Lancelot and the Demoiselle Guérisseuse: Spiritual vs. Physical Love in the French Prose Lancelot
Hahn, Stacey L.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 4 (1987)
Platonic love is a rather rare occurrence in prose romance. Every great advocate of “fin’amors,” Lancelot included, consummates his heart’s desire with the factum, that final step in the gradus amoris. In the prose Lancelot, one of the most powerful images of physical union between man and woman is the magic welding of the “écu fendu” (split shield). The shield becomes perfect and whole when Lancelot and Guenevere consummate their love. From this perspective, sex confers salutory powers for it makes love whole. Elsewhere, the split shield, symbolizing physical union with Guenevere, restores Lancelot’s reason. However, the episode in which Carmadan’s sister, the Demoiselle Guérisseuse, vows to love Lancelot platonically by preserving her virginity henceforth on his account, belies the idea that true love must necessarily be carnal. The power to heal, a quality often associated with virginity, plays a major part in the damsel’s relation to Lancelot. She heals him twice: physically, after he drinks poisoned water, and morally, when he despairs after having been deceived by Brisane at the Grail Castle. In the latter instance, the maiden’s imperiled virginity wrests Lancelot from a deep lethargy by restoring his faith in womankind and reminding him of his previous fidelity to Guenevere.