Depiction of Female Characters in “Lanval”
“Lanval” is one of the narratives in Marie de France. It is a story about a woman who woos a knight by showering him with many gifts. In the end, the knight does not succumb to these advances, but the woman’s power greatly influences him. The story reflects the female stereotypes within the 12th century and how women were able to win against their oppressors, the men (Burgess 1).
“Lanval” challenges the female stereotypes in a satirical way. Judging from history to modern times, women’s depiction places them as passive sex objects and distressed beautiful maidens. Women are submissive to men who adore their bodies as the best features. These stereotypical gender features are described in “Lanval.” In this narrative, however, the portrayal of women happens in a reversed manner. At the court appearance, the fairy queen—Lanval’s lover—shows characteristics of the stereotypes against women. However, at the same time, Marie de France hit at typical images revealed by women with characteristics that oppose expectations imposed on them.
In the introduction to “Lanval,” Marie de France questions women’s roles. During those times, women could not own property. However, the fairy living in the woods is the owner of a tent. Here, the emperor and Octavian could manage to pay for the front door flap (Burgess 71). This display is a first reader’s glimpse that stuns us with the immense power she wields.
Queen Guinevere is beautiful and powerful as well. In her introduction to the readers, she lays seductively in a pose while draped in sheer clothing as she awaits Lanval to come inside her tent. Her intention is to seduce Lanval with her body, which in fact happens. Guinevere, just like other fairies within this set piece, makes use of her body to attract Lanval’s attention. She behaves like a predator when she notices Lanval. She gets interested in him and makes use of her body to lure Lanval. In this manner, she acts like a bait to capture Lanval’s attention because she understands well what men like. This is the reason why she opts not to go for Lanval in the woods; instead, she sends emissaries to bring him. She was aware that if she went for him by herself, Lanval would not notice her riches or her body’s beauty.
In many stories, a man usually initiates advances to a woman using sweet words and treasures. Upon managing to get a woman, the man then leaves her and she has to follow him while the man dictates to the woman what to do. Queen Guinevere draws a sharp contrast to this power seen in the relationships. She confirms her power by exercising it over Lanval. In the play, the woman possesses a power which many women lack over their men. Like most women would know, Lanval’s instincts tell him that in case he showed disobedience to the women’s wishes, he would definitely dislike the outcome. The woman in “Lanval” wields power that is many a time linked with male characters in common relationships. Queen Guinevere thus has control in the sense that she is at a better position to abandon Lanval at her will if she gets displeased with him. This happens when Lanval goes contrary to her wishes by telling about his affairs to the Queen (Burgess 33). The Queen shows her capabilities by failing to meet him when he wishes to be with her. Pulling such a stunt by a woman on her husband would make the man leave the woman.
At the end of the story, the Queen uses her power to turn the knight (Lanval) into a distressed damsel. During the court scene, Lanval faces the end of his luck and is supposedly at a risk of execution. With very little at his disposal to save himself, the queen steps in owing to her power to save him. She addresses the court directly, thereby defending Lanval. She does this by directing the court’s attention to her wrong deeds. It is quite hard for any woman to stand up in such a court. The story adds a comedy sense to this reversal of roles in the situation when Lanval jumps onto a horse and the Queen rides in the same way a distressed damsel would do as they ride away (Burgess 76).
The Queen as well as the other fairy women who show up at the court during the trial is a sight that dazzles and attacks in a satirical way female stereotypes. Men who are present in the court get to like what they see and thus comment on the women’s figures, complexion, and visage. They also note the sheer apparel that reveals the lovely structures underneath (Burgess 78). The features noted are typical of the images of females presented to please men. The fairies make use of their feminine appeal together with their clothing to attract the court’s attention. They take advantage of the men’s weaknesses using their bodies to draw the court’s attention. Through their dressing, the fairies are well aware that they would distract the court from carrying on with Lanval’s persecution. This bold show of power by the women follows the direct address of the King on his podium.
In conclusion, the women in Marie de France depict female stereotypes. These women are beautiful and have perfect bodies that are sexually appealing. Queen Guinevere exemplifies this. The women’s depiction as cunning is their strategy to get men’s attention. They make use of their beauty and diaphanous clothing to distract men’s attention in noble places like the court, and in the process, men are swayed to their desires.