a free choice between individuals, which means that it probably doesn't exist in marriage all that often. After all, in Camelot, most marriages are arranged according to family and financial obligations. Ah, so <em>that </em>explains why so much of the romantic love we see in <em>Le</em> <em>Morte</em> occurs outside wedlock.

"Wyte you well I shall love you and truste you the more bettir. For ever hit ys," seyde Kynge Arthure, "a worshypfull knyghtes dede to help and succoure another worshypfull knyght whan he seeth hym in daungere." (624.12-15)

Arthur's love for Gareth grows when Gareth defends Launcelot in battle. It seems that the love between men is motivated by the same thing that motivates the love between men and women – honorable deeds of arms. But Shmoop is here to warn you: don't try this at home. Jousting every guy you meet is not the way to get a date for the prom.

For, lyke as wynter rasure dothe allway arace and deface grene summer, so faryth hit by unstable love in man and woman […] Lat every man of worshyp florysh hys herte in thys worlde, firste unto God, and, and nexte unto the joy of them that he promysed hys feythe unto
[...] But firste reserve the honoure to God, and secundely thy quarell must com of thy lady – and suche love I calle vertuouse love. (624.37-38, 46-48, 50-625.2)

In one of his rare comments on the events of the story, the narrator laments the lack of "stable" love between men and women and calls noblemen to love God first, their woman second, and both with a faithfulness that withstands the test of time. Since Launcelot is the master of faithful love, this may be the narrator's attempt to defend his hero. Too bad he hasn't mastered the whole God part of the equation.

But nowadays men can nat love seven nyght but they muste have all their desyres. That love may nat endure by reson; for where they bethe sone accorded and hasty, heete sone keelyth. And ryght so faryth the love nowadayes, sone hote, sone colde: thys ys no stabylyté. But the olde lawe was nat so; for men and women coude love togydirs seven yerys, and no lycoures lustis was betwyxte them – and than was love trouthe and faythefulnes. (625.3-9)

Our narrator is pretty squeamish when it comes to acknowledging that Gwenyvere and Launcelot had sex, probably because to do so would officially tarnish the honor of his hero, Launcelot. So here, to cover his bases, he tells us that enduring love does not require the satisfaction of physical desires. In fact, it thrives in their absence. This implies that Gwenyvere and Launcelot could have had a true, enduring love without <em>technically </em>engaging in adultery. Shmoop is not convinced. Are you?

"And [as] for Gareth, I loved no kynnesman I had more than I loved hym; and ever whyle I lyve," seyde Sir Launcelot, "I woll bewayle Sir Gareth hys dethe." (668.9-11)

The most poignant man-to-man love connection in <em>Le</em> <em>Morte D'Arthur </em>is this one between Launcelot and Gareth, because it ends in Gareth's accidental death at the hands of the knight he most loves. Ouch, that's got to sting. That this death comes about as Launcelot defends his other love, Gwenyvere, might be symbolic of how love between men and women sometimes disrupts love between men, which, in the world of <em>Le</em> <em>Morte</em>, is probably a very bad thing.

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