Lancelot: Or, the Knight of the Cart

What are Chretien's ideals for a man , and for woman(at least of the nobility and royality)?

The Knight of the Cart

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Chivalry, the code of conduct by which medieval knights were bound, is unsurprisingly a major theme of the work. Intrinsic to chivalry is honor, which is really the guiding principle of chivalrous behavior. A knight was expected first and foremost to act honorably, whether in his treatment of women, his behavior in battle, or his presentation to others. Much of the action in the story derives from the fulfillment (or lack thereof) of honor. Part of Chrétien's subversion is that Lancelot must often eschew the demands of honor in order to show devotion towards his beloved Guinevere. The titular cart ride is the clearest example of this. Much of Chrétien's brilliance comes from paying homage to the codes of chivalry while suggesting that they often work in direct counterpoint to an individual's own desires.

The Role of Women

Women occupy an important, if secondary, space in Lancelot, and it is important to consider they way in which they form a key part of the epic. Throughout his quest, Lancelot relies on the hospitality and guidance of a number of unnamed damsels and young girls. They provide him with food and shelter, and they continually direct him towards his beloved Guinevere. Most of the women are defined in terms of their purity. Even theelegantly dressed woman, who attempts to seduce him, ultimately abandons her plan when she notices the extent of his love for another. Mostly, these unnamed women are perfect examples of the courtly woman, who is amorous without being overly licentious. The namelessness of these women further highlights the degree to which they function as devices or representations, rather than as personalities. Indeed, some scholars note that their namelessness leaves open the possibility that some of them are in fact the same woman (Duggan in Raffel 236). They are not the stuff of great adventure; rather, they are there to help the hero on his way. Guinevere is a notable example, because she embodies these attributes while also transcending them. While she is beloved by most because of her strength and nobility, she also fulfills the stereotype of the courtly lover — capricious, scornful, and controlling. She is often as much a device as a character, in other words.