Living death in medieval French and English literature - Jane Gilbert 2011
The knight as Thing: courtly love in the non-cyclic prose Lancelot
I closed Chapter 1 with the claim that the Oxford Chanson de Roland ends by interpreting Roland's death as a loving sacrifice for Charlemagne's sake; and that this was a misreading of the protagonist's desire. In this second chapter I turn to an unquestionable instance of a male character dying for love of another, whose own love in turn brings him close to death. These are, respectively, Galehot and Lancelot. Again I shall foreground a Lacanian analysis while exploring other ways of conceiving the ethical relation between love and death, that classic pairing. In human meditation, death provides a kind of yardstick to measure love, the affirmation ’I would die for my beloved’ defining a horizon which is a constitutive element of love itself. Love often leads narratively to death, which is sometimes seen as successful consummation. It may persist beyond death. To love another person is to experience a kind of death of the self, which may then be reborn in a new guise as a lover. Love is therefore commonly associated with the entre-deux-morts. Parental love and the love of God will be considered in later chapters. The present chapter focuses on the tragic passion of noble lovers, the intensity of whose loves threatens calamity both for the lover, whose life, mental health, reputation and morals are placed in jeopardy, and for the society he heads.
It is clear enough how Galehot falls entre-deux-morts, doomed as he is from his first meeting with Lancelot, his grand passion. Lancelot's situation is more disputable, for he is destined to outlive the Arthurian order. His case can be clarified through a comparison with Tristan, the great exemplar of fateful passion in medieval literature and Lancelot's prototype. Tristan and Lancelot are ideal chivalric figures whose adulterous loves at once confirm and undermine their hyperbolic social value. Each's passion is implicated in the establishment and maintenance of a kingdom. However, Tristan's brings about only a personal tragedy, whereas Lancelot's heralds the final collapse of a cultural, social and political order in the bloodbath of Salisbury Plain. Responding to and reworking the story of Troy and its prince Paris (as well as that of Tristan), Lancelot's love story highlights political and historical questions. Moreover, insofar as the love of Tristan and Ysolt is potion-induced it is not freely chosen, and its status is therefore equivocal. Lancelot and Guinevere's love entertains no such weakened links with the social and cultural mechanisms within which they operate; on the contrary, their love is shown to lie at the very heart of those mechanisms. While the Tristan narratives pose large questions of guilt, intention, impulse, conscious or unconscious knowledge, regret and the consequences of one's actions (foreseen and unforeseen, intended and unintended), those concentrating on Lancelot test to (literal) destruction-point the internal logic and rigorous functioning of the chivalric order. Love in Lancelot's connection is therefore implicated in the greatness and the ending of the Arthurian order; a collective death drive works itself out through him, and his fascinating éclat reflects a whole culture entre-deux-morts. What is so intriguing about Lancelot is that he is not only, as the Demoiselle d’Escalot describes him in La Mort le roi Artu, ’li plus vilains chevaliers el monde et li plus vaillanz’ (’the most uncourtly knight in the world and the worthiest’), but a figure in whom vilains and vaillanz are shown to be near-anagrams, and therefore appear to be only different ways of organizing the same material.1 In him Arthurian chivalry's sublime and its abject overlap to crystallize an ethical crux, entre-deux. Significantly, this undecidable creation is posited as the chief object of desire in all those romances where he appears. The paradoxes associated with him make him, even more than the Grail, an impossible object of Arthurian desire. Complementarily Galehot, I shall argue, represents the exemplary subject of this desire, equally though differently entre-deux-morts.2
My discussion will bear primarily on the romance known as the non-cyclic prose Lancelot, a version said to minimize the problematic dimension of Lancelot's passion.3 In the first parts of this chapter I examine this claim through an analysis of Lancelot as courtly lover in the non-cyclic prose Lancelot, Le Chevalier de la Charrette and La Mort le roi Artu, basing my conceptual framework on the chapter on courtly love in Lacan's seventh seminar. Lacan's notion of courtly love, which owes a considerable debt to literary studies of the medieval love lyric, now appears both narrow and dated, for modern medievalist scholarship considers more varied relationships, objects and texts under the heading of fine amor. It remains nevertheless the most influential modern theorization of the phenomenon (there are, of course, numerous non-theoretical accounts). In order to contextualize Lacan's account as a tool of medievalist literary analysis, I shall begin by comparing it to two classic accounts of the ethics of courtly love: those of Gaston Paris and C. S. Lewis. I shall then turn to more recent critical developments of Lacan's account in the hands of Slavoj Žižek and Sarah Kay, developments which elucidate loves dissimilar to as well as corresponding with the Lacanian paradigm. I aim to show the ways in which Lacanian accounts do and do not fit the love between Lancelot and Guinevere in the non-cyclic prose Lancelot, and to suggest why both fit and lack of fit illuminate this and other loves in their special relation to death and to the death drive. The later parts of the chapter will therefore explore the entre-deux-morts in the non-cyclic prose Lancelot through the figure of Galehot, Lancelot's passionate lover, prince of the Distant Isles and son of the Fair Giantess. Deathly features which other works attach to Lancelot's love for Guinevere are here associated instead with Galehot's love for Lancelot; and hence with Lancelot as object rather than subject of love, or with him as reciprocator rather than initiator. Thus (as is commonly observed) the erotic triangle which connects Lancelot, Guinevere and Arthur is paralleled by another linking Guinevere, Lancelot and Galehot. I shall end by drawing out the implications of this reconfigured infidelity for Lancelot's moral stature. My view is that the non-cyclic prose Lancelot does not diminish the importance of Lancelot's transgressive actions by shifting the grounds of his transgression away from his adulterous affair with Guinevere. Among the many characters who wish to win Lancelot's love in the non-cyclic romance, Galehot stands out. Situated as the lover of the truly impossible object, he represents Arthurian desire — a desire shared by Arthurian knights, ladies and readers — in its starkest form.
The non-cyclic prose lancelot
The so-called non-cyclic prose Lancelot is a short form of the lengthy cyclic Lancelot which is the central panel of the Vulgate or Lancelot-Grail cycle of early thirteenth-century French prose romances. In its entirety this cycle encompasses the history of the Grail, the genealogy and life of Lancelot, and the rise and fall of Arthur's kingdom and the order associated with it.4 Both cyclic and non-cyclic versions begin with the dispossession by the ruthless King Claudas of Lancelot's father, King Ban of Benoyc, and with the baby Lancelot's abduction by the Lady of the Lake.5 The narratives broadly agree until the end of the ’Marche de Gaule’ section; both then cover, but with distinct emphases and at different length, the second voyage to Galehot's kingdom of Sorelois, the False Guinevere episode and the death of Galehot.6 The cyclic version goes on to recount many further adventures and to prepare the way for the Grail quest, with its emphasis on sexual purity and Christian redemption, and for the tragic turn of the Mort. Apparently neglecting these themes, the non-cyclic prose Lancelot instead details Lancelot's progress towards the public recognition which is a necessary part of knighthood. It concentrates on his constitution, not so much as loving subject (having fallen in love with Guinevere early in the narrative, he alters little as a lover), but as the desired or beloved object of a variety of other characters. Two events mark the ending of the non-cyclic narrative: Lancelot's establishment at court as Guinevere's lover and Arthur's principal knight, and Galehot's death. It is difficult not to see these events as interrelated.
The relationship between the non-cyclic and cyclic Lancelot romances is the subject of a controversy illustrating characteristic features of medieval textuality. For some critics, most notably Elspeth Kennedy, the non-cyclic form represents an earlier and independent work from a pre-cyclical stage in the legend's development, while for others it is an abridgement of the cyclic version.7 Further complexities are created by substantial divergences between the manuscripts of each ’version’, by what may be considered cross-currents (some manuscripts classified as one recension following the other at various points), and by the characteristic intertextuality of Arthurian works which means that even non-cyclic texts give the impression of drawing on a shared resource.8 In writing about the shorter prose recension, I accept the text as a romance within the Arthurian corpus, and consider it to be significantly constituted around the figure of Galehot. I take its representations to be significant within the horizon of the eventual collapse of the Arthurian world. Whether composed before or after the Vulgate, it gives an alternative perspective of that collapse and consequently of Arthurian ethics: one which situates the Arthurian death drive not in questionable sexual morality but in admirable chivalric love between men.
’Courtly love’ and its discontents
The notion of ’courtly love’ has had an immensely influential, if uneven history. In spite of scholarly criticisms and revisions it remains a central term in discussions of the ethics, aesthetics and rhetoric of desire, sexuality and love in medieval literature. If we cannot live with it in the sense of accepting its valency, neither, it seems, can we do without it; to adapt Winston Churchill's famous remark on democracy, ’courtly love’ is the worst way of organizing the forms it purports to regulate except all those other ways that have been tried from time to time. Churchill's quip is a staple resource of Žižek's for illustrating certain kinds of paradox. He modifies it, for instance, when explaining how ’woman’ is the symptom of ’man’: ’unbearable — thus, nothing is more agreeable; impossible to live with — thus, to live without her is even more difficult’.9 Correspondingly, ’courtly love’, and the view of the Middle Ages that it encapsulates, may be considered to be among modernity's symptoms.
Its recent resurgence — as ’love’, till late neglected in favour of ’desire’, has returned to the forefront of medievalist study — revises earlier content, but does not escape symptomatic status.10 Researchers have emphasized the links between courtly love and the death drive, pondering its passive-aggressive masochism (Cohen, Krueger), its interest in self-sacrifice ((Lefay-)Toury, Fradenburg, Gaunt) and the madness or social ostracism to which it leads (Huot, Kay).11 In this chapter I consider that death provides a significant horizon against which medieval courtly texts question the values and behaviours involved in love, but that its value is variable and often unclear, multiple or ambiguous. Thus, although dying for love is proof of superlative devotion, it is typically not allowed to stand as a finite event. Take La Chastelaine de Vergi, one of the most concise expressions in narrative of the lyric theme of dying for love, which nevertheless ends by extending the story into the history of the Templars and the Crusades, thus pursuing on a large social scale the outcome of what is presented as a very private affair. Moreover, love is not deadly for all noble lovers in courtly texts. If, as a way of life, courtly love involves a certain set of relations to the death drive, nevertheless these relations may be negotiated in different ways and give rise to varying outcomes. Later courtly texts will emphasize the life-oriented aspects of courtly love, which also deserve to be called ’ethical’, but numerous early romances allow their lovers happy endings, at least in the sense of surviving at the end of the narrative in union or hope of union with their beloveds. (Lyrics, arguably, imply survival.) A number of these romances engage positively with debates over married love widely propagated in the twelfth century, and to consider that courtly love is entirely distinct from marriage is no less reductive than to consider it as only about that. ’The literature of courtly love could be defined as an explanation of marriage and adultery’, asserts Virginie Greene, highlighting its exploratory dimension.12 Some critics argue that such successful, socially integrated loves — and in particular married love — should be assigned to a different category from the courtly; this has the regrettable effect of narrowing our discussion of medieval texts, in ways, moreover, that the texts themselves do not justify. Categorizing marriage-oriented thirteenth-century romances like L’Escoufle or Guillaume de Dôle as ’bourgeois’, ’realist’ or ’idyllic’, or dismissing as ’moralizing’ later rewritings of the sort sponsored by the Burgundian court, may have some critical relevance, but such works should also be regarded as entering into debate over courtly love while reorienting its terms to suit their own concerns and values.13 For very different reasons, Tristan's ’amour sauvage, indomptable et passionné’ is also often considered to lack the characteristic features of ’courtly love’ and excluded from consideration under this rubric.14 This restriction of what in medieval texts is a very broad field in one sense justifies the frequently reiterated criticism that ’courtly love’ is an exclusively modern concept. Fine amor is traditionally suggested as an authentically medieval substitute, yet the two are hardly interchangeable. Fine amor can be viewed as a prescription, code or ideal brought into repeated comparison and contrast with antithetical principles, among them haür and ire (’hatred’; ’pain’/’anger’), raison (’reason’), fole amor and folie (’mad/foolish love’; ’madness’/’folly’). ’Courtly love’ may be taken to name the field allowing for this wide-ranging ethical debate, which tests central as well as limit-case and exceptional courtly values — it is ’a vehicle for dealing with love-trouble’.15 Hence, when the narrator of Thomas's Tristan worries at the problem of whether his protagonist's love for Ysolt can be considered fine amor, the complex interweaving of terms rather enmeshes than disentangles the ideas of love, hatred, pain and revenge.16 Love within the courtly field is necessarily not fine (’pure’) but includes its negation. Whether generated spontaneously or by some external event, an antithesis or underside manifests itself, not always fully acknowledged, to threaten and fragment the official construction and aspirational norm. In Lancelotian terms: vilains and vaillanz endlessly contrast, intermingle and re-emerge as moral terms.
