In comparing these two works, a few things stuck out for me. Most interestingly was the contrast of women’s roles. In Idylls of the King, the very first sentence is describing Guinevere, and how beautiful and lovely she was. I found it interesting that Tennyson thought it important to establish this before discussing politics, or the state of England, and even mentioning the main character. When Arthur is crowned, he doesn’t immediately think of the changes he wants to make for his country, but of how beautiful Guinevere is and how he would only be able to do these things with her by his side. I’ll just fast forward here with a few points:
-Arthur even rules his kingdom under the idea that four ‘ladies’ (Lady of the Lake, and the Three Queens) embody the virtues he must portray as a leader.
-Geraint and Enid are madly in love, and though their road is rocky, Enid refuses Doorm’s advances and Geraint seems to feel guilty for everthinking any less of his wife.
– Vivien seduces the old, wise magician, Merlin, in order to obtain a spell. She takes advantage of his loneliness and pretends to be in love with him, surpassing his ‘wise’ demeanor. He resists, but is ultimately helpless to her compliments.
– Elaine has a schoolgirl crush on Lancelot, but since he is off with Guinevere he does not return the feeling, and so like any irrational woman, she kills herself.
-Ettare just wants Pelleas to give her his trophy, so she takes advantage of his affection before she dumps him and he ends up waiting outside her residence for days on end in the hopes that she’s only kidding.
– Arthur finds out about his wife’s affair with his dear friend, but because he is the epitome of a perfect human, he is only slightly faded with his impressions of his impeding demise.
All in all, the woman’s role as wicked seductress, angelic wife, or heartbroken girl is so crucial throughout the story. These women are able to manipulate and influence the most powerful men in the kingdom. The power of beauty alone is a factor in bringing the strongest and most noble knights to their knees.
In Beowulf, however, there would never be any mention of a man being influenced negatively by a woman. In fact, the only ‘woman’ (I use this term loosely) is Grendel’s mother. Granted, she is quite the irrational being considering that she is literally a monster, but of course not even this fact brought down the great and mighty king. It seems that in the Beowulf days, the only important thing a man could focus on was fighting and winning. Of course women had no power there. Apparently, men did not have emotions back then; such signs of weakness were unheard of from great warriors and kings. But does Arthur’s sadness at Guinevere’s infidelity prove to be the one hit to the soul that ultimately makes him realize he is growing weaker? Is this a flaw in this portrayal of an ideal human, or does it make him even more perfect?
Image retrieved March 1, 2013 from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/52.524.3.5
Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “Idylls of the King.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.
N/A. “Beowulf.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print