Mourning one’s partner in Arthurian romance: the eremitic withdrawals of Escanor and Guenever in Le Morte Darthur
Self-imposed silence or withdrawal from the courtly sphere in response to emotional trauma is a literary phenomenon seen frequently in medieval romance. This paper will explore two examples of withdrawal to an eremitic space after the death of a partner in Arthurian texts and how this acts as an expression of interiority, or subjectivity. Guenever’s withdrawal to a nunnery in Malory’s Le Morte Darthur is a much-discussed action, due to the blame she receives for the fracturing of the Arthurian fellowship in the Morte as well as, traditionally, in scholarship. I would like to compare this episode with a mourning process in Le Roman d’Escanor, a thirteenth-century romance in French. In this text, Escanor’s wife dies at the end of the narrative. The scene describes various rituals enacted by Escanor, which reveal a deep attachment to his wife as well as representing an example of publicly demonstrated masculine emotion. This paper will consider the role of culpability and gender in the way grief is expressed and perceived by the community, as well as exploring how the model of a retreating or mournful monarch is used as method of narrative closure.