By comparing Lacan's Seminar VII account of l'amour courtois to two influential earlier paradigms, I aim to map the former's relation to core traditions in medieval studies (whether or not Lacan knew these earlier accounts is immaterial to this mapping), to elucidate the specificity of courtly love in Lacan's account, and to illustrate some distinctive features of Lacanian ethics. We begin with Gaston Paris, founder of this particular discourse in an article published in 1883. Paris's seminal definition, which draws primarily on Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot romance, Le Chevalier de la Charrette, deserves revisiting.17 I want to draw attention to two aspects. In the first place, Paris's conception of courtly love posits it as highly normative and rule-bound, a discipline as well as a discourse, and in this respect similar to other aspects of society's organization: love ’a ses règles tout comme la chevalerie ou la courtoisie, règles qu'on possède et qu'on applique mieux à mesure qu'on a fait plus de progrès’ (’has its rules, like chivalry and courtliness; rules that the subject masters and applies the better as he progresses’). Having a structured progression incorporating advancements and regressions, courtly love forms a kind of ladder of perfection, requiring constant striving, anxious self-surveillance and careful mannerism on the part of its adepts. Those who fail to conform to its precepts having once entered on its path are punished by loss of privileges and the threat of ejection from the order. Paris thus asserts the internal rationality of courtly love, in which everything tends towards the same end. Even the lady's capricious behaviour represents an effort to improve her lover's acquisition of ’un art, une science, une vertu’ (’an art, a science and a virtue’). In the second place, Paris places the system of courtly love in a complex relationship to the established social order of chivalry and courtesy, as variably overlapping with, out of joint with or antagonistic to that order. Thus, although the courtly lover ’accomplit toutes les prouesses imaginables’ (’accomplishes all imaginable deeds of prowess’) and love makes him ’mieux valoir’ (’more worthy’), his love is nevertheless ’illégitime, furtif’ (’illegitimate, stealthy’) and ’ne peut se concilier avec la possession calme et publique’ (’irreconcilable with tranquil, public possession’). The lovers cannot, therefore, be married. Love brings the lover prowess and prestige in the wider world but also a timidity that to the uninitiated seems anomalous in a warrior. This timidity Paris explains as deriving from the lover's fear of losing the lady owing to her dominant position, itself rationalized as compensation for the risks she runs in giving herself to the lover due to the different sexual morals of the wider world and to medieval sexual double standards.18 Three ethical orders intertwine: feudal marriage, chivalric court society and courtly love. Noting the ethical nature of l'amour courtois and its complex relationship to other contemporary systems, Paris yet appears careful not to pronounce it either a fully independent system or a straightforward inversion of the public norms, and documents its contributions to as well as its departures from those norms.
Paris has common ground with Lacan. Both writers, in spite of their different approaches, have noticeably similar senses of the social norms relating to marriage, sexuality and femininity. For both, ’troubadour love’ represents a highly regulated ethical system that diverges from the public organization of erotic desire in the patriarchal, north-west European regime of monogamy, and yet epitomizes certain hidden principles underlying that regime. In Lacan's case, this forms part of an overarching theory of desire. According to him, for humans to achieve the object of our desire would be an experience of pleasure so intense as to be unbearably painful and so shattering as to be unsustainable within the human sphere; this is jouissance. Our relation to our own desires is a fraught one, divided between the urge towards a fulfilment that would be devastating (one manifestation of the death drive) and the preference to continue a normal human life, only possible if we remain at a certain distance from the object of our desire. Everyday life is organized so as to maintain our pleasures at a manageable level in accordance with the pleasure principle or, as Freud also called it, the ’unpleasure principle’ — ’principe de déplaisir, ou de moindre-pâtir’, adds Lacan (’unpleasure principle, or least-suffering principle’) — which enjoins us to ’enjoy as little as possible’.19 This principle's function is to ’faire que l'homme cherche toujours ce qu'il doit retrouver, mais ce qu'il ne saurait atteindre’ (’make man always search for what he has to find again, but which he will never attain’);20 a succinct analysis of the romance quest. Inspired by Lacan, Žižek proposes a taxonomy of erotic relationships according to which marriage provides a liveable and toned-down, moral alternative both to courtly love and to all-consuming, death-directed romantic passion on the model of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde.21 Whereas the last-mentioned relation offends both society and individuals by its isolation (such love may, of course, be more positively damaging), marriage grafts us into the social order by giving us enough satisfaction to prevent us becoming wreckers, and enough frustration and fear to encourage us to redirect surplus sexual energies to socially constructive, civilized ends — to sublimate them, in Freud's sense of the term (on the Lacanian sense, see pp. 14—15, above).
Courtly love too operates to regulate desire in accordance with the (un)pleasure principle and consequently imposes sublimation. Hence the constant striving for moral and social improvement on which Paris insists. Its mechanism, however, is quite different from that of marriage. According to Lacan, courtly love is an amor interruptus which defers union with the beloved object indefinitely in favour of extending and elaborating what would usually be called the preliminary stage of courtship.22 As Leo Spitzer puts it in his essay on Jaufré Rudel's ’amour lointain’ (’love from afar’), courtly love is grounded in a ’paradoxe amoureux’ (’amorous paradox’). It is ’a love which wants not to possess, but to joy in [jouir de] this state of non-possession, a Minne-love containing both the sensual desire to touch the true woman [de “toucher” à la femme vraiment “femme”] and also chaste distancing, Christian love transposed onto the secular plane, which wants to “have and have not”’.23 Courtly love pre-empts the pleasure principle by aiming never to reach the goal of union that would signal desire's demise.24 Extended frustration, itself often expressed in lyrics as a protracted dying, is nevertheless preferable to the end of desire, for that implies a subjective dissolution more terrifying than mere mortality. Any moments of fulfilment are furtively, fleetingly snatched in order to enflame rather than sate, thus avoiding the certainties of either the Wagnerian or marital states. The obstacles which Paris considers to be structurally necessary to courtly love permit, in Lacan's version, the lover to remain at a safe distance from, but still in creative tension with, the desired object.
This ’scolastique de l'amour malheureux’ (’scholastics of unhappy love’) not only allows the lover to evade the disappointment of consummation but paradoxically offers a route to jouissance which may be compared to the looking-glass advice given to Alice:25 walk in the opposite direction from your goal. Courtly love differs from marriage, that other authorized system of regulating sexual love, by the nature and degree of the sublimations it enables. Unsatisfied desire elevated to an art form places the lover on a different path which, by breaking out of the well-trodden substitute fulfilments of everyday life, comes closer to jouissance in its refined, perverse rewards: in masochism, in surplus enjoyment, in the debt incurred by the beneficiary, in the moral high ground that the lover comes to occupy (since typically the lady reneges on the debt) and, not least, in poetry.26 Courtly love may not enable the lover to have what he purports to want most, but it does grant him significant compensations which find their place within the courtly œuvre. As Spitzer puts it, for the troubadour, ’to experience amorous pain is itself a joy [une jouissance]’.27 The never-ending disciplines of courtly love do not, like marriage, limit the lover to the symbolic register but bring him into relation also with the Real. According to Lacan, troubadour lyric's ’paradoxe amoureux’ reflects an admission, not necessarily conscious, that true fulfilment is unattainable within the human sphere. On the one hand, the incest taboo forbids us access to our primordial object of desire, the mother, thus forcing us to turn to substitute objects which can never satisfy a demand not really addressed to them. On the other hand and much more fundamentally, this prohibition on the mother is merely a retroactive rationalization concealing the essential impossibility of satisfaction which is a primordial, Real fact of life. One would thus expect that the various barriers to the lover's desire would function as a smokescreen encouraging him to believe that the object is in principle attainable if only he can overcome these impediments. And we find in fact that the various impediments permit the lover to cherish fictions supporting ideologies relative to, for instance, social position and gender, such as that the jealous husband, his brother-rivals or the Lady herself — or rather the misogynistically conceived woman — is responsible for his privation. More significantly, however, in troubadour love lyric ’des détours et des obstacles…s'organisent pour faire apparaître comme tel le domaine de la vacuole’ (’detours and obstacles…are organized so as to make the domain of the vacuole stand out as such’);28 that is, so as to emphasize the Real void or vacuum at the centre of the structure of desire, and consequently the facticity of its symbolic and imaginary evasions. The ’paradoxe amoureux’ means that the lover can maintain the fantasy of union as totally fulfilling, but also that the (un)pleasure of deferment is offset by a deeper and unbearable awareness that the object of desire is not lacking but lost, unobtainable in the Real and not merely in the symbolic register. A major theme of troubadour lyric is therefore ’celui du deuil, et même d'un deuil jusqu’à la mort’ (’mourning, and even mourning unto death’).29
The ’vacuole’ at the centre of the structure of desire is a kind of black hole created by the incessant orbiting around the object of those who desire it and who are at once drawn towards it and repelled by the fatal implications. The tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces makes itself felt in the desiring subjects who therefore project into the place of the void (human nature abhorring a vacuum) a creation that is at once charismatically attractive and magnificently repulsive; this Lacan terms the Thing. Not the final object of desire, the Thing nevertheless occupies the place of that object — it is the only possible presentable face of the unrealizable. It provides a focus for the bafflement and frustration provoked by the impossibility of fulfilment which founds the human domain, and in this sense may be seen as ’ce qui du réel pâtit du signifiant’ (’that which in the [R]eal suffers from the signifier’), indicating the Real's forceful pressure on the psyche.30 The Thing is therefore itself entre-deux, between two domains, even though one of those domains — the Real — is strictly unbindable; the Thing's mutability transmits some of the special terror that this inspires. The Lady of troubadour lyric is one instance of the Thing, her supposedly arbitrary and unpredictable behaviour expressing the lover's prior ambivalence.
This depiction of the Lady takes us some way from Paris's rationalizing account, but brings us close to another great medievalist. In his 1936 account, C. S. Lewis enumerates courtly love's essential characteristics: ’Humility, Courtesy, Adultery and the Religion of Love’.31 Where Paris is concerned to understand l'amour courtois as a good in its own right (albeit a specialized and restricted one), Lewis presents it as parasitically dependent on established values. It shares some of the dominant culture's standards (humility, courtesy), others it contravenes. Courtly love is an erotic anti-religion that ’arises [partially but most significantly] as a rival or a parody of the real religion and emphasizes the antagonism of the two ideals’.32 Lewis draws attention to the element of scandalous transgression: courtly love's special pleasures rely on a perverse incitement to intermingle piety with blasphemy in a ’revolting’ manner.33 Adultery is structurally necessary for Lewis as for Paris, but for different reasons. Marital law stands for a much deeper-seated prohibition on loving or desiring anything other than in and through God; thus, whereas sexuality can be theologically innocent, ’romantic passion’ is always wrong.34 Lewis connects what he deems courtly love's repellent qualities not to animal need but to cultivation and sublimation: the lady's married status poses an obstacle whose overcoming promises the sought after blend of thrill and revulsion. Lewis thus agrees with Lacan in analysing an intimate relation between idealization and abjection in courtly love.35 The practice of courtly love poetry represents more than just a redefined honour; courtly love is, in Lewis's term, always ’dishonourable’.36
Lewis's analysis supplies an element of unattractiveness missing from Paris's coherent pursuit of a good. With some exaggeration, this may be compared to the way in which Sade makes available for Lacan something implied by but suppressed in Kantian ethics: discipline's perverse yield. The programmatic violation of taboos in courtly love forges a path towards the jouissance which ordinary rules are designed to keep at bay. In Lacan's words: ’Si les voies vers la jouissance ont en elles-mêmes quelque chose qui s'amortit, qui tend à être impracticable, c'est l'interdiction qui…sert, si je puis dire, de véhicule à tout terrain, d'autochenille, pour sortir de ces boucles qui ramènent toujours l'homme, tournant en rond, vers l'ornière d'une satisfaction courte et piétinée’ (’If the paths to jouissance have something in them that dies out, that tends to make them impassable, prohibition, if I may say so, becomes its all-terrain vehicle, its half-track truck that gets it out of the circuitous routes that lead man back in a roundabout way toward the rut of a short and well-trodden satisfaction’).37 Where jouissance is considered to be an evil, the role of moral law is to ’servir d'appui à cette jouissance, à faire que le péché devienne ce que saint Paul appelle démesurément pécheur’ (’support…the jouissance involved;… so that the sin becomes what St Paul calls inordinately sinful’).38 Discipline, whether enacted in self-castigation and renunciation or in programmatic indulgence in the disgusting, becomes a kind of slingshot towards jouissance.
