Study Guide

The Defence of Guenevere Madness

By William Morris

Madness

Her voice was low at first, being full of tears,
But as it cleared, it grew full loud and shrill,
Growing a windy shriek in all men's ears,
A ringing in their startled brains [...] (lines 49-52)

At the beginning of her speech, Guenevere's voice seems to be tinged with what we could call "madness," or at least hysteria. It is "shrill" and "shriek[y]."

'[...] while I laughed out loud,
And let my lips curl up at false or true' (lines 77-78).

After Launcelot arrives at Arthur's court, Guenevere laughs and smiles, whether it's appropriate or not. Lines like these make some critics think Guenevere is hysterical, or even mad, throughout the poem.  Others, though, argue that she's totally in control.  What do you think?

'While I was dizzied thus, old thoughts would crowd' (line 81)

Guenevere seems to want to convince her listeners that she was half-crazy during the springtime after Launcelot's arrival.  She says she was "dizzied" with her memories of her past life and her depression.  Is she trying to plead insanity?

'I was half mad with beauty on that day' (line 109)

Guenevere claims that on the day she kissed Launcelot in the garden, she was already "half mad."  What "beauty" is it that drives her crazy?  Launcelot's? Her own?  The beauty of the spring weather and the garden around her?  How can beauty drive someone "half mad" anyway?

'A little thing just then had made me mad;
O dared not think, as I was wont to do,
Sometimes, upon my beauty; [...]' (lines 118-120)

The verb tense in these lines makes them ambiguous. Is Guenevere saying that a "little thing" had <em>already</em> made her "mad," in the past tense?  Or is this an archaic, old-fashioned way of saying that a "little thing" <em>would</em> have made her "mad"?  Even though Morris was writing in the 19th century, the poem is set in medieval England, so Guenevere uses archaic, old-fashioned language throughout the poem. Still, it's unclear what Morris means here.

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