A Glimpse into Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere’s Love Affair
Honour, World Views, 345-102-MQ
I decided to create a series of letters depicting the correspondence between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere. I originally planned to make them love letters, however I decided it would be more interesting if there was more of a heated back and forth between the characters rather than just declarations of love. I got this idea because when reading the various stories in class, the aspect I enjoyed the most was Guinevere and Lancelot’s relationship. My favourite story was “Lancelot and Guinevere” so I knew I had to find some way to incorporate the plot into my project. I ended up deciding to imagine the letters exchanged between them during the time in “The Fair Maid of Astolat” when Guinevere is angry at Lancelot for having worn another woman’s token at the tournament. In order to make them more realistic, I decided to hand write the notes. This proved to be more of a challenge than I expected, as I had to attempt to create the character’s handwriting. For Lancelot, this was not too challenging. I imagine that he writes in all capital letters, as he was too busy with fighting and training growing up to learn proper cursive. He also makes some spelling mistakes, which he simply crosses out and rewrites rather than erasing the word or starting over. (This was especially helpful when I made mistakes when writing out the notes). Guinevere, on the other hand, does not have a particularly busy schedule, and she has more than enough time to perfect her handwriting. She writes in cursive, which was a bit of a challenge for me as it is not my strong-suit.
Many aspects of courtly love are mentioned in the letters. A few examples are: when Lancelot writes to Guinevere, he uses very passionate language as he attempts to convince her to forgive him. He goes to great lengths to compliment her beauty and graciousness, stating that she surpasses all other women in these traits. Lancelot’s idolization of Guinevere is also made clear in the way he addresses her. As previously mentioned, he puts her on a pedestal above all other ladies in the kingdom, as if she is a god rather than a mortal. In his second letter, he also promises to appease her with the most impressive “offerings” he can procure, a term most commonly used in the context of gods and goddesses. He then goes a step further by straight-up calling her a goddess. There are also several mentions of the gifts Lancelot has given Guinevere, such as a ring that belonged to his Grandmother. In addition, in his first letter Lancelot tells Guinevere that when he returns he will get Sir Gawain to organize another tournament so that King Arthur will leave court, alluding to the forbidden aspect of their love.
As Guinevere is one of the only women who plays a prominent role in the stories, I could not resist having her address the gender inequality of the time period. I have always imagined that Guinevere is kind of a feminist, or that at the very least she does not tolerate any kind of sexist behaviour from her knights. Lancelot strikes me as kind of clueless when it comes to this subject, that’s why I like to think that Guinevere has been taking the time to educate him on what not to do or say. The mindset of women being “emotional and irrational” is mentioned in Lancelot’s second letter, when he claims that Guinevere destroyed the ring because she is a woman and simply could not control her frustration. Guinevere then responds by calling out the hypocrisy of this mindset as no one would ever say such a thing about a man.
My main goal with this project was to explore Lancelot and Guinevere’s relationship. Full disclosure: this is just my interpretation of the characters, and the impression I got of them while reading. I have always thought that they were much more compatible than Guinevere and Arthur. To me, Arthur is much more appeasing, and goes to great lengths to ensure he never offends his wife. In other words, he is too nice to her and Guinevere does not necessarily appreciate that. He sees her as a formality; a king must have a wife so that he can produce an heir. Lancelot treats Guinevere more like a person. He is full of devotion to her, but he is also not afraid to call her out, which she likes. In his first letter, Lancelot is much more formal, as he knows he is in the wrong and desperately wants Guinevere to forgive him. However, after he receives her response, he knows that if she is willing to write back, she will most likely be willing to forgive him. He even calls her out in this letter, saying he is not worried about Arthur because last time Guinevere went back to him it lasted only two hours.
I realize that Lancelot spells his name differently than Guinevere does. This was actually my mistake, but I thought about it and decided that Lancelot prefers his name spelt with a “u” while Guinevere prefers it without.