In my opinion, the “cart” in the story could have been a metaphor of the power of women over men.
Lancelot was on his quest to rescue Guinevere when he met a dwarf cart driver. He asked if the dwarf knew any information about the whereabouts of Guinevere. The dwarf replied that he would find the answer the next day if the knight would agree to ride on the cart. At first, Lancelot disagrees, because during that time, carts were used to transport criminals.
But having the welfare of Guinevere in mind, he put himself into the cart.Lancelot’s hesitation is a good example for the problem of gender relations. Men somehow find it hard to sacrifice machismo. The cart can be a symbol for women, as it used of carriage. Women carry life within their womb. In this sense they have power over men.
This I think is what made Lancelot hesitate. Because the society is configured by history to be male dominated. In “The Knight with the Lion”, Yvain has ventured out to find his dear friend Gawain. He later on met and befriended lion which helped him in his quest. It could have just been a common case of over-reading.But the lion’s sexuality wasn’t specified by Troyes. It could have been a lioness, a portrayal of a powerful female (Of course this is very debatable because of the use of the term and its meaning).
Yvain couldn’t have won his battles without the lion’s help. Yvain was also always hesitant to have the lion help him. His enemies told him that it would be cowardly of Yvain to fight alongside a powerful beast.
In Yvain’s search for adventure, he found himself helping maidens by freeing them from captivity. In this sense, women are seemingly depicted weak and unable to defend themselves.The women in this story have made the hero unable to reject any of their requests for help. Yvain had even got himself into a situation wherein he saves the sisters of Gawain and right after the battle he rushes to save another maiden.
Pearsall provided an answer on why Yvain and the other knights find it dishonorable to reject a maiden in need. “Women are vital in Arthurian romances because of their essential role in the action, as part of the urging towards power, possession and revenge which are the source of action, not as ideals or as objects of adoration.Men fight for them because if they don’t the women will be killed, raped or otherwise forced into subjection, not because they will be upset. ” (Pearsall 21) Pearsall could have just been saying that one of the priorities of the knights, next to serving the king, is the safety of women. If the knights were the first ones to violate women, they wouldn’t have been romantic in that very sense. Another display of powerful women can be found in the latter part of “The Knight in the Cart.” Women who have no husbands had decided to organize a tournament of knights to search for prospective husbands (Troyes 215).
This tournament is where the much anticipated fight between Lancelot and Meleagant is set to happen. This is a very important scene wherein the women made the plot dynamic. This scene is very crucial because it will pave way to the story’s spectacular conclusion. The stories of the knights show us to respect women in their existence in the society. A knight’s servitude to the maiden is a display of showing importance to women.Even the abduction and the rescue show how valuable women are.
The definition of chivalry seems to be lacking if women are not involved. Chivalry also means a knight’s loyalty to his lady whom he had pledged to serve. This is the most important role of women in the Arthurian romances, they keep the plot interesting. They saved us from the boredom of just watching men in armor clash with their swords and egos. Women add complication to the adventures of the knights. This keeps the story dynamic and interesting.The aspect of empowerment of women in Arthurian romances is way ahead of its time.
It is usual that the goal of the hero is to save a woman. But it is very interesting in Arthurian romances that it shows that the hero can’t achieve his goal with his own strength. The hero needs the inspiration only a woman can provide a man. The women play crucial roles that pave way for this goal to be accomplished. They are not merely rendered powerless. But the fragility of this powerlessness can wound a man’s heart greater than any sword, even greater than the Excalibur.ReferencesDe Troyes, C. The Knight of the Cart.
The Complete Romances of Chretien De Troyes. Translated by David Staines. US: Indiana UP, 1993. De Troyes, C. The Knight with the Lion. The Complete Romances of Chretien De Troyes.
Translated by David Staines. US: Indiana UP, 1993. Fenster, T. Arthurian Women: A Casebook. US: Routledge, 1996. Gravdal, K. Ravishing Maidens: Writing Rape in Medieval French Literature and Law.
US: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991 Pearsall, DA. Arthurian Romance: A Short Introduction. US: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.