Selfishness in Ywain and Laudine

Joseph R. Poulas


In Chretien de Troyes' Ywain the Knight of the Lion, there appears a substantial amount of writing about noble men and women, and noble deeds. These noble acts consist of knights coming to a maiden's aid, regardless of the circumstances, and pravailing in battles in which they are either hopelessl y outnumbered, or seemingly outstrengthed. Chretien's romance about Ywain also stresses a love that takes a man prisoner, a love for which man or woman would surely die for, and in which one loves another more than himself. The ep itomes of these characteristics seem to be Ywain and Laudine. However, Ywain and Laudine are both driven by selfishness. Selfishness in love is evident in both Laudine, and Ywain. However it is more prominent with L audine, simply because much of what is written about her in the story has to do with love, and although love is emphasized a great deal with regard to Ywain, more is written about his fighting evil, and assisting those in need of his strength an d courage. Saying that Laudine is selfish in love means, at its root, that she uses it to enhance her own welfare. This is first evident, when she finally realizes that she must find someone to protect her people, her spring, and herself. Lu nette convinces her to take the knight who killed her husband as her new groom, and right away Laudine wants to know about the "name, the rank, and the family of the knight"(30). Then when she finds out that he is actually the distinguished Ywain, sh e becomes incredibly excited, and wishes him there as fast as humanly possible, or faster. Laudine has no idea of what he is like, but because he is so well-known and strong she will love him. This "love" for a man she does not even know is u tterly impossible, unless her reasons are not based on love, which, of course, they are not.

When Laudine eventually speaks with Ywain, she tells him that "she ought not refuse to take as lord a good knight and the son of a king" (35). We get here a sense of necessity, not love. There is an agreement between them without any show of affection. Then Laudine brings her new husband to be before the court. She tells them that although she has "not made his acquaintance before" she should not be dissuaded from marrying him (36). Again, this is solely because he has the abi lity to protect them. Chretien writes, a paragraph later, that "Love commanded her" to marry Ywain; however, it is sometimes necessity which fuels this marriage to him, rather than love (36). Gawain sums all of this up when he persuades Ywain to go about the land entering tournaments. He tells Ywain that "it is not fittinq that" his wife should "love him if his valor and fame are left behind" (42). This attitude about love only reenforces the fact that it is not love to begi n with, for if Laudine truly loved Ywain, he would not have to prove his mettle.

Ywain's selfishness in love surfaces in a different way, and ironically it comes about precisely when Gawain makes his erroneous observation concerning love. Ywain shows how self-centered he is when it comes to his love for Laudine by leaving her just after they are married. If he positively loved her, he would not have been convinced to leave her for the want of action and adventure. Ywain reenforces the fact that he really does not love Laudine as much as he claim s, when he is taking leave of her. He tells her that "a man may intend to come back at once although he is not aware what the future may hold for him" (44). He also says that "mishaps of illness or imprisonment may restrain" him, and he accuses her of imposing "too great a penalty" if he does not return to her in the allotted time (44). This conversation with his wife is an explicit foreshadowing of Ywain's belated return. Which leads to the second way in which he shows a d egree of ardent self-interest.

The fact that Ywain does not come back to Laudine on time, as was foreshadowed in his speech to her earlier, augments his show of selfishness. We find out that, not only did Ywain extend his leave of her, he did not even know he had done so. On e day in August, one and a half years since he left his "love," he remembers his pact to her. Chretien writes that he "suddenly...realized that he had broken his pledge and exceeded his period of absence" (46). For Ywain not even to remember that he was supposed to return to her is inconceivable had he loved her as much as he claimed. When Laudine's servant comes to take back the ring, she gives us the best depiction of Ywain as a lover. She refers to him as a "liar" and a "cheat," and says that he "pretended to be a true lover" (46). It is obvious that the two of them were only pretending to love one another, Ywain's love is actually lust, and Laudine's is need.

The second type of selfishness Ywain displays stems directly from the type of selfish love that Laudine possesses. Because women like Laudine put so much stock in heroics, men such as Ywain must go about helping people for the wronq reas ons. The reader first sees this immediately after Calogrenant's account of the adventure at the spring. Ywain's courage and eagerness to avenge his cousin's defeat spring directly from his self-centeredness. When he tells Calogrenant tha t he must vindicate Calogrenant's beating at the hands of the knight who protects the spring, the king overhears, and announces that he and his entire retinue will go to the spring within two weeks. This upsets Ywain "because he had hoped to go by himself" (12). We find out that he is "vexed" and "chagrined" with the king for taking up this task (12). Ywain is disappointed about this because it will take the glory and fame away from him. He realizes that one of the other knights could easily claim the first battle with the knight at the spring, giving the fame Ywain craves to someone else. This statement proves that Ywain is not wholly concerned with his cousin's defeat, but more with his own reputation. This attitude only comes about because a man had to be accomplished in battle to be loved.

