Monday, July 02, 2007

Lady Bertilak's Gift to Gawain: luf-lace and drurye

Not that sort of 'girdle'...
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm still working on my paper for the upcoming ICKS conference on "Celibacy and Enlightenment/Salvation" (August 2-3) and will likely continue right up to the deadline this coming Friday (July 6).

Thus, I'm churning out stuff like the short piece below, in which I investigate the Middle English terms drurye and luf-lace (referring to the girdel, i.e., "belt" (cf. line 1829) given him by Lady Bertilak) as part of my argument that Gawain commits adultery of the heart. The piece is still a rough draft, and I have yet a lot of reworking to do before the conference (not to mention a lot more research), but I'm posting it here in case any Medievalists should find it mildly interesting. Said Medievalists should feel free to provide advice.

The piece below follows the excursus through Part 1, Chapter 13 of Don Quixote, where Cervantes has the Don and a traveller discuss the 'pagan' practice of the knight errant as courtly lover offering an almost religious devotion to his lady:
By means of this excursus through Cervantes, we can now draw together two things happening through Gawain's acceptance of Lady Bertilak's gift. First, as just demonstrated, by accepting the 'magical' belt, Gawain objectively accepts Lady Bertilak as the object of his devotion, thereby displacing his devotion to the Virgin Mary and no longer relying upon the Virgin as his protectress. Second, by accepting Lady Bertilak's gift, Gawain makes himself her knight rather than Mary's knight and thus places himself in a relation of courtly lover to Lady Bertilak, a problematic connection since this sort of love can scarcely be distinguished from an adultery of the heart. The narrator emphasizes this latter point by two terms used in referring to this gift. After Lady Bertilak has given her 'magical' belt as a gift and left the bedroom, Gawain:
Tucked away the token the temptress had left,
Laid it reliably where he looked for it after.
(ll 1874-1875)
The Middle English word translated as "token" is actually luf-lace, literally, "love-belt." The belt is thus a love-token, a sign of Gawain's 'love' for the lady. The other term referring to Lady Bertilak's gift occurs in the passage in which Gawain puts the belt on just prior to leaving for his encounter with the Green Knight:
Yet he left not his love-gift, the lady's girdle;
Gawain, for his own good, forgot not that:
When the bright sword was belted and bound on his haunches,
Then twice with that token he twined him about.
(ll 2030-2033)
The Middle English word translated as "token" is actually drurye, which means "love-token" (or even "love-making"!). If we recall now that Gawain had also responded to Lady Bertilak's amorous glances at him at supper on the second day (cf. ll 1658-1660), then Gawain has likely fallen into an adultery of the heart so common to courtly love.
Next, in my paper at least, I'll have to deal with how Gawain's acceptance of the belt leads him to break faith with Lord Bertilak by failing to keep to their agreement to exchange each day's 'winnings', which I haven't yet mentioned on this blog.

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At 3:12 PM, Anonymous kapok said...

Admitting non-expertise I remain in question. Translations notwithstanding, the line,

"Then twice with that token he twined him about."

Forgetting for the moment Cervantes, might this not imply an actual explicit adulterous affair rather than the implicit courtly mannered? It is the "numbered" reference that might be questioned to no good end. My understanding, incomplete as it may be, is that a single instance in that timeframe was understood to be understood as courtly.

But multiply?


At 4:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't think it would be an actual, physical adulterous affair, for the larger story doesn't support that, but your question leads me to wonder if this line with its "twined him about" might be further suggestive of sexual significance.

I'd already been wondering why the text states that Gawain "twined" the belt about him, but a sexual meaning hadn't occurred to me.

Interesting. I'll think about it.

Jeffery Hodges

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