n the "The Defence of Guenevere," William Morris creates a realistic drama dealing with the illicit romantic passion between Queen Guenevere and Sir Launcelot, figures out of Arthurian romance. In a speech resembling the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning, Guenevere both acts as her own defender and appears as an accuser before a hostile audience of knights. Guenevere's speech, like a Browning's monologue, dramatizes the tension between the speaker and the audience. In a discursive speech with tangential arguments Guenevere attempts to delay her execution before Launcelot arrives.
The narrator often creates a parallel between Guenevere and the other knights. He speaks of her as "bravely glorious" and as one who "stood right up and never shrunk" (54-55). Guenevere also portrays herself as a brave warrior: "So, ever must I dress me to the fight" (165). In the manner of heroic warriors, she recounts a tale of battle. Guenevere's arguments to elicit sympathy from her audience take a surprising turn when she threatens the lords in an emotional outburst:
Therefore, my lords, take heed lest you be blent
With all this wickedness; say no rash word
Against me, being so beautiful; my eyes,
Wept all away to grey, may bring some sword
To drown you in your blood. [ll. 223-226]
Earlier in the poem, Guenevere associates herself with the innocence of springtime and portrays herself as a weak woman swept away by the power of love (73-78). She often relies on her beauty and feminine wiles to distract her audience and argues that her physical beauty is "gracious proof" of her moral purity (241). Guenevere also possesses masculine valor and pride when she flirts with death and lashes out at her accusers. In order to defend herself in a man's world, Guenevere must use tactics characteristic of both the male and female genders.
1. What is the effect of the narrator beginning the poem with "But"?
2. The narrator obviously admires and favors the Queen, but are there any instances when he shares in the audience's condemnation of her?
3. Since the audience obviously does not believe in her innocence, what is Guenevere's most convincing defense of herself?
4. If Guenevere is clearly guilty of adultery, what does she mean by the angry refrain, "'Nevertheless you, O Sir Gauwaine, lie"?
5. Compare Guenevere's equation of external beauty and spiritual perfection with D.G. Rossetti's contrast of "Body's Beauty" and "Soul's Beauty."
Last modified 10 November 2004