Portrayal of Women in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "Lanval"

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In medieval literature, the role of women often represents many familiar traits and characteristics which present societies still preserve. Beauty, attractiveness, and grace almost completely exemplify the attributes of powerful women in both present and past narratives. European medieval prose often separates the characteristics of women into two distinct roles in society. Women can be portrayed as the greatest gift to mankind, revealing everything that is good, pure, and beautiful in a woman's life. On the other side of the coin, many women are compared to everything that is evil and harmful, creating a witch-like or temptress quality for the character. These two aspects of European culture and literature show that the power of women in medieval narrative can be portrayed through both evil and good, and more often than not, power is derived from the latter.

Marie de France was one of the most influential romance authors in medieval Europe. She wrote a number of lays, of which, detailed the power of love and beauty around the twelfth century. Her status as an educated socialite and writer gave her an incredible amount of power. Literate in Latin, French, and English, Marie de France created a template for future women writers as well as, a detailed description of court life and love of this time.

Lanval, one of Marie's twelve lays that survived, establishes the two different types of women mentioned in the introduction. Lanval, a lonely knight of King Arthur's court, falls in love with a beautiful, rich, and charming fairy in the woods. This character represents the virtuous and perfect things in which society bestows upon the women of this time, giving great power to beauty and fortune. Although these charac...

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...r Gawain and the Green Knight and Lanval are distant representations of real women in this time period. Society plays an important role in stereotyping women based on their good and evil nature as well as, their actions towards men. Even though this separation might sometimes be true, it is the perfect virgin that will always be a symbol of excellence and strength. The relationship between perfection and flaw is checkered throughout history, becoming a frequent comparison in many medieval works. Overall, these narratives illustrate the gap between female characters as being completely opposite from one another, and women must associate themselves with either side of the coin. Although the influence of all of these women is important, the greatest and most powerful female characters respect the men around them, while exercising virtuous and faultless behavior.
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