Romance inside out: love, chivalry, and revenge in La Vengeance Raguidel.
In presenting this woman so unlike the typical courtly lady, the tale's composer, Raoul, (2) confronts the audience with a visible indication that the courtly world of his romance is far from traditional. Indeed, it is as "inside out" as the damsel's clothes, particularly in the realm of love. Inconstancy, misery, and despair mark relationships, and no longer does the desire to be worthy of one's beloved inspire generosity or noble acts. Nonetheless, love plays an integral role in the tale: the pain invariably associated with it spurs characters into action. The episodes of La Vengeance Raguidel revolve not around affection itself, but rather around the wish to punish those responsible for unhappy relationships. In fact, one might argue that it could just as easily be entitled La Vengeance Gauvain, Maduc, Yder, or la Pucele del Gaut Destroit, for each of these characters expends considerable time and energy attempting to avenge the wrongs done to him or her. (3) Love may be fleeting, but the thirst for revenge to which it leads proves to be of far greater duration.
To understand how revenge supplants affection as a driving force, one must first examine the ways in which Raoul dismantles romance commonplaces concerning heroes and heroines. Throughout the tale, he refuses the tradition of pairing two characters to form an ideal couple, as an overview of the plot makes clear. Having gone to bed after waiting in vain for an adventure to present itself, Arthur sees a mysterious ship arrive. On board, the king discovers a knight's body along with a letter requesting vengeance for the deceased. Gauvain promptly sets off on the quest, ending his first day's journey at the castle of Maduc le Noir, which he enters despite the forbidding sight of numerous heads on pikes. After defeating Maduc in single combat, Gauvain continues his voyage and soon finds lodging with the woman Maduc is wooing, the Pucele del Gaut Destroit. The woman--smitten with Arthur's nephew without having met him--intends to keep Gauvain by her side eternally, but the knight's escape foils her plans. Following a second short stay with Maduc, Gauvain returns to Arthur's court, along the way rescuing a maiden with whom he falls in love, Ydain. Prior to leaving court, Gauvain defends his new amie against Keu's criticisms and sets a date for future battle with Druidain, another knight seeking Ydain's affections. He keeps his promise to Druidain, but not before seeing a less appealing side of Ydain in an episode that leads to the demise of their brief relationship. Shortly thereafter, Gauvain encounters the dead knight's amie, who recounts the tale of Raguidel's death at the hands of Guengasouin. Gauvain finally avenges Raguidel, a feat that earns him the right to marry Guengasouin's daughter, Trevilonete. Arthur's nephew, however, finally agrees to allow the maiden to wed the knight she loves, Yder. He then returns to Arthur's court triumphant, accompanied by Yder, Trevilonete, and Raguidel's amie.
With this cast of characters, Raoul ensures that relationships cannot proceed in typical fashion, for the couple at romance's heart disappears. Here, pairs are replaced by trios: Maduc, the Pucele del Gaut Destroit, and Gauvain; Druidain, Ydain, and Gauvain; and Yder, Trevilonete, and Gauvain. (4) Relationships invariably fall apart as Gauvain sows havoc by winning women in spirit (the Pucele), body (Trevilonete), or both (Ydain). Moreover, no form of love can withstand all trials. One may win a lady's heart only to lose it (Maduc, loved by the Pucele until she sees Gauvain), encounter obstacles to marriage even when love is reciprocated (Yder), or woo a woman without ever earning her affection (Druidain). The sole characters forming a traditional couple--the brave, handsome, and renowned Raguidel (5040) and his faithful amie--find their union ended by the knight's death.
At the same time that he transforms pairs into love triangles, Raoul calls into question conventional assumptions about the qualities of the perfect mate. In the case of female characters, he challenges the link between physical beauty and a noble character, which no longer necessarily coincide. The deceptive potential of one's appearance takes its most obvious form in Gauvain's relationship with Ydain. Initially, all signs point to lasting bliss for the pair, as the circumstances of their meeting--pleasant weather and female gratitude--create the ideal setting for love. On a sunny, clear day filled with the sound of birds singing, Gauvain rescues Ydain from a knight who is physically abusing her; according to Ydain, the man has waged war against her for five years and killed her father (3426-29). Ydain's attractiveness makes her an appropriate mate for Gauvain, and the narrator's comment about the pleasurable night that follows their meeting suggests other types of physical compatibility, as well (3690-93). Yet soon thereafter, Gauvain discovers that Ydain is not the faithful amie he believes her to be in a well-known scene to which I will return shortly. Her character flaws clash with her beauty, and despite her loveliness, she is a far cry from the traditional courtly lady. Instead of leading Gauvain to aspire to heroic exploits, she succeeds only in engendering spite and vitriol in the knight. The link between visible attractiveness and a courtly personality, characteristics that conventionally ground love, is tenuous at best.
The unflattering depiction of Ydain is one reason for which critics have frequently--and justly--characterized the romance as misogynistic. (5) I would like to suggest, however, that Raoul equally debunks the myth of the ideal knight. No longer is a single man capable of both loving a lady faithfully and carrying out heroic exploits singlehandedly. To the contrary, amorous success and prowess remain distinct. The narrator hints at the division between the two from the outset, for the missive that Arthur discovers on the mysterious body on the ship insists upon the need for two men to join forces:
Et cil qui ostera la lance N'en porroit prendre la vengance Qu'il n'ait .i. autre honme avuec lui, Et par l'aide de chelui Ki les anials li ostera La mort de cestui [Raguidel] vengera; Car sans l'aide au chevalier Qui les anials pora sacier, N'en porroit pas prendre vengance Qui le tros avra de la lance. (195-204)
[He who removes the lance will not be able to take revenge without another man with him. With the help of the one who removes the rings, he will avenge Raguidel's death. Without the aid of the knight who can pull off the rings, he who has the piece of the lance will not be able to exact vengeance.]
Gauvain--who has the lance--and Yder--who removes the rings--must thus work together to defeat Guengasouain, Raguidel's killer, in order to bring the tale to a close. The very conditions of vengeance dictate that a sole knight cannot earn all of the glory, thus preventing the romance from ending on the anticipated note of balance between love and prowess.
