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The Danger of RomanceTruth, Fantasy, and Arthurian Fictions$
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Karen Sullivan

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226540122

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226540436.001.0001

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Lancelot of the Lake: The Reality of the Ideal

Lancelot of the Lake: The Reality of the Ideal

(p.148) Four Lancelot of the Lake: The Reality of the Ideal
The Danger of Romance

Karen Sullivan

University of Chicago Press

In Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, Francesca explains that she and her lover Paolo first became aware of their passion when they read of the famous first kiss between Lancelot and Guinevere and were inspired to imitate these characters. In attributing Francesca’s sin to her reading of the Book of Galehaut (or the Prose Lancelot), Dante is said to criticize her for confusing literature and life and, by extension, the ideal and the real. In the Prose Lancelot, some knights and ladies, like “realist” critics of romance, doubt that Lancelot is as great a knight and lover as he is alleged to be, but their skepticism is shown to be grounded in their own resentment. As intolerable as it may be for Lancelot’s opponents to acknowledge his superiority to themselves or their lovers, it is no less difficult for his supporters to acknowledge that excellence, as they can neither be nor possess the man who stands above all others. In the end, the only way to approach Lancelot is with the aim not of surpassing him, as his rivals do, nor of possessing him, as his admirers do, but of contemplating his excellence, as the audience does in reading this work.

Keywords:   Lancelot, Guinevere, Galehaut, Prose Lancelot, Dante Alighieri, Paolo and Francesca, idealization, realism

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