The sensitivity to courtly love's shock value that Lewis and Lacan, for all their differences, share, measures the difference between Lacan's ethics and the tradition from which he claims to depart, namely that in Lacanian ethics the ’good’ is not considered primarily as an end engendering an ideal of conduct, but as a structural barrier keeping us within the pleasure principle's circuit of frustration and away from the ugly jouissance that we seek in spite of our civilized selves.39 The internal division resulting from this antagonism is one aspect of the Real, and Lacanian ethics is designed to analyse the subject's relation to the Real, independent of the symbolic and imaginary anchors that keep us within the circuit of ’real life’. Positive moral value is awarded to phenomena or initiatives that advance this analysis, thus serving our ’devoir de vérité’ (’duty of truth’).40 Courtly love comes closer than does traditional ethics to humanity's secret heart inasmuch as it elevates an unconventional ’good’ which is singular, antisocial and unconcerned with utilitarian considerations of need or moral requirements of ’bienfaisance’ (’philanthropy’).41 It thus allows for a more accurate understanding of the Real; however, it also brings complicated imaginary and symbolic configurations of the sort which recent Lacanian thinkers in particular have explored. In the next section, I turn to such elaborations of courtly love operating in relation to all three Lacanian registers, showing how these illuminate the love relation between Lancelot and Guinevere in the non-cyclic prose Lancelot.
Lancelot and Guinevere: Lacanian courtly lovers?
Žižek explains how the Lacanian concept of the ’other’ includes imaginary, symbolic and real aspects, corresponding to the classification Lacan puts on psychic experience:
First there is the imaginary other — other people ’like me’, my fellow human beings with whom I am engaged in mirror-like relationships of competition, mutual recognition, and so on. Then there is the symbolic ’big Other’ — the ’substance’ of our social existence, the impersonal set of rules that coordinate our existence. Finally there is the Other qua Real, the impossible Thing, the ’inhuman partner’, the Other with whom no symmetrical dialogue, mediated by the symbolic Order, is possible.42
He adds that the other ’perhaps provides the ultimate case of the Lacanian notion of the “Borromean knot” that unites these three dimensions’, emphasizing that although these different aspects can be distinguished conceptually in this manner, in any actual instance they will interlink and interweave with different biases and in different proportions to produce a distinct and complex compound. Sarah Kay elaborates a parallel analysis of troubadour love lyric, summarizing the lover's relation to the object of desire as being ’both traumatic and paradoxical because it is at the same time imaginary (aspiring to delusional exaltation), symbolic (a product of the poet's linguistic and institutional codes) and [R]eal (powered by its relation to the Thing)’.43
Following these thinkers, we can detect the same three dimensions to the courtly lover's experience in a key passage halfway through the non-cyclic prose Lancelot: the decisive scene in which, at a tryst negotiated by Galehot, Lancelot admits his love to Guinevere, leading to the couple's first kiss:
’Or me dites, [said the queen,] totes les chevaleries que vos avez faites, por cui les feïstes vos?’
’Dame,’ fait il, ’por vos.’
’Commant?’ fait ele, ’amez me vos tant?’
’Dame,’ fait il, ’ge n'ain tant ne moi ne autrui.’…
’Dites moi,’ fait ele, ’d'ou cest anmors mut dont ge vos demant?’…
’Dame,’ fait il, ’vos lo me feïstes faire, qui de moi feïstes vostre ami, se vostre boche ne me manti.’
’Mon ami,’ fait ele, ’et comant?’
’Dame,’ fait il, ’ge ving devant vos qant ge oi pris congié de monseignor lo roi, toz armez fors de mon chief et de mes mains, si vos commandai a Deu et dis que j'estoie vostre chevaliers an quel qe leu que ge fusse. Et vos deïstes que vostre chevaliers et vostres anmis voloiez vos que ge fusse. Et ge dis: “A Deu, dame.” Et vos deïstes: “A Deu, biaus douz amis.” Ne onques puis do cuer ne me pot issir. Ce fu li moz qui prodome me fera se gel suis. Ne onques puis ne vign an si grant meschief que de cest mot ne me manbrast. Cist moz m'a conforté an toz mes anuiz, cist moz m'a de toz mes maus garantiz et m'a gari de toz periz; cist moz m'a saolé an totes mes fains, cist moz m'a fait riche an totes mes granz povretez.’
(’Now, tell me, [said the queen,] all the knightly deeds that you have done, for whom did you do them?’ ’Lady,’ he said, ’for you.’ ’What?’ she said, ’do you love me so much?’ ’Lady,’ he said, ’I do not love myself or anyone else as much.’…’Tell me,’ she said, ’from where did this love which I am asking you about spring?’…’Lady,’ he said, ’you made me do it, for you made me your ami, if your mouth did not lie to me.’ ’My ami?’ she said, ’and how was that?’ ’Lady,’ he said, ’I came before you when I had taken leave of my lord the king, fully armed except for my head and my hands, and I commended you to God and said that I was your knight wherever I might be. And you said that you wished that I might be your knight and your ami. And I said: “Goodbye, lady.” And you said: “Goodbye, fair, sweet ami.” And never since could that go out of my heart. That was the word which will make me a man of valour, if I am one. And never since have I been in such dire straits that that word did not come to my mind. That word has comforted me in all my troubles, that word has protected me against all ills and saved me from all dangers; that word has filled me full whenever I have been hungry, that word has made me rich in my moments of great poverty.’)44
The imaginary aspect of courtly love relates to the idealization of the Lady which, for Lacan as for Freud before him, is narcissistic. The Lady is the mirror surface onto which the courtly lover projects his ideal ego, and her love is sought, in part, to confirm that he is the epitome of knightly and courtly values.45 Lancelot links his adulation of Guinevere to his own idealized self-image by his claim that it is out of love for Guinevere that he has performed the exploits which have earned his peerless chivalric reputation, an assertion acknowledged in Guinevere's response, ’si vos en est bien venu, que prodome vos ai fait’ (’and good has come to you because of it, for I have made you a man of valour’). This process is performative in the sense that chivalry needs always to be re-established, as indicated by the tenses Lancelot employs: ’Ce fu li moz qui prodome me fera se gel suis’. Chivalry can only be asserted in the present by promising future and ever greater deeds. As the lover progresses ethically (following Paris's analysis) his task becomes more demanding, his path more rigorous, and his object, to become the ideal knight and worthy of his lady, recedes, requiring ever greater discipline. Lacan emphasizes Freud's interest in the fact that moral conscience becomes only more punctilious as we offend it less: it is ’comme un parasite nourri des satisfactions qu'on lui accorde’ (’like a parasite that is fed by the satisfactions we accord it’).46
Courtly love's symbolic dimension relates to language and society conceived as conventional and contractual systems which allow one to become a subject through using language and playing social roles, and which also alienate the subject by retaining a resistant core never wholly amenable to personal appropriation. Lancelot alleges that the ’biaus douz amis’ with which the queen bade him farewell on his first adventure has sustained him ever since and that it is his effort to live up to this name which has made him the ’prodome’ he may be or become. Through Lancelot's repeated emphasis on the ’mot’ spoken by Guinevere, not only the beloved Lady but also the lover emerge as the creation of linguistic codes. Guinevere emphasizes that she intended her words not as the mark of a privileged, intimate relationship but as polite commonplace, ’friend’ but not ’lover’ (she says it to all the boys); nevertheless she accepts and even applauds the process by which Lancelot has fashioned her meaning into that appropriate to a courtly beloved:
’A foi, a foi,’ fist la reine, ’ci ot mot dit de mout bone ore, et Dex an soit aorez qant il dire lo me fist. Mais ge nel pris pas si a certes comme vos feïstes, et a mainz chevaliers l'ai ge dit ou ge ne pansai onques fors lo dire. Et vostre pansez ne fu mie vilains, ainz fu douz et debonaires; si vos en est bien venu, que prodome vos ai fait.’
(’In faith, in faith,’ said the queen, ’that was a word fortunately spoken, and God be praised for having made me say it. But indeed I did not take it in the way you did, and I have said it to many knights without any thought beyond the words. And your thought was not uncourtly, but sweet and gracious; and good has come to you because of it, for I have made you a man of valour.’)
When Lancelot alleges in the tryst scene that Guinevere made him her ami-lover, he is not claiming to have misunderstood her. His response at the time to her ’biaus douz amis’ was to mutter under his breath ’Granz merciz, dame, qant il vos plaist que ge lo soie’ (p. 165; ’Many thanks, lady, when it pleases you that I be that’), implying an intention already to convert her open, friendly sentiment to one of clandestine love. Earlier comments by the narrator suggest that Guinevere is indeed innocent of any equivocating intention for, although she suspects on more than one occasion that Lancelot loves her, she tries to distance herself (pp. 157—8, 161). That her intention is immaterial, however, is implied by the way Lancelot fragments her person, isolating her mouth (’se vostre boche ne me manti’). Claiming to refuse any source of meaning other than the words themselves, he invokes a supra-individual, impersonal order of language to empower the interpretation desired by the hearer. Lancelot forges the relationship between himself and the queen out of ’un sol mot’ (p. 347; ’a single word’).
Courtly love's contractual aspect is no less evident than its linguistic basis. Lancelot contrives to obtain the sword that completes his dubbing from Guinevere, exploiting a technicality to become her knight rather than Arthur's. The bond thus created is spelled out in the message urging Guinevere to send him the sword he lacks: ’Et li dites que ge li ment que, por moi gaaignier a tozjorz, que ele me face chevalier, si m'envoit une espee com a celui qui ses chevaliers sera’ (p. 174; ’And tell her that I urge her that, in order to win me forever, she make me knight, and send me a sword as to the one who will be her knight’). The power dynamic which this bond represents is not straightforward. Lancelot's actions throughout the first half of the text aim to create obligations on Guinevere's part, and the queen acknowledges that such debts must be paid:
’Certes,’ fait ele, ’ge sai bien que il a fait plus por moi que ge ne porroie deservir, se il n'avoit plus fait que la pais porchaciee [between Galehot and Arthur]. Ne il ne me porroit nule chose requerre do je lo poïsse escondire bellemant.’
(’Indeed,’ she said, ’I know well that he has done more for me than I could deserve, even if he had done nothing more than bring about the peace [between Galehot and Arthur]. And there is nothing that he could ask of me that I could decently refuse him.’)
Although Lancelot ascribes to Guinevere the agency powering the entire romance and she accepts the dominating role (’prodome vos ai fait’), it is evident that his actions impel her into this position. The loving contract that binds him to submission and her to command is his creation, for a long time known to and honoured by him alone. As in Deleuze's account of masochism — extended to courtly love by Žižek — the real agency remains with the suffering ’victim’.47 Lancelot adventures under the banner of the Other's desire, but in this text at least, that banner camouflages a disregard for the other's desire.48 Unlike in Paris's model, the knight's gift of himself, his sacrifice and his risk precede and determine the lady's apparently almost mandatory reciprocation. Her authority is a product of his fantasy, though once established it entails real consequences in the narrative, including real risks to Lancelot himself.
The imaginary and symbolic dimensions of courtly love are complemented by its Real aspect, marked by the lady's conversion into the Thing. No sooner does Guinevere assent to the imposed role of courtly beloved than she begins to torment her lover with unpredictable changes in attitude and cruel teasing:
’Et vostre sanblanz me mostre que vos amez ne sai la quele de ces dames la plus que vos ne faites moi, car vos an avez ploré de paor, ne n'osez esgarder vers eles de droite esgardeüre. Si m'aparçoif bien que vostre pensez n'est pas si a moi com vos me faites lo sanblant. Et par la foi que vos devez la riem que vos plus amez, dites moi la quel des trois vos amez tant.’…
Et ce disoit ele bien por veoir coment ele lo porra metre a malaise, car ele cuide bien que il ne pansast d'amors s'a lui non, ja mar aüst il fait por li se la jornee non des noires armes. Mais ele se delitoit durement an sa messaise veoir et escouter. Et cil an fu si angoissos que par un po ne se pasma.
(’And your behaviour shows me that you love one or other of those ladies over there more than you do me, for you have wept with fear because of it and do not dare look directly at them. I can tell that your thought is not so set on me as you pretend. So by the faith that you owe to the thing you love most, tell me which of the three you love so.’…
And she said this to see how she could upset him, for she believed indeed that he had no thought of love except for her, even if he had done nothing for her sake but the day of the black armour. But she took great delight in seeing and hearing his discomfort. And he was so disturbed that he almost fainted.)
It is difficult to see in the queen's actions here an effort to ’rendre [Lancelot] meilleur, à le faire plus “valoir”’ (’improve him, make him more “worthy”’), in Paris's terms.49 Nor is there any evidence of fear of discovery on her part to justify Lancelot's answering fear. Taking pleasure in her power to discomfit her lover, Guinevere instead resembles the ’cold, distanced, inhuman partner’ of Lacanian courtly love, as repellent as she is fascinating.50 Lancelot's strenuous avoidance of her presence up to this point has allowed him to engage in virtuous chivalric activity which enhances his status and serves others. His first step outside this orbit towards greater intimacy with the object of desire triggers pain and anxiety, in a movement of repulsion expressed narratively by her heartlessness and his answering distress.