The romance ensures that the unusual separation of affection from chivalric ability does not escape the audience's attention by detailing the reaction of Guengasouain's barons at the battle's conclusion. Although Yder contributes to the triumph by killing the bear defending Guengasouain, Gauvain alone meets and defeats his opponent in the final battle. (6) The barons recognize Gauvain's right to Trevilonete as the ultimate victor and offer him the maiden in no uncertain terms:
C'est la fille Guengasouain, Sire," font il, "receves la! Ses pere dont li cors gist la, Nos fist jurer quant il vivoit Qu'al chevalier qui l'ociroit, Quels que il fust, la donroit on, Sans terme, quant nos venrion Qu'il serroit mort outreement. Il est mors et de[l] sairement Ki fu fais nos aquitons nos. Veschi la damoissele, et vos En ferns vostre volonte! (5876-87)
["This is Guengasouin's daughter, sire," they said. "Take her! Her father, whose body lies here, made us promise when he was alive that as soon as we saw that he was dead, we would give her to whichever knight had slain him. He is dead, and now we acquit ourselves of our oath. Here is the maiden; do with her as you wish!"]
In referring repeatedly to Guengasouain's death as they reiterate the terms of the knight's testament, the barons place the focus squarely on Gauvain's accomplishment; he, after all, is the one who has brought about Guengasouain's demise, and obligation now requires that the barons testify to Gauvain's prowess with a concrete reward.
Nonetheless, wedding bells do not await Gauvain and Trevilonete, and the reasons lie in the rift between duty born of prowess and the power of affection. Immediately following Gauvain's acceptance of the barons' offer, the narrator calls specific attention to Yder's reaction to the news. Not surprisingly, the situation leaves him upset. His motivation for speaking to Gauvain could not be any clearer:
Il vit la pucele au blont clef Qu'il ama et qui tant fu bele, Lors li rescaufe et renovele L'amors dont il estoit espris; Car ses cuers en avoit tant pris Qu'il sorondoit de totes pars. Il vint plus fiers que .i. lupars Entre les autres, si parla, Voire, si come amors li a Son bon engoint et encacie. (5908-17)
[He saw the blond maiden whom he loved and who was so beautiful. The love that inflamed him warmed and revived him, for his heart overflowed with it. He came to the others fiercer than a leopard and spoke as love dictated.]
Whereas the barons' proposal is couched in terms of responsibility to Guengasouain and underscores Gauvain's superiority on the battlefield, the presentation of Yder's perspective focuses squarely on love. Chivalry and affection cannot unite. Gauvain's response to Yder's request highlights the distinction between knightly ability in combat and amorous sentiments, for love is far from his mind. He defends his position by informing Yder that such a demand is folly, "Car la damoissele et sa terre / M'est donee et [si] est a moi ..." (5956-57) ["For the maiden and her land is given to me and thus is mine"]. Gauvain thus focuses firmly on lady and her land, which are inseparable in his eyes (and in the grammatical structure of his reply, since a singular verb follows a plural subject). In addition, Gauvain's objectification of the lady implies that he will treat her as he would the land: she is a gift who belongs to him and whose honor he will do his utmost to protect (5890-98), presumably as he would defend any property in his possession. Affection does not enter into consideration.
Not surprisingly, Gauvain's victory does not earn him the young woman's heart. Trevilonete, protesting the situation, manages to get in a subtle jibe at Gauvain as she proclaims her fidelity to Yder, declaring to Arthur's nephew that: "Vos meismes a cui je sui / Ne me plaissies tant com'il fait" (5978-79) ["You to whom I belong please me less than he does"]. Exploits and chivalric honor clearly do not sway her feelings; prowess alone does not necessarily result in affection. When her pleas, combined with those of Yder (prepared to sacrifice his life if he cannot be with his amie despite Gauvain's insistance that there are other women at court), convince Gauvain to give up his recompense, the gap between love and chivalric ability widens and the shortcomings of each knight come to the fore. Gauvain's success in combat highlights Yder's inability to win his lady on the battlefield, whereas Yder's devotion accentuates Gauvain's lack of love (and may well recall his recent loss of Ydain).
Further underscoring the disjunction between love and prowess, the tale suggests that the same chivalric talents that can occasion love may actually doom Gauvain's chances for attaining enduring romantic satisfaction. Any woman who seeks the heart of the most chivalric of knights faces a bleak amorous future, as the Pucele del Gaut Destroit realizes. Deeply enamored of Gauvain after seeing him win a tournament, she recognizes the impossibility of a lasting relationship with Arthur's nephew even as she hopes that he will one day come to her castle. As she unknowingly converses with him, she does not hesitate to express her awareness of what the future would hold even if Gauvain were to accord her his heart:
Demain en .i. autre contree Iroit chevaleries querre, Si troveroit en .i. terre La fille d'un conte u d'un roi, Qui serroit plus bele de moi: Por l'amor de li me harroit! (2346-51)
[Tomorrow he would seek adventures in another land. He would find the daughter of a count or king more beautiful than I, and for her love he would hate me!]
In spite of having seen Gauvain just once, her words accurately capture his character: Gauvain's very abilities as a knight would lead him to stray. While the Pucele's comments connect prowess/ adventure and beautiful women, they also suggest that the two oppose each other insofar as constant quests sow the seeds of destruction in the relationships that they inspire. Even when prowess results in love, this love eventually fails, turning to hate.
Although love offers complications rather than solutions, it nonetheless proves to be a powerful force in the romance--literally. As Norris J. Lacy notes, its strength resides in its destructive potential. (7) The havoc that love can wreak certainly manifests itself physically; one need only to consider the Pucele del Gaut Destroit's wish to kill Gauvain or Maduc's determination to slay all knights until he regains the Pucele's affections to perceive the violence it summons. Its damaging potential goes far beyond possible bodily harm, however. The tale suggests that, rather like death, love is the great leveler, joining embittered characters in the brotherhood of the disillusioned. Moreover, knights become equals at the lowest common denominator. Rather than aspire to better themselves for love, knights instead regress toward incivility, as evidenced in the relationship between Gauvain and an unexpected double: Keu.
