Given the reality of medieval warrior culture and punishment for crime, bodily disfigurement, and mutilation must have been commonplace, though, certainly no less painful or any more easily accepted in the Middle Ages than today. In Ille et Galeron, Ille loses an eye in a joust and fears his higher-born wife will reject him. The protagonist of Caradoc is punished for revealing his mother’s adultery: a ferocious snake remains tightly wrapped around Caradoc. The snake’s head is cut off when lured by Guinier’s bosom, but the tip of Guinier’s breast is also amputated. Caradoc fashions a prosthetic for her, with the injunction her restored ‘wholeness’ must remain secret. In La Manekine, Joïe chops off her left hand rather than consent to an incestuous marriage with her widowed father, but her handicap does not hinder a later royal marriage. This paper compares and contrasts the causes, complexities and resolutions of disfigurement in men and women in these three romances with the traditional medieval descriptions of exterior beauty as manifestations of interior virtue.
In the ‘Alixandre L’Orphelin’ episode in the Prose Tristan, Morgan le Fay abducts Alixandre at the request of King Mark of Cornwall. This episode places Morgan at the forefront of the narrative, so when her young captive escapes, destroying her castle in the process, the vivid description of her anger evinces no surprise. In his treatment of the episode in the Morte Darthur, Malory virtually ignores Morgan’s anger and its consequences for the original narrative, which shifts the focus of his redaction on to the actions of his knights. Malory retains Morgan’s pursuit of sexual gratification with the knight, but again this is relevant in its implications for the representation of the knight rather than Morgan, Alexander’s statement that ‘I had levir kut away my hangers than I wolde do her ony suche pleasure’ resonating with the rejection of Morgan by good knights throughout the romances. This paper will examine the ideological motivation for Malory’s modifications and their effect on Morgan’s portrayal in the Morte Darthur, especially in relation to medieval perceptions of ira.
Constrained by the conventions of marriage prevalent in 12th-century Anglo-Norman society, Marie de France’s mal mariées are valued by their husbands primarily for their ability to bear heirs. This valuing of the womb above all else divides body from being and results in feminine desires that are directed outward: towards a neighbour in Laüstic, a stranger in Guigemar, and an otherworldly lover in Yonec. Whether it is merely feared, or actual, the discovery of an extramarital liaison is accompanied by physical fragmentation. A eunuch guards the lady of Guigemar, while the lord of Caerwent suffers decapitation after his step-son, Yonec, learns of his true parentage. In contrast, Bisclavret, a mal marié in his own right, suffers a physical, rather than metaphorical, division of body and soul when his wife prevents him from returning to human form. He revenges himself upon his faithless wife by tearing off her nose. This paper examines metaphorical and physical fragmentation among the mal marieés of Marie’s lais, considering especially the role played by control and its loss in expressions of rage and desire.