Courtly love ethics
While the above exposition has concentrated on those aspects of Lancelot and Guinevere's relationship, as presented in the non-cyclic prose Lancelot, that fit the Lacanian analysis of courtly love, there are also significant divergences. The handling can be clarified by comparison with other extant treatments, which approach with varying emphases the problematic of Lancelot's simultaneously ideal and transgressive status. In the following discussion, I shall concentrate attention on relatively narrow differences and subtle distinctions between works.
Chrétien de Troyes's influential verse romance Le Chevalier de la Charrette (c. 1177—81, hence perhaps one or two generations earlier than the non-cyclic prose romance) is thought to be the earliest literary treatment of the adulterous affair between Lancelot and Guinevere. For much of this text Guinevere is presented as a mysterious and terrifying creature capable not only of demanding that her lover shame himself (an action whose import it is difficult to exaggerate) by fighting ’au nouaz’ (’to the worst’) in a tournament and by adopting the public identity of a dishonoured criminal, but further of greeting with coldness the man thus devoted to her.51 As Paris points out, ’Aux yeux du poète, elle est en cela dans son rôle tout aussi bien que lui [the self-abnegating Lancelot], et elle est le type accompli de la dame tout comme il est celui de l’ami’ (’In the poet's eyes, she is thereby fulfilling her role as much as he, and she is the fully realized type of the lady just as he is of the lover’).52 Her swings from scorn to reciprocation keep her lover in abject fear. Reasoning by contraries, Paris analyses this fear as compensation for or transfer of the risk that the lady runs in giving herself to the knight; Lacan's suggestion that the lover's fear is primary and represents fear of the object of his desire is simpler and better fitted to the text of the Charrette, where Guinevere behaves with apparent callousness and life-threatening whimsy towards her would-be protector.53 In the non-cyclic prose version, contrastingly, Guinevere's teasing of Lancelot is one of a very few episodes in which she resembles the inhuman and arbitrary Lady-Thing, and then only mildly. There her reactions to Lancelot's suffering are almost exclusively sympathetic, even empathetic. Far from blowing hot and cold, she shows great constancy, her respect for and attachment to her knight developing over the course of the romance. If ’the Lady is the Other which is not our “fellow-creature”: that is to say, she is someone with whom no relationship of empathy is possible’, then this particular Guinevere is no Lady.54
Even the teasing episode finishes with her concern for the suffering Lancelot's well-being and active intervention to ease his distress: ’Et la reine meïsmes lo dota [that he might faint], qui lo vit muer et changier; si lou prist par la cheveçaille que il ne chaïst, si apelle Galehot’ (p. 346; ’And the queen herself feared it [that he might faint], when she saw him change colour and alter; and she took hold of his collar to stop him falling, and called Galehot’). Again she has taken her own words less seriously than has her lover. On the one hand, the mildness of her teasing contrasts with Lancelot's dramatic response to enhance his unanticipated seriousness and thereby to increase his stature. On the other, it is further evidence that the text encourages a distinction between the character of Guinevere and the position held by the Lady-Thing within the economy of courtly love. My point is not that Guinevere has not yet fallen in love, but that the whole complex of l'amour courtois is shown by the text to be gendered masculine; cultural rather than individual psychology is at stake. Sublimation, in the Lacanian sense of the elevation of an object to the dignity of the Thing (thus filling out the void of the Real, as in the creationist sublimations of Chapter 1), is shown to originate with the lover. He therefore at once takes credit and bears responsibility for it, the Lady being only the support of his ambition. Sublimation in the Freudian sense is similarly involved in this gendered paradigm; the transformation of erotic passion into social utility and into virtue is a male preserve resistant to feminine encroachment. Recall how the non-cyclic prose text insists that Guinevere's authoritative and inspiring role as well as her improving effect on Lancelot are entirely his creations, while his swoon rebukes and punishes her small attempt to appropriate the place of the Thing. The Thing's disruptiveness is minimized in Guinevere, with the effect that its Real dimension diminishes to become only a structuring device within a system.
The non-cyclic prose romance, moreover, generally correlates Lancelot's love with his honour in the conventional manner of the chivalry topos.55 This contrasts with the Charrette, where his devotion to the queen exposes Lancelot to disgrace and mockery (including in the comic scenes of his excessive love) as often as it permits him to enhance his reputation. Lancelot's humiliation in Chrétien's text is particularly ambiguous where it occurs in association with the quasi-religious treatment of his love, since the text here draws on a spiritual rhetoric which places the categories of the abject and the sacred in direct communication.56 Pollution — all too representable in its insistent materiality — becomes a symbol of ineffable, divine purity, ’low’ signifying ’high’ in a trope common in hagiographic writing.57 Thus the temporary inversion of chivalric values operates in the Charrette to suggest that Lancelot transcends those values, a kind of holy fool.58 Lancelot's love would then lie outside the chivalric order, critical of it and eluding norms like the prohibition on adultery and betrayal of one's friend or lord. The affair with Guinevere could in such a case be justified according to the Christian theme of love superseding law, a numinous exemption from the common run. The Charrette would therefore represent a foundational document of the courtly anti-religion which so irritated Lewis.
This argument is, however, far from conclusive. Sarah Kay and Simon Gaunt have pointed recently to Lancelot's failure in the Charrette to reach the transcendent heights that would indicate convincingly the logic of inversion at work. For Gaunt, Lancelot's unstable knightly status suggests his personal inadequacy relative to the highest courtly standards; for Kay, it opens the question of the defectiveness of courtly ethics with reference to religious standards.59 The death drive inherent in Lancelot's (and Guinevere's) passion falls short of the sublimity that would award it definite ethical valence. My position is somewhat different. Accepting that, in contrast to the madness and isolation experienced by Tristan or Yvain, the abjection and suffering endured by the Charrette's Lancelot leave him (just) within the chivalric circuit, I consider that he stretches the ethical coverage of this circuit. Lancelot after the cart episode is permitted to join courtly gatherings and continues to function socially as a knight in spite of wounds and dishonour. In his ambivalence he figures conflicts and aberrations fundamental to the courtly, chivalric order itself. As the quintessential bearer of values desired and feared by the court he can be compared to Gauvain and to Kay. These are in many texts paired figures whose adventures and misadventures represent the Arthurian court's social, moral and spiritual achievements and weaknesses; thus they are used to define chivalry's symbolic order. Lancelot, contrastingly, undertakes exploits whose extreme nature makes them difficult to judge. The three characters’ careers in the Charrette are a case in point. Kay is imprisoned and disabled by wounds received as a result of over-extending his prowess, Gauvain trapped due to his courtesy — the punishment in both cases fitting the crime. Neither is touched by the love which permits Lancelot to achieve feats of prowess and courtesy that extend the aspirations of the court, gesturing towards their redefinition. By attaching the best knight/worst knight trope to Lancelot and to his love, the Charrette initially drives a wedge between the values of l'amour courtois and those of public courtliness and chivalry on the one hand, and of religion on the other (to recall the distinctions made by Paris and Lewis respectively). The antagonism thus created has the effect, not of isolating courtly love, but of opening up its dialectics and paradoxes to wider ethical valence — the gift of the Real. In a secondary though foreseeable phase, the court and its chivalry themselves become caught up in this ethical extension, their values tested in the career of their doubly hyperbolic hero. ’Lancelot figures as a touchstone whose contact reveals the positive and negative alloys of the society itself.’60
Failure is not an unethical notion. The critical but uncertain failure to transcend (or, differently, the possible failure of transcendence) is inherent in Lancelot's structural situation as within courtly love per se.61 Lancelot teeters on the brink of the Real, in the entre-deux between it and the symbolic and imaginary orders. It is not necessary for him actually to die in order to activate the critical uncertainty that characterizes the Real. Indeed, a character who actually (fictionally) dies, as Antigone does, extinguishes the audience's hesitation and doubt in awe and sometimes admiration: dying installs a settled regime and brings an end to the entre-deux-morts. Sacrifice enacted by dying or by withdrawing from the world is not the only way of activating ethical possibilities, as Gaunt and Kay imply. Death is a significant horizon at numerous points for the lovers in the Charrette, and their situation brings them into contact with the Real. Although they fail to take the final step, their choices place into question imaginary and symbolic aspects of their environment: courtly life's lies, substitutions and partial satisfactions. If there is nothing in the Charrette that is quite out of the courtly world, this very fact enhances the uncertainty affecting the value of the many things within that world, from its centre to its outermost margins. It forces us to question whether they ’belong’ to that world, either de facto or by ethical appropriateness. The death drive inherent in Lancelot's love therefore energizes an inquiry into courtly norms. This potential of courtly love in Lacan's account relates not to whether the lover dies but to the nature of the object as Thing. Through the Thing, the Real defines the courtly space as what Spitzer, referring to troubadour lyric, calls ’the psychological in-between [entre-deux] in which the sentiment of love is placed; felt as real yet unreal, shifting from the straight nothing [dreit nien] to occupy our whole being’.62 Lancelot's failure to move wholly beyond the courtly world in the Charrette points to an exploration of the collective psychological phenomenon that is the courtly Borromean knot: a world at once real and unreal, contradictorily caught up in symbolic, imaginary and Real registers and disturbing the grounds on which we judge. As Cohen argues, Lancelot's devotion queers courtly norms by distending them.63 The Charrette interrogates the courtly by obliging us to locate its exemplary figure in precisely this critical intermediacy: the more entre-deux because not mort. The eventual outcome may be the condemnation of the Arthurian order, or the initiation of a new and better order of chivalry; my interest is rather in the problem posed than in answers that put an end to questioning. Chrétien equated (if he did not inherit the equation) the field of questions relating to Lancelot's love and chivalry with the very fullest dimensions of the Arthurian order. It is within this same agenda, defined by the limit case where ’best’ turns into ’worst’, ’most courtly’ into ’most uncourtly’, and vice versa, that later remanieurs frame their responses.
It is therefore notable that, compared with his counterpart in the verse romance, the hero of the non-cyclic prose work is encouraged by love into relatively familiar and ’normal’ chivalric paths and suffers correspondingly less humiliation and bewilderment. Those embarrassments he does undergo are not willed by the queen. Moreover, there is never other than the most transitory ambiguity about his real pre-eminence. When, for example, Lancelot falls into a trance at the sight of Guinevere and is ludicrously captured by Daguenet lo Fol, a knight described as ’fox naïs et la plus coarde piece de char que l'an saüst’ (p. 268; ’a simple idiot and the cowardliest piece of flesh known’), it is Daguenet who is the object of ridicule. When Lancelot is imprisoned by the Lady of Malohot, his imprisonment becomes a formality as she rapidly succumbs to desirous wonder at the evidence of his extraordinary chivalric prowess. In place of the moral equivocations of the Charrette, in the non-cyclic prose romance Lancelot's temporary setbacks and humiliations are challenges he overcomes in advancing towards a status as the greatest of knights.64 He does not ambiguously exceed/fall below but exemplifies and carries to new heights the court's ideal norms. He occasions no radical problematization of the chivalric order. His maître, the Lady of the Lake, speaks for an ideal of chivalry acceptable to the establishment, and the hero pursues this ideal with distinction.65 Piety and protection of the Church are central to this code, presented as conventional values integrated into the aristocratic class myth in order to reinforce it. They elevate the nobility's moral status without requiring nobles to abandon their life in the world, which is essential to their protective role as bellatores. It is not surprising, in this context, that Lancelot and Guinevere's affair in the prose version lacks the ’revolting’ (to recall Lewis) quasi-religious features which characterize Chrétien's lovers; the consummation of their love, an occasion for transcendent ecstasy in the Charrette, is summarily rendered in the non-cyclic prose. If this Lancelot knows less humiliation as a lover, he is also ignorant of the sexual-mystical jouissance which brings his predecessor erotic satisfaction and the highs of moral ambiguity. In both Guinevere and Lancelot himself, love in this text withdraws from the Real that gave l'amour courtois its ethical dimension for Lacan.
