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Power, Courtly Love, and a Lack of Heirs: Guinevere and Medieval Queens

Power, Courtly Love, and a Lack of Heirs: Guinevere and Medieval Queens

By Jessica Grady

Master’s Thesis, Marshall University, 2009

Abstract: Authors have given Queen Guinevere of the Arthurian stories a wide variety of personalities; she has been varyingly portrayed as seductive, faithful, “fallen,” powerful, powerless, weak-willed, strong-willed, even as an inheritor of a matriarchal tradition. These personalities span eight centuries and are the products of their respective times and authors much more so than of any historical Guinevere. Despite this, however, threads of similarity run throughout many of the portrayals: she had power in some areas and none in others; she was involved in a courtly romance; and she did not produce an heir to the throne. None of these were unique to her, either; either stereotypes or literary convention demanded them all. I examine Guinevere’s portrayals by three influential medieval writers, Chrétien de Troyes, Marie de France, and Sir Thomas Malory, compare them to historical queens, and show that although their representations of her emphasized different aspects, together they add up to a portrait of a medieval literary queen both stereotypical and human.

Authors have given Queen Guinevere of the Arthurian stories a wide variety of personalities; she has been varyingly portrayed as seductive, faithful, “fallen,” powerful, powerless, an inheritor of a matriarchal tradition, weak-willed, and strong-willed.1 These personalities span eight centuries and are the products of their respective times and authors much more so than of any historical Guinevere. Despite this, however, threads of similarity run throughout many of the portrayals: she had power in some areas and none in others; she was involved in a courtly romance; and she did not produce an heir to the throne. None of these were unique to her, either; either stereotypes or literary convention demanded them all. I examine Guinevere’s portrayals by three influential medieval writers, Chrétien de Troyes, Marie de France, and Sir Thomas Malory, compare them to historical queens, and show that although their representations of her emphasized different aspects, together they add up to a portrait of a medieval literary queen both stereotypical and human.

Click here to read this thesis from Marshall University

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