Within Sir Orfeo and Sir Launcelot and Queen Gwenyvere many of the characters personal interests entwined with their social duties. Malory writes Sir Launcelot lets his love for Queen Gwenyvere come between his loyalties to both the King and the Knights of the Round Table. In contrast King Arthur is sworn by his ‘duty as king is to uphold the laws and the welfare of his realm before all other considerations’, which prevent him from defending his wife when she is accused of treason and adultery. Sir Orfeo’s actions, like Sir Launcelot’s, conflict greatly with his social responsibilities and his actions put his kingdom at risk.
The huge conflict between social forces and personal interests of these characters in these texts shows the power of love and how they can change even the noblest character. Within Malory’s Sir Launcelot and Queen Gwenyvere many characters let their personal lives impact their social lives as their emotions get in the way and taint their heroic personalities with indiscretions. Davies writes that ‘romantic adultery is predominant in his presentation of love’, which is untypical of medieval love affairs but is certainly the case of Gwenyvere and Sir Launcelot.
Their affair can be argued to be the cause of Lancelot’s combat failures, as the more morally wrong he becomes the worse his combat becomes. He is first injured whilst defending Gwenyvere as ‘Sir Madore was a strong knyght and myghtyly proved in many strange batayles’ (596, L34-35), and if his loyalties were not so strongly tied with Queen Gwenyvere, the battle may not have commenced. Secondly to this it was his carelessness that led to the Queens trial for adultery. When Sir Launcelot wente to bedde with the Quene and toke no force of hys hurte honde, but toke hys plesaunce and hys
Tykynge untyll hit was the dawning of the day – for wyte you well, he slept nat, but wacched (633, L17-20) we the readers are explicitly shows the adulterous nature of the relationship, and is the only point in Malory’s tale where their sexual relationship is confirmed. The alliteration on the letter’h’ emphasises the injury to Sir Launcelot’s hand and foreshadows the difficulties it will cause. This is where Sir Launcelot’s relationship with Gwenyvere and his alliance to the king are overtly clashed.
When Sir Mellyaguante accuses Gwenyvere of being ‘false to the kynge and that som of the wounded knyghtes had lyene by her all that nyght’ (633, L34-35), the Queen has to lie to protect herself. Here Sir Launcelot’s loyalties are completely tied; he is meant to remain loyal to the king and not lie but he also wishes to prove himself’for you’re [Gwenyvere’s] love’ (633, L8-9). He gets around this dilemma by not out rightly lying saying that ‘ye ded nat parte, nor knightly, to touche a Queneys bed whyle hit was drawyn’ (634, L14-15), and is willing to defend her honour’with myne hands’ (634, L23).
Here although Sir Launcelot’s personal interests and social forces are greatly conflicting he manages to defend the Queen without breaking his oath to Arthur, at least not admitting to it. The actions of both Sir Launcelot and Quene Gwenyvere in this instance show that personal guilt and shame is better than public shame. Neither party is willing to be publically humiliated or tried for their love, but are willing to live in sin. Like Sir Launcelot, Sir Orfeo lets his love for his queen stop him from doing his duty but in a far more obvious way than Sir Launcelot.
When his wife is taken he flees the land with ‘Al his kingdom he forsoke’, as he left it completely unprotected, taking nothing ‘bot his harp toke algate’. The fact he left both ‘chert, ne nother gode’ and ‘barfot out atte gate’ shows how traumatised he was by the whole ordeal. Leaving his kingdom completely unprotected he flees taking nothing but his harp Another character who lets their emotions and personal interests impact on their social one is Sir Pynel who tried to poison Sir Gwayne because he had ‘destroyed Sir Lamerok de Galys, which Sir Pynell was cosyn unto’ (598, L8-9).
Despite the loyalty that is meant to lie between the knights, he let his personal agenda impact his social one. Acts like this that appear in the texts on this course shape how the text will unfold. In this case we see the kingship’s loyalties drift, Whilst personal interests are existent for all the characters so a small extent, although they defiantly inter-relate with their social forces, the characters do not always let them conflict with their duties.
King Arthur is the best example of this because he states that he ‘may nat do batayle for my wyff (591) due to his duties as King and trust one of his Knights to ‘put hys body in jouperte for my queen’ (591) in his place. Second to this, he ignores the overruling evidence of Queen Gwenyvere and Sir Launcelot’s affair, for what is arguable the benefit of the kingdom. Although Arthur has personal conflicts of interest, he does not let them deter him from his duties as King.
Moreover this, although Launcelot has indiscretions throughout the tale, he is still known for being the bravest knight and a particular favourite of the king. This is why it can be argued that he protected Queen Gwenyvere due to his loyalty to the king, who asks “Where ys Sir Launcelot (… ) And he were here he wolde nat grucche to do batayle for you” (592). By protecting Gwenyvere, he is also doing what the King wishes him to do, which is what a Knight of The Round Table is meant to do. In the case of the Poisoned Apple, Sir Launcelot does not really do anything wrong or that shows his interests are conflicted.
Moreover this, he spares Sir Madore and ‘graunte the thy lyff (596), which shows he still holds his loyalties to the knights of the round table. So in this instance Sir Launcelot does not let his personal ties affect his social one. Sir Bors shows even more so how his personal interests do not get in the way of social forces as he does ‘do batayle for the Quene’ (593) even when he blames her for Sir Launcelot’s departure. He does so out of loyalty to both the King and Sir Launcelot. To a large extent, the characters in Sir Launcelot and Queen Gwenyvere manage to keep their social and private lives separate.