Slash is nothing new- Arthurian romance and tragedy

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Slash is nothing new- Arthurian romance and tragedy

The Arthurian legends came about because of an interesting fusion of Southern French cultural values and Celtic/Welsh legends mixed in with a vernacular history of Wales after the fall of Rome, all stewed together in the interesting melting-pot of late 11th century Brittany. French and English writers in the 12th century added onto that inheritance from the folk culture of Brittany/Wales, creating the first true novels in Western literature.

A character called Galehaut shows up in the early versions, especially in the anonymously-written Lancelot-Grail, but he is increasingly sanitized, and then completely erased from later versions of the story.

Galehaut is the Lord of the Stranger’s Isles. He is the son of a great king and a giantess. This only gives him a small advantage in height and strength, and does not show otherwise, although he has conquered more than thirty other kingdoms since taking the crown.

When the story starts he has begun the invasion of Camelot, and he sees Lancelot fighting incognito on the battlefield. Immediately, Galehaut stops the war to find out who this knight is. It is, in fact, love at first sight. He realizes that Lancelot cannot love him, but he abandons everything to be beside him, even acting as chaperone when the great knight and the queen go on romantic assignations. Foolishly, Arthur believes that having a third party along will stop any improper relations.

Lancelot is beloved and desired by all. Arthur, when asked by Galehaut what he would do for his companion, says that he would share anything with Lancelot, except, of course, the queen. Making himself into the ultimate patsy. One of the other knights, by the name of Gauvain (who was a womanizer in the medieval literature) then says, ‘If God were to give me all the health I desire, I would want to be the fairest damsel in the world, in robust good health, as long as he loved me above all others, just as I would love him’.

If anyone reading the story had somehow missed the erotic gay subtext up until then… they probably got it after that one.

In the end, though, Galehaut does what all tragic heroes do… he hears that the one he loves above all has died (even though Lancelot is still fine), and wastes away until he is dead himself. Lancelot doesn’t spend a lot of time mourning this fact, and instead devotes himself completely to Guinevere, which of course hastens the downfall of the kingdom. You really have to wonder if Camelot would have done better if Lancelot had decided to go for Galehaut instead… Then Arthur would have had two legendary knights at his disposal when trouble came, instead of none.

After Arthur is gravely wounded, Guinevere goes to a convent and becomes a nun, telling Lancelot that she will never see him again. Lancelot goes to a monastery. When Lancelot dies he asks to be buried beside his truest friend and companion… Galehaut. Not Guinevere.

Galehaut eventually gets the moral and physical victory, although at great cost to himself. However, if you look at it, nobody really had a great time- not Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, Lancelot, or any of the cast and crew of Camelot.

The funny thing is, medieval writers spent a LOT of time saying ‘Oh, these knights love each other MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD! But, they’re not gay. NO!’

I wonder if then, as now, there was a tendency to ship your favourite characters. It seems to be built right into the literature.

The picture featured here shows Lancelot and Guinevere kissing across Galehaut’s lap.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Brittany

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/TourArtGen.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galehaut

And, for your listening pleasure- Mordred’s Lullaby, by the ever-talented Heather Dale

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4 responses

  1. Just when I’m low on inspiration for an anthology of queer Arthurian short stories I’m planning on writing, I see this post. Thanks for waking my muse up! :)

  2. Heh, it’s like all those old bromance shows, where one of the pair has to be a womaniser to prove neither of them is gay, but still any woman separating them is seen as an evil bitch.