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Connections: An Analysis of Beowulf, Laustic, Lanval, and Roland
In comparing Beowulf, Laustic, Lanval, and the Song Roland, it is evident that there is a sequential pattern present in the form of correlations and parallels that give these works a common theme. In all of these tales there is a hero or heroine at the center of attention who is motivated by love, has special abilities, seeks to overcome obstacles, or uses his or her abilities to achieve a task or to preserve the love they cherish. Love plays a fundamental role on all of these tales, either in a martial, masculine context or in a romantic sexual context.
Scholars such as Joseph Campbell have analyzed the thematic sequence of events that pertain to these kinds of stories and have noted that many ancient and medieval works have been based upon a archetypal mythic hero who also "is usually the founder of something—the founder of a new age, the founder of a new religion, the founder of a new city, the founder of a new way of life." (Campbell 136)
For example, the heroic adventures of Beowulf are similar in psychological sequence, attitude, behavior, and theme to the adventures of the Song of Roland, Laustic, and Lanval. As a hero on a quest, Beowulf relies on martial skills and courage to overcome the obstacles placed before him. He has faith in himself as well, and when he sets out to kill Grendel's mother he simply "donned his armor for battle, Heeded not the danger ..." (Heaney 1328-29) And when his sword fails him he uses his physical strength, "On the might of his hand, as a man must do, Who thinks to win in the welter of battle Enduring glory; he fears not death." (Heaney 1420-23)
The Song of Roland glorifies the ideals of the French nobility of the eleventh-century and was based upon an historical incident during Charlemagne's rule. Just as a sense of duty to a loved one prevailed in Beowulf, Laustic, and Lanval, his sense of duty compelled Roland to fight to the death at Rencesvals and compelled Charlemagne to avenge Roland's death. (Sayers 198) Deep bonds of mutual love and respect forged the relationships in all of these tales and inspired the protagonists to fight in the name of honor and duty or to preserve a love relationship.
Marie de France featured love as her most prominent theme and portrayed it as the driving force behind the attitudes and motivations of her protagonists. In Lanval, love forges relationships but also threatens them, for when Queen Guinevere's romantic advances are rejected by Lanval she accuses him of trying to seduce her and he is put on trial by King Arthur and his knights. Lanval's innocence is proven when his lover reveals Guinevere's lies. He is set free and leaves the intrigues of King Arthur's Court behind him for an idyllic life with his beloved on the island of Avalon.
Laustic presents a similar theme, for it also deals with the dangers and consequences of adultery. In this tale, a secret love affair between a knight and the wife of another knight drives the plot, in which a nightingale symbolically represents the beauty but also the danger of adulterous love. In order to alleviate the suspicion of her husband, the female protagonist explains that it is the song of a nightingale that leads her to her window at night. (De France 51-54)
Through powerful symbolism, Marie de France relates in Laustic the nightingale's capture and death to the consequences of illicit love, which can be hauntingly beautiful but fraught with danger. When she discovers what her husband has done, the wife wraps the dead bird in cloth and sends it to her lover, who reverently carries it with him for the rest of his life. A dead nightingale is all he has left in remembrance of his lover, and this poignant ending demonstrates the bittersweet consequences of doomed love. Comparing the experiences of these men and women provides convincing evidence that "there is but one archetypal mythic hero whose life has been replicated in many lands by many, many people." (Campbell 136) The hero's quest concept in Beowulf and the Song of Roland is so compelling, inspiring, and instructive that it has had a universal appeal throughout Western Civilization, regardless of the historical era or the geographical location involved.
Essentially, the thematic idea that, "one has to leave the old and go in quest for the seed idea, a germinal idea that will have the potentiality of bringing forth that new thing," (Campbell 136) is timeless, for it touches the instinctive urge in the human soul to seek new and better societies. Love is also timeless, whether it is a comradely love between warriors, marital love, or the love that binds two secret lovers together despite the demands of marital fidelity.
In conclusion, comparing Beowulf, Laustic, Lanval, and the Song of Roland reveals their common themes of romantic love, duty, and knightly chivalry. Much of the literature and poetry of Western Civilization were influenced in succeeding centuries by these stories of heroic warriors, knights, and romantic lovers. Their love, loyalty, strength, and ambition were admirable while their weaknesses were understandable if not commendable, for all of these traits revealed their humanity. The readers of these tales have always been able to relate to the heroes and heroines in them, for we are all motivated by the same human emotions.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor, 1991.
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