The non-cyclic prose Lancelot can also be compared to narratives of the Vulgate cycle: the Queste del saint Graal, the Mort le roi Artu, and indeed the cyclic prose Lancelot romance. After the point where it diverges from the non-cyclic version, the cyclic Lancelot continues to celebrate its hero but increasingly emphasizes the values that will come to fruition in the Queste: condemnation of worldly chivalry and the paramount importance of sexual purity, religious faith and divine grace. Lancelot's story in this version is presented less as his gradual public acquisition of the name Lancelot than as a long decline from the potential encoded in his baptismal name of Galahad. His affair with Guinevere plays a, if not the, key role in this decline.66 Lancelot's privileged, paradoxical position in the Queste, and increasingly in the cyclic prose Lancelot, is that of the great sinner who repents and receives grace and who fathers the Grail hero but who, because of his fault, can never rise to the spiritual heights he should have achieved. Once again he can be contrasted with Gauvain. Whereas Gauvain's limitations are those of the court and of worldly life generally, the cyclic Lancelot even in his ruin retains a greater potential which stretches courtliness to one positive (and negative) extreme. The Mort, in contrast and perhaps reaction to the Queste, restores Lancelot to splendour and makes his love story only one element in the deepening twilight of the Arthurian order. Although the sense of culpability is generalized in the Mort, the connection between love and death is hammered home. Bors, rebuking Guinevere for her anger with Lancelot, states as a rule: ’Onques nus hom ne s'i prist fermement qui n'en moreust’ (ch. 59, ll. 59—60; ’No man ever committed himself firmly to it without dying of it’). The Demoiselle d’Escalot's fate contradicts the gender configuration that Bors intends, while Mordred's late passion for Guinevere confirms that love is a necessary element in his rush to destruction. Whether constant or inconstant, love in an imperfect world is implicated in the cataclysm of the society it also sustains. Adultery, as Elizabeth Edwards remarks, is the ’structure of structure’ in the Arthurian world, grounding and sustaining those inter-male relationships that it also damages.67 Guinevere's rejection will destroy chivalry's sustaining norm, hence its very values: ’vos feroiz perir el cors d'un seul chevalier toutes bones graces por quoi hom puet monter en honneur terrienne et por quoi il est apelez graciex, ce est biautez et proesce, hardemenz et chevalerie, gentillesce’ (ch. 59, ll. 61—6; ’you would cause to perish in the person of a single knight all good graces by which man can rise in worldly honour and for which he is called gracious, namely beauty and prowess, boldness, chivalry and nobility’). The damage will be widespread: ’vos domageroiz moult plus cest roiaume et maint autre que onques dame ne fist par le cors d'un sol chevalier’ (ch. 59, ll. 80—2; ’you would harm this kingdom and many others much more than any lady ever did through the person of a single knight’). Lancelot and Guinevere are linked to multiple deaths and suffer repeated accusations of murder which confirm their love's mortiferous quality while displacing the guilt of their adultery onto acts of which they are at least partially innocent and submerging it in the general drive towards destruction.68 Lancelot's exceptional unselfishness in returning Guinevere to Arthur after the Pope's intervention (Guinevere expresses no opinion) also offers one of the narrative's few instances of redemption, and the work ends with his salvation through as well as despite his love for both Guinevere and Arthur. These deathly, loving moments transcend as well as hasten the self-destruction of the Arthurian order, whose best and worst are again made inseparable, and ultimately equally fatal. The Mort recalls once again Freud's description of the organism in the grip of the death drive making its own way towards dying for strictly internal reasons. The endgame of the society he epitomizes is a cause as well as an effect of Lancelot's vilains and vaillanz characterization, encouraging readers to credit him as ’li plus vaillanz’ for those actions in which he exercises free will, as opposed to those, not within his control, in which he appears ’li plus vilains’.
The spiritual, moral and social disruptiveness that the works relating to the end of the cycle ascribe to the adulterous relationship between Arthur's queen and his principal knight are weak in the non-cyclic prose Lancelot, which instead stresses the personally and politically constructive and integrative aspects of Lancelot and Guinevere's attachment. His love for Guinevere inspires Lancelot to deeds which establish his own greatness and enhance the prestige of Arthur's court, to which he adheres for her sake. Whatever the subversive qualities of other courtly love relationships, the present one is the primary support of the orthodox social order centring on the king. The potential problems associated with adultery are brushed aside in favour of a love which combines a manageable level of passion with creative (Freudian) sublimation. Lancelot's advances in love are correlated with his progress towards insertion in the social order by the stages of what has been called the ’identity theme’: discovery of his name, acquisition of a reputation and installation as a knight of the Round Table.69 For Lancelot to become Guinevere's lover appears as one among several events contributing to his inscription into the ’“big Other”, the intersubjective public space’ of the Arthurian court.70 This alliance between Lancelot's love for the queen and the regulated and regulatory order is augmented when he performs the same inscription for Guinevere, re-establishing her right to her name and rescuing both her and Arthur from the intrigue of the False Guinevere. The relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere upholds rather than opposes legal marriage, and is in this distinguished from Arthur's disastrous passions for the Saxon Maiden and the False Guinevere — both situations being rectified by Lancelot's intervention. Marriage in the work correspondingly endorses this particular adultery; Guinevere's recognition of the debt that she owes Lancelot in her capacity as Arthur's wife and queen (p. 74, above) authorizes her to accept, in recompense, his interpretation of the phrase ’biaus douz amis’. The lovers’ excuse does not depend only on the morally weak argument that Arthur's conduct has been no less bad. The ideologies of marriage, queenship and feudal assistance are made to justify Lancelot and Guinevere's liaison as a necessary supplement to the power of husband and king, a concrete check and balance protecting wife, realm and people against potential tyrannical abuses.
To sum up the argument of this section: by comparison with the Charrette, the Queste and the Mort, the non-cyclic prose Lancelot's treatment of Lancelot and Guinevere's affair diminishes those aspects of the courtly love relationship which refer to the Real while accentuating the narcissistic dimension which aligns it with the imaginary and, in Lacan's analysis, forms a defensive barrier against the Real.71 Still more noticeably, the symbolic register is very substantially strengthened in the modes of law and contract, and as enforcement not negation. Lancelot's love for Guinevere is positioned as supportive of order, and namely of the Arthurian order, of marriage and of good kingship. The text is therefore more ’moral’ than ’ethical’ in the Lacanian sense. Whereas the death drive expresses itself in the Mort Artu in fatalism and mass destruction and in the Charrette in transcendent sexual pleasure and quasi-religious ecstasy, in both cases connected to the relation between Lancelot and Guinevere, the non-cyclic prose Lancelot detaches it from social cataclysm and also almost entirely from Lancelot's sexuality. Lancelot briefly goes mad when captured by the Saxon Maiden, Arthur's mistress, who treacherously imprisons the king and other key knights; thus a viable interpretation of his insanity is that it figures the damage inflicted on the kingdom by Arthur's sexuality, not his own. He is cured when the Lady of the Lake appears to restore his love's alignment with the Law, enabling him to rescue Arthur and restore the kingdom. Arthur's adultery may therefore be held to necessitate Lancelot's operationally, as well as to excuse it morally.
Many of the preceding remarks are true also of the cyclic prose Lancelot. However, the constructive aspect of Lancelot and Guinevere's love there represents only one strand in a situation that grows increasingly complex as we read on and look back. By ending early, the non-cyclic version excludes many of the most compromising events in the lovers’ story and presents a more straightforwardly positive picture in which Lancelot as Guinevere's lover represents only the virtues and strengths of the chivalric order. He is the best of knights but not the worst — except very briefly in his madness, where another is to blame. This does not mean that the liaison is entirely unproblematic in the non-cyclic prose romance. A compromised air increasingly haunts Guinevere's position. If, as Kennedy claims, comparisons with Tristan work in the cyclic prose Lancelot to deprecate the hero, and these comparisons are lacking in the non-cyclic version, nevertheless Guinevere increasingly recalls Ysolt.72 Thanking Lancelot publicly for his assistance in the war against the Saxon Maiden (during which war the couple have consummated their relationship), her equivocal use of conventional signs recalls that of the paradigmatic adulterous queen:
’Sire chevaliers, ge ne sai qui vos iestes, ce poise moi; ne ge ne vos sai que offrir por l'annor mon seignor avant et por la moie aprés, que vos avez hui maintenue. Mais por lui avant et por moi aprés vos otroi ge moi et m'amor, si comme leiaus dame doit doner a leial chevalier.’
Et qant li rois l'ot, si l'am prise mout de ce que ele l'a fait sanz estre anseigniee.
(’Sir knight, I am sorry that I do not know who you are; and I do not know what to offer you for my lord's honour first and mine after, that you have upheld today. But for his sake first and for mine after I grant you myself and my love, as a loyal lady should give to a loyal knight.’
And when the king heard this, he esteemed her greatly because she had done it without being instructed.)
This scene echoes the rendez-vous épié and equivocal oath episodes in which Béroul's Ysolt establishes the innocence of her friendship with Tristan.
Guinevere, moreover, becomes increasingly dependent on Lancelot until, in the text's reiterated phrase, ’ele ne voit mies comment ele se poïst consirrer de lui veoir’ (p. 558; ’she cannot at all see how she could do without seeing him’). Her desire to keep Lancelot close to her and her fear for his safety induce a new ambivalence in her towards his prowess:
Et li poise de ce qu'ele lo set et lo voit a si volenteïf et a si corageus, car ele ne voit mies comment sa vie poïst durer sanz la soe, s'il s'an aloit ja mais de cort. Si voudroit bien que il aüst un po mains de hardement et de proece.
(And it grieves her to know and see him so resolute and courageous, for she cannot at all see how her life could continue without his, in case he ever left court. And she would definitely have preferred in him a little less boldness and prowess.)
Caught between contradictory desires, Guinevere grows into the characteristics of the demanding, unprincipled courtly Lady, a role which earlier she held only in Lancelot's fantasy. Ironically, the text's treatment of her developing subjectivity ascribes to her the disturbing behaviour that Lacan detects in the courtly Lady-Thing. Whereas courtly love improves masculine behaviour, it causes the female to deteriorate. Responsibility for his moral, social and chivalric virtues remains with Lancelot, while we can foresee in Guinevere the potential for ’caprices apparents’ and ’rigueurs passagères’ (’seeming fits of contrariness’, ’short-lived episodes of severity’) arising from her love for the knight.73 The discordant aspects of the courtly paradoxe amoureux, ’have and have not’, are apportioned: sublimation to the male, cupidity to the female. It is therefore possible to ascribe the damaging consequences of episodes barely sketched in the narrative future to Guinevere's love, and more generally to female interference in ethical matters. At the least, the non-cyclic prose version implies one commentary on the impending events of Arthurian history. At most, its selection and treatment of episodes may be understood to reject the sequel that it refuses to tell.
A significant portion of the destructive or problematic material from which Lancelot's love for Guinevere is distanced is transferred to the love for Lancelot of Galehot, a character thought to be an invention of the prose Lancelot.74 Galehot is a figure clearly entre-deux-morts from the moment he meets and loves Lancelot, in an encounter which takes him beyond the bounds of normal life and condemns him to death. The death drive in Galehot has some similarities with the destruction drive running through Roland and discussed in Chapter 1. Thus Galehot is repeatedly associated with threats to the Arthurian kingdom. His first intervention in the narrative recalls the giants of the chronicle tradition; like them, Galehot declares that he has conquered many kings and demands Arthur's submission in order to complete his triumph, threatening conquest and the ravishment of Guinevere if he is resisted (pp. 263—4).75 However, the brutality, overweening pride and appetite for conquest of the chronicle giants are in Galehot partially assimilated to approved chivalric virtues, for he is spoken of as a great leader and as ’li plus gentis chevaliers et li plus deboenneres do monde et toz li plus larges’ (p. 264; ’the most noble and gracious knight in the world and absolutely the most generous’). Galehot is so impressed with the anonymous hero's exemplary chivalry that he drops his belligerent challenge to Arthur and abandons destructive jouissance in exchange for this unknown knight's acceptance of his hospitality. This motif aligns Galehot with those pagan knights of chanson de geste and romance whose appreciation of Christian chivalry is assimilated to religious revelation, for they convert in order to become the companions in arms of the Christian heroes they admire. Such figures are often gigantically tall and strong and are themselves wonderful knights and shining examples of chivalry both before and after their conversion.76 Galehot's destruction drive is transformed into loving care for Lancelot. Nonetheless, he retains ambiguous overtones that some of these chivalric rationalizations of the folk giant lose, in particular the association with excessive appetite.77 It is Galehot who, fearing lest Lancelot die of his love for Guinevere, initiates the physical — and even the reciprocal — relationship with the queen by pressing her to kiss the knight when Lancelot himself, a true Lacanian courtly lover in this respect, asks for nothing.78 Thus the adulterous affair may be distinguished from Lancelot's love and any culpability assigned to the former need not taint the latter. Not Lancelot's love for Guinevere but Galehot's for Lancelot can be held responsible for the passage à l'acte which carries socially constructive sublimation into questionable sexual liaison; the consequent destruction can therefore be taken to represent the half-giant's affection rather than the knight's. Vaillanz is separated from vilains, ’to have’ from ’to have not’. Galehot joins Guinevere in responsibility for the problematic aspects of male heterosexuality. On the other hand, a contrary reading emphasizing Galehot's human and royal side allows Galehot to add stature to Lancelot's love. Thus Stäblein argues that Galehot and Guinevere together represent sacral royal power, and that Galehot's participation encourages us to interpret Lancelot's kiss not as a carnal act but as the gesture of a king.79 Galehot's involvement therefore ambiguously either exaggerates or offsets the baser aspects of Lancelot's love, confirming that Galehot bears the entre-deux-morts for Lancelot as well as in his own right.80 A consequence of this duality is that the death drive working in the figure is not a straightforward destruction drive; Galehot's loving, self-effacing melancholy has elements of the Nirvana principle also, as he goes seemingly gently into his good night. By its role in Lancelot's elevation and incorporation into the court, Galehot's death drive regenerates the collective imaginary and symbolic domains. Yet its negative aspect is not so easily contained. Although it does not match in intensity those revitalizing energies that are generated by Roland's dynamic embrace of destruction, I shall nevertheless ultimately argue that it may in the end be more detrimental to the existing order and to what the text imagines as the conditions for order per se.