Arthur's seneschal generally represents all that is not courtly; his sharp tongue, impetuosity, and failure at quest after quest ensure him the sort of renown that knights prefer to avoid. Gauvain, on the other hand, possesses all of the qualities that Keu lacks. Indeed, the distinction between the two at first appears to hold firm in La Vengeance Raguidel. Other knights reinforce the conventional reputations of the two men, referring to Keu in derogatory terms while evoking the bravery and courtliness of Gauvain. At the same time, Gauvain's celebrity appears to stem mainly from his name recognition and a reputation built upon earlier feats. (8) Upon meeting the knight when he is away from the Arthurian court, almost no character recognizes him as the great Gauvain; the actual man does not correspond to the image that others have of him as a legend. (9) His presence in and of itself no longer announces him as the paragon of chivalry, nor does an indisputable superiority on the battlefield. Yder, watching the initial battle between Gauvain and Guengasouain, is astonished to see Gauvain's struggles and remarks: "Li pris est abatus / Del millor chevalier del monde!" (5566-67) ["The prestige of the world's best knight has fallen!"]. Yet the true extent of Gauvain's fallibility only comes into view when the narrator underscores his weaknesses by drawing parallels between Arthur's nephew and the seneschal.
Early on, the romance begins to suggest that Gauvain may be more like Keu than one suspects. Similarities between the two are at first subtle; as expected, Gauvain certainly avoids the spectacular defeats regularly handed to Keu. At the same time, Keu's failures do not necessarily enhance Gauvain's successes. Instead, the juxtaposition of Keu's early chivalric mishaps with Gauvain's initial departure from Arthur's court does precisely the opposite. Gauvain leaves just after Keu--never a quitter, despite his constant lack of success--has been unable to defend a knight in his protection. The knight's death infuriates Arthur, who indicates his displeasure by sending help for his wounded seneschal with the specific instructions that Keu must return on foot and not on horseback (512-17). The narrator has the perfect opportunity to underscore Gauvain's heroism at this point. Yet Arthur's nephew leaves without the lance, thereby guaranteeing his own inability to complete his quest. Keu has just met failure and Gauvain is about to.
The defining moment in the juxtaposition of Keu and Gauvain, however, occurs as a result of the difficulties each experiences when dealing with his amie. (10) On his way back to court to recover the lance, Gauvain meets and falls in love with Ydain. As they make their way to Rovelent, the two encounter a young man who has recently seen Arthur. He recounts the woeful tale of a magic cloak that shrinks when placed on a woman who has been unfaithful. Of hundreds of women at court, only one emerges from the test unscathed. Keu's beloved stands out, too, but not because of her impressive fidelity. When she tries on the garment, it shrinks so greatly that it does not even cover the back of her (3958-59). The experience leaves the seneschal resentful, with no kind words for any woman--Ydain included. Indeed, after meeting her, Keu hints that Gauvain's relationship with the young woman may well lead Arthur's nephew to delay his quest. He first suggests that Ydain will prove to be a distraction, keeping Gauvain's mind off vengeance for Raguidel and tempting him to seek nice accommodations where he can spend time with his lady (renting a room by the hour, as it were). Keu then concludes that since everyone at court has been shamed, Gauvain, too, risks such a fate. Even after Arthur reprimands the seneschal for his untoward words, Keu cannot resist a final comment before leaving to prepare for dinner. He tells the king that "On ne puet le honte desfere; / Tuit le sevent, bien le saves!" (4124-25) ["It is impossible to undo shame; everyone knows that, and you know it well!"]. A short time later, he asserts to Gauvain that he himself will never love again, as women are in effect all the same (4181-87). (11)
Initially, one may be tempted to dismiss Keu's cynical words, for they are entirely in keeping with his character. The least courtly member of the Arthurian realm certainly ought to be able to recognize a lack of courtliness, and his impetuosity makes the seneschal a likely candidate for voicing his criticisms. Gauvain views the situation in just such a light; his first instinct tells him to contradict Keu, since he is sure that Ydain is the best and most courtly of ladies, but he chooses to hold his tongue because he knows that his words would fall on deaf ears. Nevertheless, Keu's comments deserve reevaluation. Despite Arthur's criticism of Keu's inability to avoid the topic of dishonor, the theme's recurrence in the following scenes justifies Keu's refusal to change the subject. Keu actually understands the situation better than do Arthur and Gauvain. His warnings may reflect his sharp tongue and pessimism, but they are also true. In point of fact, Ydain does distract Gauvain from his quest after they leave the court--although with battles over her and not with her body. Furthermore, the shame of which Keu speaks repeatedly falls upon Gauvain a few hundred lines after his departure with Ydain. Worse, when Ydain chooses to leave Gauvain for another knight, her reasons are decidedly base. She and Gauvain happen upon the knight as he urinates, and though the narrator tells us that he is not sure if Ydain has seen inside his pants, he certainly insinuates that she has--and that she liked what she saw (4496-4502).
Ydain, then, is no more faithful than Keu's lady. Gauvain himself notes the similarity between his predicament and that of the seneschal, praising the justice of Keu's evaluation of female fidelity in a long diatribe:
"Kex me dist bien en son sermon Que femes estoient itels." De ce li menbre que dist Kex, Que, par la soie qu'il amot, Dist a la cort le vilain mot: "Honies fuissent eles totes!" "Kex, tu as droit si tu en doutes, Totes les maudesis par non, Et je dis bien, ce soient mon. Tu les maudis, jes honirra[i]. Ja mais nule n'en amerai De cuer! Damesdius le[s] confonde! Car eles honnissent le monde. Kex, tu as droit, si tu t'eskrignes, Encontre eles et tu les grignes, Or me tieg je a ton acort! Kex, je sui fols, or m'i acort. Tos lemons est honnis par eus! Kex, or ai je, le mes honteus Que a la cort me promesistes! Onques mais plus voir ne disistes, Je sui hontels et tot par li." (4624-45)
["Keu told me in his speech that women were like that!" He remembers the terrible thing that Keu said at court because of the lady that he loved: "May they all be shamed!" "Keu, you are right to doubt them, to speak ill of all of them expressly, and I say truly that women are that way. You speak ill of them, I will shame them. Never will I truly love any of them! May God disgrace them, for they bring shame on the world! Keu, you are right if you mock them, meet them and you complain about them. Now I agree with you! Keu, I am crazy, I agree. Everyone is shamed by them! Keu, now I have had the shameful dish that you promised me at court. You never spoke more truly. I am fully shamed by her."]
