The concept of depicting knights as complicated characters who are destined to live in a constant inner battle between honor and feelings has always been central to the Middle Ages’ literary heritage. However, while inspired by similar values and ideas, the knight stories differ greatly in terms of emotions to which they appeal through the characters’ image. Contrasting examples of knights in The Song of Roland and Lancelot’s story, one may assume that despite some significant image disparities, the stories were not initially targeted at a solely male or female audience.
The Song of Roland centers around Frankish military leader in the midst of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. The main character of the poem, Roland, is an impulsive military man under the reign of Charlemagne. When speaking of this heroic poem dedicated to the ideas of faith, loyalty, and honor, it would be safe to assume that the target audience of the story was predominantly masculine.
Although the characters such as Roland himself are depicted as flawed and incapable of sound reason, the primary idea of solidarity and obedience outweighs the notion of human weakness in the face of the inner state (Burgess 165). Claiming that “for courage mixed with prudence is not foolish,” Roland himself lacks prudence set an example for knights (Burgess line 1724). The image of reserved characters is generally believed to apply to the male audience, yet the plot itself does not have a gender whatsoever.
The story of Lancelot revolves around the life and feelings of King Artur’s closest companions whose betrayal leads to the King’s death. Lancelot finds himself struggling with forbidden yet pure love for King Arthur’s wife and failing to suppress his feelings for the sake of loyalty and duty. The notion of a love story, which is placed as a front storyline, is generally perceived as women-oriented, as there is a common belief that women are more likely to respond to the emotional outline of the story. However, the story itself still resonates with men who struggle to acknowledge what they feel due to the presence of an overwhelming image of masculinity.
Thus, it may be concluded that both aforementioned literary examples manifest the challenge and daily struggle of being a man of honor. However, while both these stories may be perceived as gender-labeled, there is no indication that either of them serves to address a specific audience.
Burgess, Glyn S. The Song of Roland. Penguin Books, 1990.