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7 - Fairy Lovers: Sexuality, Order and Narrative in Medieval Romance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2014

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Summary

Me dremed al this nyght, pardee,

An elf-queene shal my lemman be

And slepe under my goore.

‘An elf-queene wol I love, ywis,

For in this world no womman is

Worthy to be my make

In towne;

Alle othere wommen I forsake,

And to an elf-queene I me take

By dale and eek by downe!'

(787–96)

Sir Thopas's resolution to forsake human women in order to seek out an elf-queen as his lover satirizes one of the most well-known romance motifs: the fairy mistress who offers herself to the human protagonist of the narrative. It is characteristic of this motif that, with relatively few exceptions, the fairy offers sexual intercourse to the hero without any demand for the commitment of marriage and without stipulating any directly connected negative consequences. The motif's origins are a good deal earlier than those of romance – it features in several early medieval Irish narratives – but it is with romance that the motif is most particularly associated. It is noticeable that this extramarital sex is generally not explicitly condemned in the romances. Of course, romance authors are not prone to sermonizing digressions, so this might be passed over as merely a reflex of the genre; however, condemnation need not be overtly stated to still be clear and, in this respect, romance differs markedly from fabliaux, the other genre which frequently portrays extra-marital sex.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2014

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