Ywain wants so badly to have all the glory of defeating his cousin's enemy that he sneaks off right after the king's announcement. Of course Ywain defeats the knight of the spring, but immediately after the knight's retreat, fame enter s Ywain's mind again. Chretien writes that, "Ywain feared his efforts would be in vain if he did not capture him dead or alive" (16). It is not enough for Ywain simply to have defeated the knight, he wants proof so that he can show how courageou s he is to his fellow knights. If this is the foremost reason for going to battle with this knight, than Ywain is actually acting very selfishly. As before, he should be fighting to avenge Calogrenant's defeat, not for increase d fame. It is not possible that Ywain was chasing the knight to finish him off. It is clear that the wound he inflicted upon him is a mortal one. Chretien writes that Ywain "battered to pieces his adversary's helm", and "split his skull. the brain so that...his hauberk was stained with blood and brains" (15). Obviously the man would soon die, but Ywain chases him restlessly, thirsting for proof of his victory, and the forthcoming acclamation.

Ywain shows considerable audacity on top of his selfishness at Laudine's husband's funeral. Because he is forever thinking of the glory that comes with overcoming the knight, he does not realize that he acts so foolishly. While watchin g Laudine at her husband's funeral, he is thinking of two subjects. One of these is his lust for Laudine, the other is somehow obtaining some evidence of his victory. While watching the burial, Ywain is distressed "that he did not have some memento. ..of his having vanquished and slain his foe" (23). Any man who is thinking such cruel thoughts at another person's funeral is clearly egotistical, and cannot be the glorious man Chretien would lead us to believe.

Ywain's greed in respect to battle emerges one more time, late in the story. He has just killed the giant who kept the four sons captive, and he is about to rush off to save Lunette from the pyre. Since Ywain's mention of some type of proof of killing the knight at the spring, he has not made any selfish comments about chivalry, and the reader is led to believe that Ywain has slain the giant for unselfish reasons, when in fact the opposite is true. We find this out when he is taking leave of the four sons and their father. Ywain wants to make sure that what he has done becomes publicly known. He tells the lord to "recount how he [Ywain] conducted himself, for he who does not want his good acts know does them for naug ht" (72). Once again Ywain has accomplished another good deed for the wrong reasons.

Like Ywain, Laudine is also selfish in ways other than love. This is evident when Lunette pleads with Ywain to help her. We find out that the reason she stands to be executed on the pyre is that Laudine feels that she was ill-adv ised about Ywain. Lunette tells Ywain that, "she [Laudine] became angry with me, and considered herself much deceived for having believed me" (61). In fact, the only reason Ywain left Laudine is his aforementioned self-centeredness. By placing Lune tte in the wrong, Laudine acts as any other selfish person would. There is no evidence of Lunette being at fault, and still Laudine would rather have her executed than admit that she, or Ywainf might have been the one accountable.

The final time in which we see both Ywain and Laudine acting selfishly is at the very end of the story. Laudine has just been deceived into a reunion with Ywain, and she is furious. She says of Ywain, "he does not love me or even estee m me" (112). In this we get Laudine's most accurate remark about love in the entire story. Even though she thinks this badly of Ywain, she still agrees to stay with him. This decision apparently has its source in necessity. Regardless of how Laudine feels about him, Chretien paints for the reader an interesting picture of Ywain following Laudine's tirade. We get the impression that he is merely standing in the background waiting for his chance to get a word in edgewise. Ywain "list ened and perceived that his affairs were progressing well and that he would have peace and rest" (113). This does not sound like the actions of a man in love for the right reasons. It gives the appearance even more of a person who does not want to b other with any more trouble in dealing with the opposite sex. This in itself is an incredibly self-indulgent act. He is in fact loving Laudine out of necessity, just as she loves him.

Ywain and Laudine display repeated acts of selfishness throughout Chretien's story, and yet in the end they are joined in "love." Chretien writes about them that, "he was loved and held dear by his lady, and she was loved by him" (113). It is imposssible to believe this statement, but that is what Chretien wants. It is also written in the conclusion that Ywain will never "visit any wrong" on his wife again (113). This is just one more statement that insults the int elligence of the reader, because as we have already learned, a man is of no use if he is not repeatedly proven in battle. Chances are Ywain will run off again as soon as Gawain puts pressure on him to do so. This ends the story with t wo fallacies that Chretien expects to be believed in spite of all the evidence he gives otherwise.