Galehot's love for Lancelot is placed in insistent parallel with Lancelot's love for Guinevere, producing a comparison interesting for the differences as well as the similarities it reveals. The imaginary dimension of courtly love is expressed in the wonder and instant devotion with which Galehot greets Lancelot's chivalry when he encounters it in his second battle against Arthur. In response to Galehot's question about his identity, Lancelot gives his usual answer, ’uns chevaliers suis’ (’I am a knight’). Galehot immediately perceives the normative value of this apparently modest claim: ’“Certes,” fait Gualehoz, “chevalieres iestes vos, li miaudres qui soit”’ (p. 320; ’“Indeed,” said Galehot, “a knight you are, and the best there may be”’). The dimensions of Lancelot's assertion are unfolded in an early conversation with the Lady of the Lake (pp. 141—7), who presents knighthood as a supreme moral, spiritual and physical achievement to be approached in a spirit of awe, and failure in which will incur worldly dishonour and divine condemnation. The state of true knighthood has only been achieved by a handful of men before and after Christ's passion. This discussion causes Lancelot to declare his vocation for knighthood, and his self-identification as ’uns chevaliers’ must be understood in this light. By his response to this epitome of chivalry, Galehot reveals with great clarity a significant aspect of the love that runs throughout romance knightly interactions, hostile and friendly. Zeikowitz analyses the identificatory aspects of this desire, while Schultz names it aristophilia, a gender-neutral erotic attraction to ’nobility and courtliness’.81
Courtly love's symbolic dimension is evident in the text's expression of Galehot's love through phrases that it presents as internal formulae, repeating them from one relationship to another. Thus Galehot calls Lancelot his ’biaus dolz amis’ (e.g., p. 324), the same phrase on which Lancelot hopes to exert the pressure that will transform Guinevere's polite disinterest into love. Lancelot is consistently identified as the thing Galehot loves most in the world, ’la rien au monde que il plus aimme’, an expression used also to define Lancelot's attachment to Guinevere. The verbal correspondences are multiple, as the text sets up a comparison between the two loves.82 Galehot initially approaches the embodiment of his ideal ego by proposing a contract: ’Et ancor vos pri ge, por Deu, que vos herbergiez anuit a moi par covant que ferai a devise quant que vos m'oseroiz requiere’ (p. 321; ’And I pray you again, for God's sake, that you lodge with me this night on condition that I will perform in full whatever you would dare ask of me’). The fact that he offers a don en blanc — an absolute, formal engagement empty of content — accentuates the contract's symbolic aspect. Like Lancelot's, Galehot's love is wedded to the symbolic order — not to any particular and therefore imaginary order, but to the empty structures of order as such.
Lancelot eventually reveals that Galehot has engaged to surrender to Arthur in the very moment of victory over him (p. 325). Galehot's love for the quintessential chevalier requires him to abandon the aggressive yet magnificent goals he has hitherto pursued, converting honour into humiliation in a manner which recalls the Lancelot of the Chevalier de la Charrette but not, I argued above, the hero of the non-cyclic prose romance.83 This signals a major difference between Lancelot and Galehot as lovers in the later work. Galehot's love will involve him in suffering and ultimately in dying because, even though Lancelot acknowledges his obligations to Galehot, he remains an inaccessible object. This inaccessibility is not an incidental part of Galehot's love, rather he undergoes rebuff after rebuff. Prime among these is his intervention in Lancelot's affair, undertaken because he fears that Lancelot will die if he does not obtain some satisfaction from the queen. Galehot explains his anxieties when Guinevere asks him how arrangements are going for her first meeting with the hero whose name and secret love are still unknown to her:
’Dame,’ fait il, ’g'en ai tant fait que ge dot que vostre proiere ne me toille la rien o monde que ge plus ain.’
’Si m'aïst Dex,’ fait ele, ’vos ne perdroiz ja rien por moi que ge ne vos rande a dobles. Mais q'an poez vos perdre por ce?’
’Dame,’ fait il, ’celui meesmes que vos demandez, que ge dot que chose n'en aveigne par qoi il se corrout, que gel perdroie a tozjorz mais.’
’Certes,’ fait ele, ’ce ne porroie ge mies randre. Mais se Deu plaist, par moi ne lo perdroiz vos ja, ne il ne seroit mie cortois se noiant vos an faisoit par ma proiere.
(’Lady,’ he said, ’I have done so much in it that I am afraid your entreaty may take from me the thing I love most in the world.’ ’So help me God,’ she said, ’you would never lose anything for my sake that I should not make up to you twice over. But what can you lose because of this?’ ’Lady,’ he said, ’the very man that you ask for, for I am afraid that something may come of it to vex him, and that I should lose him for ever.’ ’Indeed,’ she said, ’I could not make that up to you [return him to you]. But, please God, you would never lose him by my actions, and he would not be courtly if he did anything to you because of my entreaty.’)
Although he fears losing Lancelot if Guinevere accepts him as her lover no less surely than if she rejects him, Galehot continues to ease negotiations.84 The conscious ironies of such exchanges are a not insignificant element in the death drive working through Galehot. Notice that the text grounds Lancelot's inaccessibility in the fact that he is already in love with Guinevere rather than in the same-sex relationship. Galehot's union with Lancelot is not, like Lancelot's with Guinevere, merely forbidden by law. Laws can be broken, or transcended. Where they are regretfully respected and sacrificed to, they may help to fuel the forbidden love's elevation to an ideal persisting outside the contingent social order, as realized, perhaps, in the joint burial consecrated in the cyclic prose Lancelot. But for Galehot, the Other's desire does not respond to the subject's; Lancelot loves Guinevere. Lancelot's inaccessibility for Galehot pervades their interaction to such an extent that when the hero reveals the content of a second don en blanc, which is that Galehot has promised not to ask Lancelot his name, Galehot comments that this would otherwise have been his very first request of his new companion (p. 329), even though he has previously shown no inclination to ask. This is not mere Vorlust, the half-pleasurable tension that precedes sexual union and valorizes it by deferring it.85 Much more clearly than Lancelot's love for Guinevere, Galehot's for Lancelot is an amor interruptus, an unhappy love in which joy, humiliation, pain and ultimately death are interlinked.86 His inherent and multifaceted impossibility makes Lancelot for Galehot an object in the Real.
Impossible desire is central to Arthurian discourse, which elsewhere inscribes it in other modes: the quasi-mystical love for the Grail, the yearning after the ideals of Camelot and the Round Table. The non-cyclic prose Lancelot diverts away from the central heterosexual couple both the courtly lover's humiliation and agonizing bewilderment in the face of unjust rejection which characterized the Lancelot of the earlier Chevalier de la Charrette, and the personal and social destructiveness associated with the adulterous, treasonous relationship between hero and queen in the later narrative stages of the Vulgate prose romance cycle. These questionable qualities attach instead to the love for Lancelot of the newly introduced figure of Galehot, the character who in this text is placed in the nearest relation to death and is the most obvious bearer of the death drive.87 This may represent the projection of disturbing or destructive elements onto an outsider figure so that they may be disavowed. Galehot's giant affiliation at once accounts for his excess, inhibits identifications between him and fully human subjects within or outside the text, and allows a certain sense of relief when he is finally expelled from the narrative by dying.88 To regard Galehot as a lone homosexual in a heterosexual courtly world similarly distinguishes him from the rest of the text, making his passion a tragic exception. The clarity of both his love and the death drive means that this remains the case even if chivalry is viewed as revealing in him its own homoerotic underpinnings or, as Klosowska puts it, ’flirting with homoeroticism by heavily borrowing from the arsenal of heterosexual romance in “perfect friendship” narratives’.89 In the remainder of this chapter I shall develop a different reading, according to which the figure of Galehot highlights problems which inhere not in Galehot himself but in Lancelot as chivalric ideal and love object. Far from distancing the hero from the notion of love as destructive, the non-cyclic prose Lancelot intensifies that association but relocates the relationship so that it falls centrally within the chivalric, monologically masculine sphere.90
The knight as thing
Almost all discussions of courtly love take its domain to be heterosexuality. Although it may be understood to be a means of negotiating more important male—male social relations or to be an indirect expression of male homosexuality, in such discussions its heterosexual format is usually taken for granted.91 The lady may be only a screen object, but precisely as such she holds an essential place in the economy of desire. In Lacan's account the feminine gender of the Lady-Thing and the loving subject's masculinity are not incidental. Courtly love epitomizes heterosexuality and, indeed, masculine and feminine desire more generally, topics that he develops notably in Seminar XX. It is, of course, possible to treat this gendering of desire as mobile in relation to persons, such that male characters can adopt feminine roles and females masculine. However, if one partner's ’masculine’ behaviour is held to imply the ’femininity’ of the other, or vice versa, then heterosexuality is hypostatized as the essential structure of erotic desire, with binary, complementary gender difference as its fundamental framework. Such a hypostatization runs counter to the arguments put by queer theorists and medievalists over the last three decades, since back in 1984 Gayle Rubin argued that ’it is essential to separate gender and sex analytically’ (where ’sex’ means ’erotic desire’).92 Scholars have shown the complex interweaving of identification and objectification in many sexual forms, including those within the ’normal’ range. Moreover, as Michael Warner points out, desiring heterosexually does not guarantee that the desiring subject thereby creates a relation to ’irreducible phenomenological difference’, nor does homosexuality preclude such a relation.93 If sexual difference lies within the Real, so does the fundamental singularity of human beings; ’one is one and all alone’. The Real generates endless imaginary and symbolic responses, efforts to represent and evade, to comprehend and to mediate its intractability. While accepting the Real nature of sexual difference as one among an indeterminate number of antagonisms which rend the human condition, I contend that any sex—gender system should be considered one such response to the Real.94
Lacan's formulations, which reflect his own time and social and cultural position, need to be seen in the same light. While they provide valuable insights for critiquing sex—gender relations in historically actual cultures, and have a particular affinity with courtly modes, the meanings that they impose on gender difference, if accepted as Real, limit their usefulness. They belong, inevitably, to a particular political field, and any decision to accept or reject that field is itself a political one.95
The non-cyclic prose Lancelot presents two, closely parallel courtly love relationships: Lancelot's with Guinevere and Galehot's with Lancelot. Its model is therefore not limited to heterosexuality: neither to the ’hetero’ nor to the ’sexual’. I do not propose to consider Galehot ’feminine’; his is the masculine lover's role and it is Lancelot who occupies the feminine position. To consider Lancelot thereby ’feminized’, however, would involve re-ascribing to the feminine and to heterosexuality problems that the text works to shift into the masculine domain. This would be a retrograde step that failed to take advantage of the text's radical ethical critique.96 Lancelot is not feminized but ’Thing-ized’. Nor do I propose to read Galehot's love for Lancelot as either homosexuality or a displaced form of heterosexuality. Shifting the erotic triangle in which Arthur and Lancelot are rivals for Guinevere so that Galehot and Guinevere compete for Lancelot's erotic attention and sole devotion has the advantage of placing a ’gay’ character centre-stage in a major medieval text — an important political move within modern medievalist discourse.97 It may also, however, divert us from other questions which the text encourages us to pursue and which require us to revise established notions of gender and relationships. I shall argue that the ’Lancelot effect’ is neither limited to Galehot nor addresses only his sexuality. My analysis of the non-cyclic prose Lancelot is advanced by Schultz's proposal that we both abandon classifying medieval love re-lations on grounds of gendered erotic object-choice and analyse critically and historically the heterosexual norm.98 Refusing to instantiate what Bersani calls ’the great homo-heterosexual divide’ permits us to compare patterns of love and desire and opens up the possibility of rethinking these other than as either variants on heterosexual norms or as wholly asexual.99 This non-gendered gaze is well adapted to the non-cyclic prose Lancelot, with its insistently comparable love relationships. However, it would be unfortunate if we were led thereby to overlook the sexual—gender politics which permits some relationships but makes others impossible, unintelligible or excessive, distinguishing official or normative symbolic fictions from spectral fantasies; or to fail to notice what happens in a work which disregards these accepted boundaries, as I believe this text does.100 As it is presented in this early thirteenth-century work, Galehot's love for Lancelot has some of the socially disruptive force ascribed by Bersani to homo-ness, by Edelman to the sinthomosexual, and by Butler to Antigone.101 We do not need to import sexual classifications in order to be attentive to this force, though it is difficult to find a suitable language in which to analyse its sexual aspect. Thus I continue to use such shorthand terms as ’heterosexuality’ against Schultz's recommendation.