By repeating Keu's name so frequently in the passage, Gauvain underscores the parallels between the two. He takes on Keu's characteristics, as well, veering off into generalizations about the entire female sex because of his personal experiences and asserting his opinion aggressively, as the editor suggests with the use of multiple exclamation points. Gauvain thus bears a greater resemblance to the seneschal at this moment than to the courageous ladies' man he is reputed to be. Love creates no lasting bond between Gauvain and Ydain, but it does draw Gauvain and Keu closer together in misogyny. Instead of turning to love as an incentive for successful feats of prowess, knights must seek inspiration elsewhere. At best, love ends in death--presumably before it can go wrong--or violates oaths. (13) At worst, it engenders spite in those who experience it, setting the stage for later acts of cruelty. (14)
Given the negative portrayal of love throughout the tale, it comes as no surprise that the desire to show oneself worthy of a lovely lady's affection serves as no inspiration whatsoever in the accomplishment of chivalric exploits. Neither does the desire to see a quest through to completion necessarily lead to great feats. Despite the tale's title, vengeance for Raguidel hardly makes an impression on Gauvain once he has removed the segment of lance from the knight's corpse, thereby revealing his destiny as Raguidel's avenger. Although the letter accompanying the dead knight's body insists that revenge can only be achieved with the rings on his fingers and the section of lance that remains in his body, Gauvain forgets to take the piece of wood with him when he rushes off to avenge the knight. (15) Clearly, Gauvain's obligation to the dead knight does not in and of itself encourage his success.
Revenge does, however, hold great motivational potential as long it somehow involves love. The hatred born of love gone wrong and the subsequent desire to avenge one's rejection and humiliation provide the impetus for nearly all of the action in the tale. (16) Gauvain's reaction to Ydain's departure with the urinating knight demonstrates clearly the role that revenge plays in keeping the romance moving forward when amorous relationships fail. The heartbroken knight feels no wish to seek Raguidel's killer once he has lost his lady's affection. He is, though, quite concerned with Keu's likely reaction to the news, as Busby points out. (17) Were Arthur's nephew to return to court emptyhanded once again, he knows that Keu would call him a liar (4608-9). The prospect of having to admit that Keu had accurately predicted his failure in both amorous and chivalric matters--turning his private shame at having failed with Ydain into public shame, according to Krueger (18)--spurs Gauvain to continue on his adventure. Completing his quest to bring justice to Raguidel permits Gauvain to avoid additional shame and to divert attention from his disastrous relationship with Ydain. In other words, returning with news of his triumph over Guengasouain offers Gauvain the means of downplaying his humiliation and of taking figurative revenge on Keu, whose mockery (and correct assessment of female fidelity) brings embarrassment to Gauvain. (19) Proving Keu wrong--at least in the arena of chivalric success--offers the only means that Gauvain has to "punish" the seneschal for his earlier comments, whose error can then be seen by all members of Arthur's court. Without this odd form of inspiration, vengeance for Raguidel would never come to pass.
Gauvain's thirst for revenge is even more clearly directed at the person who has caused him such shame. Physically winning the woman back when he slays the knight for whom she has left him, Gauvain pays no heed to Ydain's protests that she merely wished to test his affection (4738-62). Ydain has repaid his love with infidelity (and certain aspersions cast upon his sexual prowess); in order to efface his shame, Gauvain must make his superiority and her unworthiness clear. He finds the perfect opportunity to do so during his armed encounter with Druidain, from which--not unexpectedly--he emerges triumphant. Yet Druidain is not the true target of Gauvain's wish to demonstrate his knightly merit; his victory actually allows him to humiliate Ydain in a very public fashion. Gauvain's response to Druidain's plea for mercy calls attention at once to the chivalric hierarchy and to Ydain's inferiority:
Or voit on bien que ta vertu Ne puet noient vers moi valoir! Je ne vuel mais la Pucele avoir: Quant tu m'as de merchi requis, Je te le doins, si t'en saissis, Voiant tos cels de cele cort! (4842-47)
[Now all can see that your worth is nothing compared to mine! I no longer want the Pucele: since you asked for her, I give her to you, so take her in front of everyone at this court!]
All present at the battle can--and must, for Gauvain to avenge his shame--observe Gauvain's ability on the battlefield and his renunciation of Ydain. (20) Gauvain thus earns a double victory: he has bested both Druidain and Ydain. To ensure that his triumph over Ydain is complete, Gauvain openly advises his rival not to believe anything that the mendacious Ydain tells him, if he hopes to avoid problems (4854-57). Literally giving the woman to his defeated opponent and alluding to her past faithlessness allows Gauvain to assert his power. (21)
Not only Gauvain's visible repudiation of Ydain but also the physical characteristics of the knight with whom he leaves her make this act of revenge especially complete. Druidain's first appearance in the romance suggests his physical unsuitability to win the woman's heart, for his image does not match that of la belle Ydain. The narrator emphasizes that he certainly poses no threat to Gauvain's handsomeness. After praising the arrival's legs, feet, and manner of sitting astride a horse--as if he had been born upon one (4214-15)--the narrator turns his attention to the rest of the knight's body:
Del braiel dusqu'as esperons N'entra onques rains fais en cort; Mais il avoit le cors si cort, Plat et jete et corbe eschine, Si avoit endroit la poitrine Une boche, qui real li sist. (4216-21)
[From his waist to his spurs, never had one so well made come to the court. But he had such a short, flat, sunken upper body and his spine was so crooked that he had a hump level with his chest, which was unbecoming.]
