Saturday, February 21, 2015

Gawain and Lanval

Sir Launfal is a Breton lai (a sort of poem) about a foreign knight, Sir Launfal, in King Arthur's court. A fairy princess falls in love with Launfal and gives him great happiness and wealth on the condition he doesn't tell anyone about their love.

Unfortunately, Launfal tells Queen Guinevere that his fairy princess is much more beautiful than her. With the promise broken, the fairy princess leaves Launfal. Moreover, Launfal is sentenced to death for insulting the queen and therefore the king. His only hope is that his fairy princess will come and rescue him.

When Launfal is about to be executed, ten beautiful maidens are seen on the road, and Gawain, ever the comforter of the downcast, encourages Launfal.

"Tho seyde Gawayn, that corteys knyght,
'Launfal, brodyr, drede the no wyght!
    Her cometh thy lemman hende.'
Launfal answerede and seyde, 'Ywys,
Non of ham my lemman nys,
    Gawayn, my lefly frende!'
To that castell they wente ryght:
At the gate they gonne alyght;
    Befor Kyng Artour gonne they wende,
And bede hym make aredy hastyly
A fayr chamber, for her lady
    That was come of kynges kende."

That is to say,

Then said Gawain, that courteous knight,
"Launfal, brother, fear you no man!
    Here comes your courteous loved one."
Launfal answered and said, "Indeed,
None of them are my loved one,
    Gawain, my beloved friend!"
To the castle the maidens went directly:
At the gate they dismounted;
    Before King Arthur they went
And bid him make ready quickly
A fair chamber, for their lady
   That was of a king's kin

The maidens, already more beautiful than Guinevere, are merely the messengers of the fairy princess, who finally arrives and takes Launfal away to live in fairyland with her.

What impacted me about this passage is the second line: "Launfal, brodyr, drede the no wyght!" One can imagine Gawain putting an arm around Launfal and pointing out across the road. The knights of the Round Table display unity in battle, but watching out for each other in day to day life shows another level of friendship.

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