Study Guide

The Defence of Guenevere Madness

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Guenevere uses the term "mad" several times in her defense.  Is she trying to plead insanity, or is she making a different point altogether?  Is her "madness" just another way of viewing the past?  Lots of things can drive a person to madness in this poem: beauty, the sky, the way colors look when you hold your hand up in front of them.  Maybe it's something in the water in Arthurian England.

Questions About Madness

  1. Which characters are described as "mad" at different points in the poem?  Do any other characters exhibit qualities of "madness"?  Where, and how so?
  2. What effects does "madness," as described in this poem, have on people's actions? 
  3. Is Guenevere trying to plead insanity, or do her references to madness serve a different purpose?  What might that purpose be?
  4. Is obsession similar to madness in this poem? How so, or why not?  Which characters exhibit symptoms of obsession, as opposed to madness?

Chew on This

Although critics often assume that Guenevere is on the verge of hysteria during her defense, a close reading of the poem actually demonstrates that she is completely in control.

All the characters in this poem, including Guenevere and Gauwaine, exhibit symptoms of obsession and madness.

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