Lanval and Sir Launfal (27th January 2016)

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Text of Lanval from British Library Harley MS 978, f. 134r

Next meeting: 27th January / Room 2.47 / 3-5pm

Lanval is an Anglo-Norman Breton lai, which was written by Marie de France in the twelfth century. It focuses on a knight in the Arthurian court, who is pursued by Queen Guinevere. Lanval, however, refuses the queen’s advances as he already has a lover – the fairy mistress. Guinevere subsequently insists that Lanval is a homosexual, and she tells Arthur that Lanval has shamed her by spurning her love. Lanval is then ordered to appear in court where he is judged by the king and his barons.

Sir Launfal an indirect adaptation of Lanval in Middle English, which was produced in the late fourteenth century. It survives in a single fifteenth-century manuscript, British Library MS Cotton Caligula A. ii. Sir Launfal is draws on two particular texts: the Middle English Sir Landevale (a translation of Marie’s lai), and the Old French lay of Graelent.

Questions for discussion

  1. How is the relationship between Lanval and Guinevere portrayed in the two texts? Why is Lanval so suspicious of the queen in the Middle English version?
  2. How is the court represented? How does law and order operate in the two texts?
  3. What is the significance of the Fairy Mistress? How does she bring about resolution in the two texts?
  4. Why is there a greater emphasis on generosity, finance, and economics in the Middle English version?
  5. How are the values of shame and honour employed in the two texts?
  6. How has the original Celtic material been reused in the two texts?
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