Additional details concerning the knight's handsome hands, square fists, large arms, lovely blond tresses, white skin, and strength, are then juxtaposed with another mention of his repugnant upper body. As the narrator sums up the situation, "A .i. sol mot le vos devis / Qu'il ert de tos membres bien fais, / Mais de cors ert petis et lais / Et plus despis c'autre riens nee" (4238-341) [I can tell you in a word that all of his members were well made, but his upper body was small and ugly and more contemptible than any living thing]. In other words, Druidain embodies physical perfection and extreme defection at the same time. (22) Awarding Ydain to this ill-formed, vanquished knight--and warning him to beware of Ydain's faithless nature--leaves both spectators and audience with an enduring reminder of Ydain's shame and Gauvain's revenge.
Revenge born of love gone awry thus permits Gauvain to reconfirm his chivalric merit and defend his reputation. In theory, at least, it holds similar potential for Maduc, the once and (he hopes) future suitor of the Pucele del Gaut Destroit. He claims to commit his violent acts for love, since he must prove that he is a more formidable knight than is Gauvain in order to regain the Pucele's heart. To be sure, his attempt to exact revenge on Gauvain (which explains the knights' heads on poles at his castle, as Maduc has never seen Gauvain's face and thus must kill all whom he encounters, hoping that Gauvain will be among his victims) can theoretically reunite him with his lady. Yet a closer look at Maduc's words and actions suggests that love is perhaps not his main goal as he pursues simultaneous revenge against the Pucele del Gaut Destroit and Gauvain in circumstances that underscore how easily love may turn to hatred.
First, his affection may have deeper roots in self-interest than in altruism. While his lady's heart is at stake, Maduc hopes to win far more if he is able to convince her of his valor. After Gauvain defeats Maduc in battle, the defeated knight informs his opponent (whom he does not recognize) that he is certain that if he were to kill Gauvain, he would also have both his lady and her land--to which he alludes repeatedly in two verses ("Si aroie le Gaut Destroit, / Et la contree et le pais," 1438-39) ["Thus I would have Gaut Destroit and the region and the land"] after a single mention of winning her love.
When Maduc does finally discover Gauvain's identity, his reaction further suggests his priorities as regards his lady. Any desire that he feels for her is subordinated to concerns for his own honor. Though he acknowledges the irony of the situation--Gauvain has returned seeking shelter from the Pucele del Gaut Destroit's knights--Maduc immediately announces that he is happy to have learned Gauvain's name (2718-24). Pressed for a reason for this unexpected joy, he explains that he believed that a lesser knight had defeated him, and that he had thus lost his honor (2738-39). He then agrees to protect Gauvain at all costs. From a man determined to earn his lady's love, Maduc therefore becomes her enemy (hardly an effective strategy for winning back her heart). Love clearly does not take precedence over Maduc's other concerns.
Second, although he insists that he loves the lady, his feelings have a strange way of manifesting themselves. Explaining that the Pucele loves Gauvain, Maduc continues: "Et moi het, si me fair anui / Et ne het rien tant come moi, / Etje l'ain trop, si le guerroi / Por ce que ne me daigne amer" (1402-1405) ["And she hates me and thus creates problems for me. She hates nothing more than me. And I love her so much that I fight with her, because she won't love me"]. Maduc's profession of love, surrounded by reminders of the Pucele's scorn, is itself indissociable from the war he makes on this lady. His supposed affection cannot overcome his desire to punish her for rebuffing him as a suitor.
Maduc's conversations with Gauvain also suggest that his need for revenge will inevitably eclipse any tender feelings for his lady. The initial lengthy explanation of his tradition of forcing all visiting knights to do battle alludes first to Maduc's original bliss with the Pucele--"Si ne cuic que nus ait ame / Pucele tant conje l'ai amee" (1240-41) ["I don't believe that anyone has ever loved a maiden as much as I loved her"]--and then to the spurned suitor's feelings for Gauvain: "Sine he nule creature / Corn faic cel Gauvain queje di" (1420-21) ["And I hate no one as much as I hate Gauvain"]. The knight quickly directs his spite at the Pucele del Gaut Destroit, too; when Maduc encounters the Pucele's hunters, the narrator takes the opportunity to remind the audience that Maduc hates the lady because she refused him her love (1557-59). The passage from love to hate mirrors the Pucele's emotions, as well, as she reciprocates Maduc's love before Gauvain's arrival, at which point she scorns Maduc and soon grows to hate Gauvain, as well. In both cases, an image of hatred, rather than of love, takes precedence.
