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‘Some Like it Hot’: The Medieval Eroticism of Heat

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

Robert Allen Rouse
Affiliation:
University of British Columbia
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Summary

THE LATE fourteenth-century romance Sir Launfal narrates the financial, martial and erotic adventures of one of the lesser-known knights of the Arthurian court. In Thomas Chestre's popularised version of Marie de France's Breton Lai (Lanval), our hero's woes begin when he is excluded from the Arthurian court's largesse after he refuses the predatory Guinevere's sexual advances. Shamed by his resulting poverty, which is only amplified by the financial demands of his role as Arthur's royal steward, Launfal takes his leave of the court and departs for Caerleon, where he vainly seeks succour at the hands of the city's mayor, who has benefited in the past from Launfal's own generosity. However, a knight out of favour in the royal court is of no current use to the mayor, who begrudgingly offers only meagre lodgings, and this is only forthcoming after Launfal sarcastically rebukes him regarding the value of past loyalties. Denied not only the company of men owing to his poverty, but also access to the Church, as he lacks clean clothing in which to visit it, Launfal is approaching the depths of despair. After a final humiliation of being excluded from the invitations to a Trinity feast hosted by the mayor, Launfal rides out into the forest to seek refuge both from the ridicule of the townsfolk and from his own sense of shame.

It is in this moment of extreme financial deprivation and social exclusion, the pathos of which is further intensified by his fall into a fen while riding to the forest, that Launfal encounters what turns out to be the unsought answer to his social and pecuniary predicament.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2007

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