The paper inquires into the issue of presence and participation of women in the Grail quest. The study considers the narratives from two distinct contexts: the legends descending from Celtic pre-Christian mythology, which are often considered to be the precursors of the Grail legend, and the medieval French and English romances, which contain what can be called the classical version of the Grail quest, notably La Morte d’Arthur of Thomas Malory. The purpose of the research is to determine how the position of woman in the society where the respective legends were composed influenced the representation of female characters.
Critics such as Simon Gaunt have argued that gender and the genre of romance are inextricably linked. Using these critics as a starting point and taking cues from recent work using postcolonial theory to read medieval texts, this paper examines how two early French romances, Le Roman d’Enéas and Le Roman de Thèbes, use gender not only to delineate new generic formulations but also to construct conceptions of empire and place. Both romances provide highly gendered examples of ‘alien’ and ‘other’, for example, in the marriage of Aeneas to Lavinia and in the description of Greeks versus Thebans.
Through the ages the sword has served as a phallic symbol, an emblem of man’s courage, strength and fertility. However, in many popular medieval texts, this phallic surrogate is used by women as a means to usurp power and trick their mates. Through examples drawn from the tradition of the Seven Sages, Boccaccio’s Decamerone and the Spanish Romancero, I will demonstrate how these popular medieval texts play upon the figure of the sword as an ambivalent element in the power struggle between man and woman.