Indeed, words of war characterize later meetings between Maduc and the Pucele del Gaut Destroit, whose conversations revolve entirely around Gauvain. After Maduc rejects the Pucele's demand that he surrender Gauvain to the lady, the two grow increasingly belligerent. Upon the Pucele's threat to besiege his castle, Maduc responds: "Seje voie Diu en la face,/ ... bien sacies / J'avrai ancois les iols sacies / Que vers lui [Gauvain] face traisson!" (2830-33) ["If I were to see God himself, you know well that I would have my eyes put out rather than betray Gauvain"], leading the lady to promise to take Gauvain by force before nightfall (2836-37) and soon bringing her war machines to begin the promised siege. The pair shows no vestiges of love whatsoever. Despite Maduc's earlier protestations of deep affection for the Pucele, punishing her (by both defending Gauvain and waging war on the Pucele's men) ostensibly has greater importance than seeking to win back her love. Maduc's brutal acts, whether carried out against the Pucele or knights who happen upon his castle, find their justification in his right to revenge his lost love. Vengeance allows him to indulge his temper. (23)
The theme of hate's proximity to love, which plays a supporting role in Maduc's relationship with the Pucele del Gaut Destroit, takes center stage when Gauvain meets the Pucele at her castle. Until now, I have focused on revenge in relation to men--not surprisingly, perhaps, given the opportunities that male characters have to convert their love-induced shame or hostility into armed encounters. Nevertheless, as noted earlier, love is no more a positive experience for the tale's female characters than for the men. The pursuit of vengeance offers an appropriate reaction to the perceived betrayals love brings about for both sexes. The Pucele del Gaut Destroit offers striking proof that revenge does not fall exclusively in the male domain. She reveals to Gauvain that when she offered her wimple to the victor of the long-ago tournament, she cried three times that it was a sign of "druerie" (2260-61). Gauvain's acknowledgement of her gift therefore indicates his acceptance of her desire for a relationship; in the Pucele's mind, the fact that Gauvain never sought to learn her identity can only prove that he is ashamed of her (2267). (24)
Slighted by Gauvain--whether intentionally or not--the Pucele decides to kill the object of her affection, explaining her reasons in terms that evoke the easy transition from love to hate. She leads the knight into a chapelle piegee, inviting him to place his head under one window in particular and alluding to the fate that awaits Arthur's nephew:
Se sa teste ert en cel broion, Ja n'en prendroie raencon: De lui issi me vengeroie Que la teste li trenceroie. Quant mort serroit, sans demourance Feroie de moi tel vengance, Que je m'ociroie apres lui. Quand mort seriesmes anbedui En cest sarcu seriesmes mis, [Et] Bouce a bouce et visa vis. Issi me feroit conpaignie Mort quant il nel vuet faire en we. (2293-2304)
[If I had his head in this trap, I would not accept a ransom: I would avenge myself by cutting off his head. When he was dead, I would exact revenge on myself without delay, killing myself after him. When we were both dead, we would be placed in this sarcophagus, mouth to mouth and face to face. Here he would keep me company dead as he does not want to do in life.]
A fine line divides seemingly antithetical sentiments, with love and hatred juxtaposed in the Pucele's speech. Words of affection flow easily after a description of a violent act that seems inconsistent with love and then lead to a final comment suggesting spite. Eternal love, at least in the lady's eyes, can only exist in death.
Fusing love and hatred, which leads to a thirst for revenge, empowers the Pucele del Gaut Destroit by pushing her into action. Her very words evoke chivalric images and cast her as a warrior. Like a battling knight, she will take her revenge--a goal impossible to overlook, given the vocabulary in the passage--on what she perceives as Gauvain's perfidy by decapitating him. In short, she becomes a worthy adversary for the man who is at once her beloved and her opponent. Her discourse also evokes the notion of honor; she will negate the shame of Gauvain's rejection by forcing him to spend all eternity with her. Moreover, she deals assertively with other characters, further displaying the power that she possesses. Certain that Gauvain will come if he learns that his brother is in trouble, the Pucele has Gaheriet imprisoned and tortured, taking literal control of his body. After Gauvain helps Gaheriet escape and seeks shelter with Maduc, the Pucele besieges the castle. References to vengeance in this episode also call to mind Gauvain's apparent indifference toward avenging Raguidel's murder. Whereas Gauvain is frequently sidetracked from his quest, the Pucele pursues hers singlemindedly. In an odd sense, then, the Pucele plays more of a chivalric role than does Gauvain. While she never achieves her goal, the vigor with which she pursues it clearly demonstrates the power of revenge--whether it is more closely allied with love or with hatred.
Furthermore, whatever Gauvain's (and the reader's) objections, one must admit that the Pucele's resolution is understandable given her situation even though Raoul never presents her in a sympathetic light. Her predicament points to the role that the courtly world plays in its own troubles, and Krueger suggests that the Pucele's plan testifies more to her powerlessness than to her influence, because she can only avoid Gauvain's rejection in death. (25) While the Pucele del Gaut Destroit behaves in a fashion unbecoming to a courtly lady, she does so only after Gauvain himself breaks the tournament rules--albeit unknowingly--for the Pucele has called the knights together to determine who will earn her hand in marriage (2234-41). Caught between her desire for a lasting love with Gauvain and the knowledge that she cannot have a traditional relationship, the Pucele must seek a third option. The success of her plan would, in effect, conjoin her opposing sentiments in much the same way that she and Gauvain would present the image of lovers, but in a macabre setting.
Revenge's potential to unite rather than separate couples takes on concrete form in the case of Yder and Trevilonete. Although love is Yder's ultimate goal, hatred allows him to attain his objective. Raguidel's amie insists first upon the latter sentiment when Gauvain inquires about Yder's reasons for wishing Guengasouain dead (in typical Gauvain fashion, he can only assume that Raguidel's beloved has already been or is preparing to be unfaithful, and that Yder hopes to win her affections) : "Bials sire, il het le chevalier / Et il het lui, plus a d'un an" (5230-31) ["Dear sir, he hates the knight and has hated him for more than a year"]. Only after stressing Yder's animosity does the young woman disclose the knight's feelings for Trevilonete and the reasons for his plight. Indeed, in concluding her explanation, the damsel tacitly acknowledges both the potency of love as an incitement to violence and the strength of Yder's desire to kill the man who prevents his marriage. She states blatantly that Yder must pursue Guengasouain: "Si s'entremet mult de lui nuire / Et se porcace quanqu'il puet. / Il n'en puet mais, amors l'esmuet" (5276-78) ["He takes great pains to harm him, and he tries to do so with all his might. He can do nothing else, for love moves him"]. Love leads to hatred, which is a powerful motivator. In fact, Yder's marriage to Trevilonete (which flouts the terms set by her father) after pursuing and contributing to Guengasouain's death may be seen as the ultimate act of revenge against the man who refused to permit the pair to wed. (26) Even in instances when love is possible, it cannot be separated from the violence that it brings about and the vengeful acts that enable it.
