Study Guide

The Defence of Guenevere Appearances

By William Morris

Appearances

She threw her wet hair backward from her brow (line 2)

In just the second line of the poem, we are given an interesting little detail about Guenevere's physical appearance: she has "wet hair."  Why is it wet?  What does that dampness mean?  We don't know yet, but we do know that Guenevere's appearance is probably going to be an important aspect of the poem.

Her hand close to her mouth touching her cheek,
As though she had had there a shameful blow (lines 3-4)

Here in the opening lines we can already see some tension between how things <em>appear</em> and how they really <em>are</em>.  Guenevere puts her hand on her cheek "<em>as though</em>" she had been smacked. We don't know for sure why she is <em>really</em> touching her cheek. 

'After a shivering half-hour you said,
"God help! heaven's colour, the blue;" and he said, "hell."
Perhaps you then would roll upon your bed,
And cry to all good men that loved you well,
"Ah Christ! if only I had known, known, known;"' (lines 37-41)

In this opening <strong>allegory</strong> of the choice between the red and blue cloths, Guenevere emphasizes the difference between the way things appear and what they really are.  In her "what-if" situation, the man on his deathbed chooses the blue cloth because blue is the color of "heaven." It's the wrong choice – blue represents "hell" – but how could he have known that?

Though still she stood right up, and never shrunk,
But spoke on bravely glorious lady fair!
Whatever tears her full lips may have drunk. (lines 55-57)

The narrator steps in here and praises Guenevere's brave appearance.  But the narrator, too, emphasizes the difference between appearances and reality: he says she speaks "bravely," no matter how many tears she has really shed.  In other words, her bravery might just be a front.

'Being such a lady could I weep these tears
If this were true? [...]' (lines 145-146)

Guenevere uses her appearance as part of her defense: she asks Gauwaine how she could <em>appear</em> to be so sorrowful, regretful, and ashamed if she were <em>really</em> guilty in truth.

'[...] my eyes
Wept all away to grey, may bring some sword
To drown you in your blood [...]' (lines 224-226)

Guenevere warns the knights in the courtroom that her beauty could still inspire someone to draw a sword and kick some butt on her behalf.  Appearances are powerful in the world of this poem – what can we say?

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