Professor Judy Schaaf
ENL 205 – Medieval Literature
6 May 2014
The Concept of Virtue in Marriage in Medieval Literature
Love is defined as an intense feeling of deep affection, and is rooted in all relationships in one context or another. Love can be a complex aspect in life and has many layers that reveal the ideals of men or women from past, present and well projected into future generations. In today’s society women take for granted the freedoms they have in whom they marry and choose to love. Often time’s love and marriage are considered disposable depending upon the relationship. Women in the middle ages were not so fortunate to have such liberties as in choosing whom they will marry, nevertheless love. In Medieval times marriage was more like a business merger or a political arrangement, rather than an act of true love. More often than not the soon to be husband and wife do not even know each other. Depending upon a woman’s social status, families married them off willingly and others were forced by no volition of their own. It can be assumed that character and social circumstances are predominately key factors in the behavior of women and how they act in their desire for love and happiness in their marriage. Although Thomas Malory’s “Morte Darthur” and Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Franklin’s Tale” and “The Merchant’s Tale” depict a male dominated society, the feminine ideal of love and marriage differed among women upon their character and virtues. Despite what may have been expected of women in the middle ages, situations did arise that tested the character and virtues of women affecting their choices within their marriage.
This essay will examine the characteristics and virtues of Queen Guinevere, Lady Dorigen, and the young May. The essay will trace how they may or may not have inadvertently chose their path and how they could be responsible for their actions when faced with the aspect of infidelity in their marriage. Each woman will be discussed separately and then in comparison to evaluate her virtues. We will take into account their ideals of love and how they are tested within the marriage.
In Malory’s “Morte Darthur”, a woman in Queen Guinevere’s position is expected to be loyal, honorable, noble, and moral. Queen Guinevere did not have the freedom to choose whom she would marry, and was chosen by King Arthur. In their marriage it appeared as though Arthur allowed too much freedom that would permit Queen Guinevere the opportunity to engage is less than honorable behavior. Guinevere’s ideals of love transcended to her character ultimately interfering with her marriage to King Arthur. Focusing on the last book of “Morte Darthur” we can deduce that Guinevere’s virtues were heavily imposed upon considering she was pursuing a secret relationship with Sir Lancelot. It can be assumed that Guinevere’s motive for her affections toward Sir Lancelot derived from his gallantry, chivalry, virtuosity, and him repeatedly rescuing her from folly.
In this aspect, Guinevere took courtly love far beyond the realm a queen should have taken with a knight; religious standards noted, “all sex outside of marriage was universally considered sinful” (Sex and Spouse: Marriage, Pleasure and Consummation). Guinevere played into this role becoming attached to Lancelot; Schwartz notes “the knight serves his courtly lady with the same obedience and loyalty which he owes to his liege lord. She is in complete control of the love relationship . . . “ (1). Prior to Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere’s trysts being acknowledged it was of Guinevere’s own volition to allow her infidelity to King Arthur by allowing Sir Lancelot into her chambers. Guinevere continues to engage in trysts with Lancelot until the knights finally confront them. Queen Guinevere’s position as royalty sanctioned her sovereignty in which she abused undermining her moral ethic, Jurovics notes “Both Lancelot and Gwenevere recognize that their