The union of Yder and Trevilonete notwithstanding, the romance creates an image of love that is no less "bestorne" than the clothes of Raguidel's amie. The audience sees a side of the sentiment meant to stay hidden; love separates couples and generates disharmony, leading to hatred rather than to success and glory. True inspiration comes not from affection, but from the omnipresent desire for revenge that informs La Vengeance Raguidel and consistently advances the plot. Surprisingly, revenge shows itself to be both closely linked to affection and the most effective potential means of obtaining union. The pursuit of vengeance, far more than love, makes possible the tale's semblance of a happy ending, permitting Yder to wed Trevilonete and Gauvain to return to Arthur's court with his reputation intact. (27) Even marriage and renown thus rest upon vengeance. In this romance, the courtly world can exist without perfect love--but not without revenge.
Saint Joseph's University
(1) The scene's insistance on the oddity of the young woman's clothes maximizes the encounter's effect on both Gauvain and the audience. Expressions such as "envers," "en travers," "defors tornee," "devers," "dedans," and "dedans dehors tornees" fill the twenty line passage and ensure that the woman's appearance takes center stage. All citations come from Raoul, La Vengeance Raguidel, ed. Mathias Friedwagner (Halle: Niemeyer, 1909). Translations are mine; in some instances, I have modified tenses or syntax to convey better the intent of the original. May Plouzean offers a more recent edition of the romance--using a different base manuscript than Friedwagner--online at: http://www.uottawa.ca/academic/arts/ lfa/activites/textes/Vengeance.
(2) Scholars continue to debate whether this Raoul is Raoul de Houdenc, author of Meraugis de Portlesguez and Le Roman des Eles. I find certain stylistic similarities but am not convinced that the Raouls are one and the same man. There is also some question as to the date of the romance's composition. Douglas Kelly, Medieval French Romance (New York: Twayne, 1993), 18, places it in approximately 1210, whereas Beate Schmolke-Hasselmann, The Evolution of Arthurian Romance: The Verse Tradition from Chretien to Froissart, trans. Margaret and Roger Middleton (Cambridge U. Press, 1998), 17, suggests that it may have been composed ten to twenty years later.
(3) According to Roberta Krueger, shame inevitably accompanies honor in relationships between the sexes, with honor for one sex relying upon shame for the other (Women Readers and the Ideology of Gender of Old French Verse Romance [Cambridge U. Press, 1993], 98).
(4) Raoul's non-traditional depiction of love fits in well with his divergence from several other romance conventions. For instance, an emphasis on custom in the opening ninety lines of the tale--five references to habit occur in this span, centered on Arthur's tendency to wait for an adventure to arrive before feasting at Easter--underscores the fact that Raoul's narrative breaks with tradition almost immediately (no adventure arrives before dinner, leading Arthur to sulk and knights to get hungry).
(5) Scholars have long noted the negative characteristics of the romance's female characters. Anne-Marie Cadot-Colin, "Images de la femme dans La Vengeance Raguidel," in Ferai Chansoneta Novele: Hommage a Jean-Charles Payen (Universite de Caen, 1989), 120, studies the ways in which the three main women of the romance (Ydain, the Pucele del Gaut Destroit, and Trevilonete) correspond to three groups of women in Andreas Capellanus's Tractus de Amore and concludes that these similarities do not lead to a more positive reading of the female characters. According to Krueger (99), however, the very dominance of these antifeminist elements could have lead readers to question misogyny and the constraints of the chivalric system. Similarly, Simon Gaunt suggests that misogyny could actually undermine masculinity in raising doubts about a man's power to satisfy a woman (Gender and Genre in Medieval French Literature [Cambridge U. Press, 1995], 119).
(6) This scene, though the moment of Gauvain's long-sought vengeance, does not underscore the chivalric prowess of either man; Yder, of course, is not involved in the final battle, and Gauvain, as Schmolke-Hasselmann (133) points out, defeats a knight who is not particularly impressive without his magic weapons and bear.
(7) Norris J. Lacy, "Convention, Comedy, and the Form of La Vengeance Raguidel," in Arthurian Literature 19, ed. Keith Busby and Roger Dalrymple (New York: D. S. Brewer, 2002), 69-70.
(8) Characters appreciate Gauvain's chivalric skill for good reason; he does continue to defeat his opponents on the battlefield and has words of advice for knights acting in an unbecoming fashion (such as Maduc, who wishes to engage an unarmed Gauvain in combat). Yet Gauvain's exploits do not bring the degree of glory expected, owing in part to the comedy with which Raoul imbues many of these scenes.
(9) To a certain extent, one can attribute Gauvain's misrecognition by characters outside of the Arthurian domain to the fact that they have not seen Gauvain, or have only seen him fleetingly while he was in armor. Still, the narrator provides strong hints to Gauvain's identity in scenes during which Arthur's nephew interacts with Maduc, the Pucele del Gaut Destroit, and Raguidel's amie, all of whom particularly wish to encounter Gauvain. Maduc does not suspect that Gauvain is the knight who has just defeated him despite the fact that Gauvain is apparently the only opponent to whom he has lost in the recent past; the Pucele del Gaut Destroit overlooks his remarks about his resemblance to Gauvain; and Raguidel's amie actually denies that Gauvain is the knight with whom she was conversing when Yder informs her that she has spoken with Arthur's nephew. Schmolke-Hasselmann (112) notes that the real Gauvain differs from the image his reputation has created in the Pucele's eyes; clearly, neither Gauvain's victories nor his presence establish his identity in the mind of other characters, either.
(10) A comic scene in which Gauvain allows himself to be introduced as Keu at the Pucele del Gaut Destroit's castle further reinforces the potential similarities between the knights. Marot, a young woman raised at Arthur's court, decides to save Gauvain from the Pucele's wrath by disguising his identity. Although Raoul undoubtedly chooses Keu's identity for its potential to elicit laughter from the audience, the fact remains that the Pucele del Gaut Destroit accepts Marot's word. She has some misgivings at first, remarking that Keu is certainly not valiant enough to have defeated Maduc. Yet once Marot assures her that the visitor is Keu, the lady protests no further. Her lack of suspicion seems particularly odd given the emphasis on Gauvain's physical attractiveness shortly after his arrival. The narrator devotes eight lines of praise to Gauvain's fetching legs, feet, arms, fists, face, and general handsomeness once he removes his armor in the castle (2088-95). That a knight of Gauvain's looks and prowess can successfully pass himself off as the least reputable knight of the Arthurian court again hints that the two are not polar opposites.