Lancelot's demand that Galehot submit to Arthur after defeating him demonstrates the complex relationship between the text's two courtly loves. An obvious effect of Lancelot's choice is to emphasize his service to Arthur, whose prestige is not only preserved but increased by the homage of the conqueror of thirty kings. Since Lancelot's action is motivated by his love for Guinevere, it forms part of that love's justification through the assistance it demonstrably renders her husband and the social order he represents. This is therefore an important episode in establishing that Lancelot's love for Guinevere endorses rather than conflicts with that order. The same episode is, however, also central to the relationship between Lancelot and Galehot, since it relates what Galehot first gives in exchange for Lancelot's company. It is clear that Lancelot knows his power over Galehot: ’Et ge vos dirai orrandroit lo don par quoi ge remanrai. Et se ge ne l'ai, por noiant parleroiz de remanoir’ (p. 325; ’And I shall tell you at once the gift that will make me stay. And if I do not get it, you will waste your breath to talk of my staying’). Lancelot's insistence that Galehot should willingly enact his own dramatic humiliation exceeds the rational norm for honourable enmity. It could perhaps be justified by Galehot's being half giant, but he is not fully characterized as a giant in the text, and in the scenes under discussion is not obviously so at all.102 Lancelot's directive therefore has aspects which recall the demands conventionally imposed by the courtly Lady-Thing. Galehot's beloved requires that his lover renounce a dream which has nourished him for years. The cherished aspirations thus designated for sacrifice concern the lover's honour, of all chivalric values most crucial to a knight's sense of identity and self-worth. The enormity of Lancelot's ultimatum is heightened by the stipulation that it is only in the moment of victory over Arthur that Galehot must abandon his claim; it would be more sensible and kinder to forestall the battle by requiring instant submission. Yet it is noticeable that Lancelot's demand receives no commentary from any character except Galehot, who sees in it matter for celebration. Like Lancelot, Galehot builds his love on a ’mot’:
’Cuidiez vos qe ge bee a repentir? Se toz le monz estoit miens, si li oseroie ge tot doner. Mais ge pensoie au riche mot que il a dit, que onques mais home ne dist si riche. Sire,’ dist il, ’ja ne m'aïst Dex, se vos ne l'avez, lo don, que ge ne porroie rien faire por vos o ge poïsse honte avoir.’
(’Do you think that I want to repent? If the whole world were mine still I would dare give it all to him. No, I was thinking about his noble words, that no man ever spoke so nobly. Sir,’ he said, ’may God never help me if you do not have it, this gift, since nothing I could do for your sake could bring me shame.’)
Galehot's open-ended pledge is viewed with dismay by his lordly vassals and with suspicion by Lancelot. To embrace such extreme demands is marginally intelligible within the framework of courtly heterosexuality — as established by the Lancelot of the Charrette — but in the homosocial context it appears simply extravagant. Lancelot's and Galehot's complementary roles are those of the courtly love duo: autocratic, inconsistent, cruel imposition complements gratifying ascesis. Placing this pattern in the context of relations between men restores to it the strangeness and hence the ethical force that it has largely lost within the overly familiar heterosexual context.
The spectacle of Lancelot languishing but unable or unwilling to approach Guinevere prompts Galehot to plead his friend's cause. His love compels him to serve his beloved's desire in the knowledge that this desire is for another, thus attenuating Lancelot's suffering at the price of increasing his own. That the latter would also increase were Lancelot to die elevates the altruism of Galehot's decision (compare Paris's insistence on the improving effect on her knight of the Lady's rigour). The fact that Lancelot's wishes are not always expressed explicitly does not alter the compulsion that they exercise on Galehot, an attentive reader of his beloved's desire. Galehot interprets the possibility that Lancelot may die for love as a threat on his friend's part to die for love, hence as an indirect demand addressed to himself. Pursuing the Other's desire involves Galehot in all sorts of substitutions; he must pay homage to a series of figures — Arthur, Guinevere, the Lady of Malohot — whom he desires only in the mediated sense that his desire for them has been dictated to him by Lancelot and serves the latter's aims. This kind of oblique relation to the object through a series of substitutes is not uncommon in courtly love. In one perspective it defines the symbolic order: the objet a, object-cause of desire, can be pursued only through surrogate objects and leads the subject to replace each actual object attained — and discovered not to be the hoped-for fulfilment — with a new, in which the same hopes may be invested until it in turn is achieved.103 In l'amour courtois the substitutive string is sometimes interpreted to be tyrannically commanded by the Lady-Thing; it is she whom the lover consciously serves and pursues through his frustrations, tormented by the inadequate, proxy satisfactions that his love imposes on him. Directly or indirectly, Lancelot's lover is required to sacrifice his own hopes in love and in chivalry and to adopt substitute objects, recalling Thomas's Tristan, whose marriage to the Breton princess Ysolt aux Blanches Mains is expressive of various emotions centred on his true love, Ysolt la Blonde, and rapidly doubles his torment.104 The non-cyclic prose Lancelot makes it evident that sublimation in the courtly love between Galehot and Lancelot, as in that between Lancelot and Guinevere, originates with the lover. Both the ethical prestige and the difficulties arising from Galehot's sublimation of Lancelot must therefore accrue to the former. Counter-arguments are, of course, possible: as noted above, Galehot's love works to disculpate Lancelot to some extent of the problematic sexual relationship with Guinevere; Lancelot does not ask Galehot to arrange his tryst with the queen. Moreover, Lancelot repeatedly expresses guilt for his treatment of Galehot, again signalling the importance of this particular male—male relationship (neither he nor Guinevere feels much guilt in relation to Arthur). However, Lancelot's persistence in conduct which he admits is harsh aligns him — much more closely than Guinevere — with the pattern of unpredictable shifts from humanity to inhumanity, rationality to irrationality, justice to injustice that Paris ascribes to the dame and Lacan to the Thing. Guilt being importantly constitutive of subjectivity in thirteenth-century prose romances, all this hardly dislodges Lancelot from his position as hero.105 The major point is that the non-cyclic prose Lancelot locates the ethical space within the chivalric relation.
When, as usually, a woman occupies the position of the Thing, then medieval ideologies of sexual difference allow its heartless inconsistency to be absorbed into a feminine stereotype. It is Woman who is capricious, faithless, insensible and unworthy of the idealization accorded her, which reflects rather her lover's nobility than her own. Audiences medieval and modern can shrug off such behaviour as typical if not of women, then of a certain view of women. Where, as in the non-cyclic prose Lancelot, it is meted out by a knight, it becomes more difficult; what to make, then, of the one who, before all others, is ’uns chevaliers’, ’li bons chevaliers’, yet whose behaviour patterns him as the Thing? Knighthood's ideal is made to appear erratic and antipathetic in a context which is neither heterosexual nor heterosocial. With the figure of Galehot the text superimposes the courtly erotic relation onto the model chivalric relation of compaignie or privileged friendship. The value of compaignie is shown in this exchange between Arthur and Guinevere:
’Dame, ge voil prier Lancelot de remanor a moi et d'estre compainz de la Table Reonde, car bien sont ses granz proeces esprovees. Et s'il ne voloit por moi remanoir, si l'an cheïssiez tantost as piez.’
’Sire,’ fait la reine, ’il est a Galehot et ses compainz, si est bien que vos an priez Galehot qu'il lo sueffre.’
Lors vient li rois a Galehot, si li prie en toz servises qu'il voille que Lanceloz soit de sa maisniee et qu'il remaigne a lui comme ses maistres et ses compainz.
(’Lady, I wish to entreat Lancelot to stay with me and to be a companion of the Round Table, for his great knightly qualities have truly been proven. And if he did not wish to stay for my sake, you should fall at his feet.’ ’Sire,’ said the queen, ’he belongs to Galehot and is his companion, therefore it is proper that you entreat Galehot to allow it.’ Then the king came to Galehot and beseeched him to allow Lancelot to be part of his [Arthur's] retinue and to stay with him as his master and companion.)
Compaignie binds Lancelot to Galehot and the knights of the Round Table to each other, and represents the egalitarian aspect of the relation that Arthur desires with Lancelot.106 A bond of mutual support and honour, compaignie is the most treasured of male homosocial relations; the idea that one may be a good knight but a poor companion strains notions of chivalry. Yet Lancelot repeatedly declares his inability to fulfil his contractual obligations to Galehot and, inspired by his love for Guinevere, defaults on the behaviour which his compainz is entitled to expect. Witness his response to Guinevere's entreaty that he remain at court:
Et qant Lanceloz la voit a genolz, si li fait trop grant mal au cuer; si n'atant mie tant que Galehoz lo regart, ainz saut sus et dist a la reine:
’Ha ! dame, ge remaign a mon seignor a son plaisir et au vostre.’
(And when Lancelot saw her on her knees it distressed his heart very greatly, and he did not wait for Galehot to look at him but leapt up and said to the queen, ’Oh, lady! I remain with my lord at his pleasure and yours.’)
Lancelot is not actually breaking a promise to Galehot, since the pair earlier agreed that Lancelot would join Arthur's retinue if the queen asked him to do so (though this is a forced concession on the part of Galehot who, as so often, recognizes that his own ability to bear privation is greater than Lancelot's). However, Lancelot's failure to solicit the formal permission that the text implies is necessary suggests that he bears some guilt; his hinted avoidance of Galehot's gaze further insinuates that he knows himself to bear it. His actions here reinforce his reputation for scrupulousness as he attempts to satisfy conflicting obligations, but also contribute to the repeated pattern of public and private snubs that he delivers to Galehot. In the non-cyclic prose Lancelot, therefore, the association in which Lancelot can with justice be accused of betrayal is not that with Arthur, but that with Galehot; the key relation is not the institutionally hierarchical but the ideally egalitarian.107 It is his behaviour in this domain that makes him ’li plus vilains chevaliers el monde et li plus vaillanz’ for this particular text, which thereby situates serious ethical disruption within the privileged chivalric alliance of compaignie. And this is achieved by overlaying on compaignie patterns derived from courtly love.
L'amour chevaleresque en anamorphose
Lacan's discussion of courtly love includes a chapter entitled ’L’amour courtois en anamorphose’. Here he presents courtly love as an anamorphosis of heterosexual desire — and of desire generally — in the sense that he treats it as an exaggerated and distorted representation whose very mannerisms nevertheless reveal commonly overlooked and therefore especially significant characteristics of more usual forms, namely the presence of the drives that, in Žižek's terms, stand for ’the curvature of the space of desire, i.e. for the paradox that, within this space, the way to attain the object (a) is not to go straight for it (the safest way to miss it) but to encircle it, to “go round in circles”’, this circumnavigation being a feature of desire that courtly love importantly exaggerates.108 Distortion reveals not the objective social situa-tions of love (the condition of women, patriarchy, medieval marriage, etc.) but the Real as the trauma around which social reality is structured. I shall return more fully to anamorphosis in Chapter 4. For the moment, it should be noted that Lacan also subjects courtly love itself to anamorphosis by portraying it in the curious perspective of his own psychoanalysis. Through this presentation he emphasizes the insistent artificiality which allows his version of l'amour courtois to project or conjure up the spectre of a properly unrepresentable dimension. The artwork — courtly love poetry, and also Lacan's own analysis — puts the object into relation with the Thing. The courtly erotic is thus given ethical status, or, in Lacan's play on das Ding, its ’dignity’ or Ding-ity is renewed.109 Its import is limited neither to a brief flowering in Western European poetry nor to a longer one in the history of Western heterosexuality.