(11) This idea finds expression once again in Gauvain's comment to Yder regarding the number of women at court who could take the place of Trevilonete; women are thus viewed as interchangeable.
(12) Despite signs that hint at a traditional relationship, Keith Busby remarks that the exaggerated rapidity with which Gauvain falls in love with Ydain signals the relationship's comic nature and weakness from the outset (Gauvain in Old French Literature [Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1980], 284): Moreover, the emphasis on Gauvain's reactions to his lady-love, Ydain, and concomitant lack of information regarding the lady's feelings offer strong hints that Ydain reciprocates Gauvain's sentiments to a lesser degree, if at all.
(13) I refer specifically to the example of Raguidel and his amie in the first instance, and to that of Yder and Trevilonete in the second (as only the man who defeats Guengasouain is allowed to marry the maiden, according to the oath that Guengasouain has his barons swear).
(14) Schmolke-Hasselmann (133) states that meeting Gauvain makes "good and loving people turn into wicked creatures seething with hatred," citing the cases of Maduc and the Pucele del Gaut Destroit. Certainly, their initial encounter with Gauvain sets events in motion. I would argue, nevertheless, that the wickedness of both characters results more specifically from their experience with love.
(15) While Gauvain may not remember the importance of the lance in achieving his goal, the tale's composer ensures that the reader or listener does not. By far the most common word that rhymes with "vengeance" in the text is "lance"; I counted six instances, the first five of which occur within the 400 lines leading up to Gauvain's departure. Raoul thus constantly reminds his audience of the lance's significance, creating a less-than-flattering portrait of the knight and leading Lacy, "Convention," 68 to observe that Gauvain appears mainly interested in playing the role of Gauvain, which here involves rushing off when he is presented with an adventure before considering the details of the quest. The narrator further hints at what the tale initially holds for Gauvain with the words paired with "aventure" early in the romance--"mesaventure," "oscure," and "coverture." None of the rhymes offers a particularly optimistic view of his chances of success.
(16) A limited number of other concerns motivate action on Gauvain's part, as well. Some are comic--food, for instance, is at issue in Gauvain's battle with Maduc--whereas others are more serious, such as the desire to uphold the court's reputation that encourages Gauvain to urge Arthur to grant a rash boon to a newly arrived knight. (Of course, Gauvain regrets his words upon learning that the knight wishes to leave with Ydain, with whom Gauvain is completely taken at that point. Only Gauvain's promise to meet the newcomer in battle on a set day keeps the challenger from leaving with Ydain.) Even these other concerns, however, are related to revenge as the tale continues.
(17) Busby, 288.
(18) Krueger, 95.
(19) Concern with Keu's potential mockery continues until the romance's close. Following Guengasouain's defeat, Yder (with Trevilonete) and Raguidel's lady insist upon travelling to Arthur's court in order to attest to Gauvain's success, for Yder is certain that Keu will not accept Gauvain's story of success without other witnesses (6080-91).
(20) Krueger (95-97) sees Gauvain's act as a cruel joke against Ydain, who is as much a victim of the system of chivalric honor as a victimizer in the romance.
(21) Gauvain's victory makes an earlier prediction concerning Ydain's destiny come true. Upon challenging Arthur's nephew for the woman, Druidain displays great assuredness of his eventual possession of the lady, explaining that "Li Lyons d'airain qui ne ment,/ Me dist queje l'avrai! ..." (4400-1) ["The bronze lion, who does not lie, told me that I would have her! ..."]. The narrator reminds his audience of the claim's accuracy, remarking, "Issi torna li gas a. voir ..." (4866)
["Thus the joke became reality ..."]. On a broader scale, the lion's prophecy echoes the message that love will not end happily in the romance regardless of one's prowess; the best knight will not depart with the lady.
(22) Gauvain's decision to leave Ydain with Druidain also conveys the nature of Ydain's indiscretions to those watching the combat, as well as the romance's audience. As Cadot-Colin, "Images," 116 notes, "... n'etait-il pasjuste, en definitive, que la femme lubrique fut devolue au nain, lui-meme symbole de lubricite?"
(23) Maduc's volatile nature makes itself known even before Gauvain meets him. The peasant who tells Arthur's nephew of Maduc's castle bluntly refuses to accompany Gauvain despite the bounty that the castle holds. He tells Ganvain that he has already been to the castle once seeking food and that Maduc literally threw him out, whereupon he noticed all of the knights' heads on poles (600-26).
(24) Although one might be tempted to attribute the Pucele's misinterpretation of the situation to her wishful thinking, Maduc's version of events seems to confirm her story. Maduc informs Gauvain that the lady offered her wimple to the triumphant knight with the request that he stay as her dru (1372-85). Gauvain thus cannot claim ignorance of the significance of the gesture.
(25) Krueger, 93.
(26) Guengasouin's desire to prevent Trevilonete from marrying suggests the same sort of self-interest hinted at in Maduc's feelings for the Pucele, albeit in the framework of a parental rather than amorous relationship. Upon Trevilonete's marriage, the land passed down to her through her mother (the entirety of the land that Guengasouain holds) will become the property of her husband (5256-62). Trevilonete thus derives her value from her domain, and Guengasouin's motivation to defend her stems from material concerns, for he does not wish to lose this land.
(27) Both Cadot-Colin and Krueger suggest that despite appearances, the ending is not truly happy. Cadot-Colin (119) notes that the "ideal" couple consists of a secondary hero and a woman described cursorily and in stereotypical terms. Krueger (98) comments as well that the power of one sex depends on the victimization of the other, which does not offer a very optimistic message about the relationship between men and women.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Burr, Kristin L.|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2002|
|Previous Article:||What was Arthur wearing? Discrepancies in dress descriptions in twelfth-century French romance.|
|Next Article:||Handling pilgrims: Robert Mannyng and the Gilbertine cult.|