Most commentators agree that an extensive social, political and cultural order is implicated in the erotics of courtly love. The step implied by the non-cyclic prose Lancelot, in my view, is the relocation of this erotics into the strictly masculine domain of horizontal male—male relations. This move radically interrupts accepted perspectives on that domain and on its role in the general order, stressing its disturbing qualities. To designate this male—male love, overlaid with the forms of courtly heterosexuality, which is essential to and disruptive of the chivalric sphere, I borrow from Paris a term that for him is synonymous with ’l'amour courtois’: in the non-cyclic prose Lancelot it is ’l'amour chevaleresque’ which is placed en anamorphose.
Since his various cruelties to Galehot spring from actions undertaken out of love for Guinevere, Lancelot's behaviour as a beloved object is the correlative of his behaviour as a loving subject. However, it cannot therefore be deduced that it is first and foremost his conduct as Guinevere's illicit lover which is placed into question, or that the text merely presents one more exploration of the difficult balance to be achieved between such gendered terms as love and prowess, private and public, heterosexual and homosocial, or feminine and masculine. Because his passion for Guinevere lies at the centre of all Lancelot's chivalry, the heterosexual relation cannot be bracketed off as the sole locus of difficulty. Nor can a sexuality ascribed to Galehot alone be taken to be the problem. Galehot's love for Lancelot and Lancelot's for him are not set apart from the various desires expressed by other characters. On the contrary, an important characteristic of Lancelot in this work is that, at least where he is concerned, courtly love paradigms are read onto alliances between knights. Galehot's combination of idealization, contract and self-prostration is encountered in relationships that other male characters (and also, keeping the parallel alive, female characters such as the Lady of Malohot) establish with Lancelot, whose regretfully disappointing response is typical, though nowhere so clear or so culpable as with Galehot. His snubbing of female expectations enhances the ethical status of Lancelot's love for Guinevere by glossing it as the virtue of fidelity while underlining the disruptive force of women's excessive and unprincipled appetites; in both aspects it finds an orthodox place within courtly thinking. Were Galehot positioned as a direct sexual rival to Guinevere, he could be dismissed as easily as the amorous maidens of other Lancelot romances, and his death for love would bring to the hero's reputation only the same gloomy lustre as does that of the Demoiselle d’Escalot in the Mort Artu. Representing and rejecting homosexuality in this way would, obviously, be a political and ethical act; however, such a possibility is not broached within the text. Instead, Galehot's very foreclosure as a sexual suitor accentuates the wrong that Lancelot does him. Whereas letting down a compainz indicates a serious moral failing, causing him to die points to a truly critical inadequacy (compare the carnage that Gauvain wreaks in the ranks of the Round Table during the Queste del saint Graal). Thus the personally and socially disturbing and even the mortiferous qualities considered by other Lancelot texts to attach to the hero's defining heterosexual relationship (and thereby potentially to his relation with Arthur) are grafted in the non-cyclic prose romance not onto Galehot himself, but onto Lancelot in his relations with his male peers, his brother knights. I take this less as an exposure of the existential singularity of each human being than as an analysis of the various desires, relationships and fantasies that constitute chivalry as a collective cultural and social order.110
The clearest instance is the notable scene which occurs after Galehot has submitted to Arthur but before he has brought Lancelot to meet Guinevere. Galehot asks Arthur, Gauvain (gravely injured in the preceding battle) and Guinevere in turn how they value the knight they currently know as the Noir Chevalier (Black Knight), before himself answering the question:
’Sire, sire, veïstes vos onques plus prodome de celui au noir escu?’
’Certes,’ fait le rois, ’ge ne vi onques chevalier de cui j'anmasse tant la conoissance por chevalerie qui an lui fust.’
’Non?’ fait Galehoz. ’Or me distes donc, par la foi que vos devez madame qui ci est ne monseignor Gauvain, combien voudriez vos avoir doné an sa compaignie avoir a tozjorz.’
’Si voirement m'aïst Dex,’ fit il, ’ge li partiroie parmi qanque ge porroie avoir fors solement lo cors a ceste dame, don ge ne feroie nule part.’
’Certes,’ fait Galehoz, ’assez i metriez. Et vos,’ fait il, ’messire Gauvain, se Dex vos doint ja mais la santé que vos dessirrez, quel meschief feriez vos por avoir tozjorz mais un si prodome?’
Et messires Gauvains pansa un petit, comme cil qui ja mais ne cuidoit avoir santé.
’Se Dex,’ fait il, ’me doint la santé que je desir, ge voudroie orendroit estre la plus bele damoisele do mont saine et haitiee, par covant que il m'amast sor tote rien, ausin bien com ge l'ameroie.’
’Certes,’ fait Galehoz, ’assez i avez offert. Et vos, dame,’ fait il, ’par la rien que vos plus amez, que an feriez de meschief par covant que uns tex chevaliers fust tozjorz an vostre servise?’
’Par Deu,’ fait ele, ’messires Gauvains i a mis toz les offres que dames i puent metre, ne dame ne puet plus offrir.’
Et il comancent tuit a rire.
(’Sire, sire, did you ever see a more worthy man than him with the black shield?’ ’Truly,’ said the king, ’I never saw a knight whose acquaintance I would sooner make on account of the chivalry that was in him.’ ’No?’ said Galehot. ’Now tell me, on the faith you owe my lady here and monseigneur Gauvain, how much you would be willing to give to have his company for ever.’ ’So help me God,’ he said, ’I would give him half of all I might have excepting only this lady's person, which I would never share.’ ’Truly,’ said Galehot, ’you would give a great deal. And you,’ he said, ’Sir Gauvain, as God give you the health you desire, what sacrifice would you make to have such a man of valour for ever?’ Sir Gauvain thought for a while, as a man who never expected to recover. ’As God,’ he said, ’give me the health I desire, I should wish there and then to be the most beautiful damsel in the world, hale and hearty, on condition that he love me more than anything, as I should love him.’ ’Indeed,’ said Galehot, ’you have offered a great deal. And you, my lady,’ he said, ’by the thing you most love, what sacrifice would you make on condition that such a knight would always be in your service?’ ’By God,’ she said, ’Sir Gauvain has advanced all the offers that ladies can, nor can any lady offer more.’ And they all started to laugh.)
Each response posits a certain relationship between heterosexual and homosocial bonds. Arthur's answer recalls the familiar triangle in which two male friends compete for a woman's love (or other prize). In Arthur's version the woman is displaced from her central position, allowing the men to express their bond directly when one renounces her for the other's sake. Ironically, of course, reserving her in this way also situates her as precisely that trophy for which a loving friend or enemy must strive. Such a view of homosocial relations as mediated by a doubly beloved woman will allow the Arthur of some texts to interpret Lancelot's affection for his queen as care for himself, an interpretation given textual support in such works as the cyclic Lancelot, the Mort Artu, and most clearly in Malory's Le Morte Darthur.
In Gauvain's suggested ’meschief’, courtly love relations are read onto knightly alliances in a more radical manner. We could construe this as a version of Arthur's fantasy of male union, with the collapse of the triangulating female figure into one male partner; we could equally interpret it as an expression of homosexual fantasies underpinning chivalry. However, the implications I wish to draw from this use of the courtly heterosexual relation to figure the chivalric male alliance at its most intense and reciprocal, are different. On the one hand, the truly problematic nature of the intense knightly bond is presented by casting one participant in feminine guise, thus uncovering the complexities of ’l'amour chevaleresque’: the not only identificatory desires which his fellow knights focus on Lancelot, chivalry's paragon. On the other, the nature of this chivalric passion means that Lancelot can be no more devoted to Gauvain the man than he could to Gauvain the damsel, or, to put it another way, that male Gauvain can have Lancelot's devotion no more than could female Gauvain. Reciprocity is as impossible in one as in the other domain.111 Love between men is properly unfigurable not only because the homosexual possibility is suppressed but because relations between men lie in the Real, no less than do those with the other sex or with God; it is not forbidden but impossible.112 Knights must idealize and pursue, must aspire to be recognized, esteemed and loved by the best knights as exemplars of chivalry, which is enthroned as a regime of ideal models as early as the Lady of the Lake's description (pp. 141—7). But according to this text, such sublimation places the paragon in the fundamentally ambivalent position of the Thing, prone to arbitrary cruelties and to demands which reveal its own unworthiness and require its lover's subjective destitution. The desire ascribed to ’li bons chevaliers’ is to humiliate, reject and therefore devastate his peers as chivalric subjects, to see them abject. And this abjection by the Other, itself a form of jouissance, represents the trajectory of chivalry as a whole. It can be generalized to other texts, being performed in the Vulgate cycle works by the slow grinding towards self-destruction of the Arthurian order and by the intensifying culpabilization of the leading characters. In the non-cyclic prose romance it is articulated by that archetypal Arthurian personage, Gauvain, whose aspirational offer is placed under the auspices of the death drive, linked to the health he never expects to recover and designated a ’meschief’, a sacrifice or mutilation of self or others;113 although it is contained by the fact that the shadow is here temporary and by its conscious designation as a game easily disavowed with laughter.114 In this work, then, chivalry's collective death drive attaches to the heroic person of Lancelot not as Guinevere's lover but as beloved and desired lover of other great knights. Women, we note, are banished from this relation. Guinevere's circumspect and ironic reply to Galehot's question points up Gauvain's appropriation of the courtly feminine position, drawing attention to that position as a rhetorical one within male discourse and distancing her once more from the figure of the Lady-Thing. Once transferred into the exclusively masculine domain, the unrequited longings of all those amorous maidens acquire a moral seriousness that chivalric discourse does not allow them in their own right.115
It is in the light of these prior responses that we read Galehot's answer to the question he himself posed: ’J’an voudroie avoir tornee ma grant honor a honte, par si que ge fusse a tozjorz ausi seürs de lui comme ge voudroie que il fust de moi’ (p. 334; ’I should wish my great honour changed to shame, provided that I should always be as sure of him as I should wish him to be of me’). Like Gauvain, Galehot dreams of being loved by Lancelot. In his vision the conventionally feminine role has not been marginalized from the intense knightly alliance (as Arthur dreams) nor incorporated into it (as Gauvain fantasizes), but re-gendered as the fully masculine role of the loving knight. Chivalric companionship is indistinguishable henceforth from the courtly love relation in its rhetoric and its psychic economy. This conversation exposes the fundamental correspondence between Galehot's love and the desires that issue from other knights to centre on Lancelot in the work, and portrays all as problematic. The position of the incomprehensible Thing is located in the exclusively chivalric space; knights carry the Thing with and within them as knights rather than only as heterosexual lovers. Lancelot's entre-deux status in so many romances, as the overlapping of chivalry's best and worst, its sublime and its abject, is revealed in the non-cyclic prose romance to be that of the Thing. Whether as best or as worst, Lancelot never exits entirely from the circuit of earthly norms (see the discussion of the Charrette, above) because the Thing represents the point at which the Real becomes partially, wonderfully and horrifyingly accessible via the imaginary and the symbolic. Lancelot represents ’ce qui du réel pâtit du signifiant’ in a specifically chivalric modulation; he is the attractive, repellent vacuole around which many romances turn. Numerous Lancelot works, including the Charrette, the Queste and the Mort Artu, address Lancelot's Thing-ness by attaching it to his reprehensible yet justifiable love for Guinevere. They thereby join the large number of medieval works that deem women or the heterosexual desire they arouse to be responsible for all kinds of ills, while the part of transcendence is allotted to men. The non-cyclic prose Lancelot, however, locates the difficulty as well as the sublimity with men as subjects and as objects. Women and giants remain problematic, but they are not alone — chivalry's major symptom is Lancelot himself. The split in the chivalric self which Plummer ascribes to the tension between the Mother's desire and the Father's non/nom is shown here to mask a strictly chivalric set of desires, prohibitions and impossibilities.116
The relocation of the destructive courtly love relationship into the exclusively male space renders it more subversive than it is likely to be if confined to the heterosexual or feminine spheres. By imposing onto intimate associations between knights formal patterns drawn from courtly love, and especially by elevating the knightly paradigm to the position of the callous, whimsical, treacherous Thing, the text challenges the knightly relation at its core. Courtly love is treated by Lacan as one response to the real fact that ’il n'y a pas de rapport sexuel’ (’there is no relation between the sexes’, in Evans's gloss) — that is, men and women are fated to a radical lack of symmetry, complementarity or harmony.117 In the non-cyclic prose Lancelot, the primary failing relationship is located not between men and women nor between king and knight but between male peers, such that their loving interaction with each other is made to seem as intractable as elsewhere that between the sexes. The message of the non-cyclic prose Lancelot is therefore the impossibility not so much of the sexual relation as of the chivalric social contract. Galehot's death as loving subject, though in one sense it expels him from the narrative, leaves Lancelot a disturbing and guilt-stricken survivor and his future career — should he have one, as in the cyclic version — under the mark Galehot places on him, as idealized yet inadequate object of ’l'amour chevaleresque’.