Explain the complexity of women’s social position in in “The Tale of Sir Gareth” by contrasting Lyonesse and Lynette and their relationship to Gareth.

Sir Gareth's relationships with Lynette and Lyonesse show how complicated women's social positions could be in medieval England because of the presumed class separation between "Beaumains" the kitchen boy and the two noble ladies he must rescue.

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Lynette and Lyonesse make up the major female presence in "The Tale of Sir Gareth." Initially, they both seem rather powerless. Lyonesse finds her castle under siege and Lynette must go to King Arthur's court for aid. Neither woman is able to defend the castle without male help. However, these two women have a more complicated position than one might presume. Their social station in relation to Sir Gareth as "Beaumains" the kitchen boy shows how class and gender intersected in surprising ways within medieval European culture.

In his relationships with both women, Gareth only has a small amount of power so long as they believe he is beneath them on the social ladder. For example, Lynette assumes a haughty attitude towards Gareth. Not knowing that this "kitchen knave" is actually of noble blood, Lynette scorns his appearance and is offended that he is the only one who will take up her quest. Though Camelot is a patriarchal society, Lynette's (presumed) higher social standing gives her power over Gareth and he has no choice but to take her insults on the chin. However, Gareth does wield some power in the form of his physical prowess, as seen when he forces Lynette to ask him to show mercy to the Green Knight and the Red Knight.

Lyonesse is the opposite of her sister, both in personality and in her relationship with Gareth. When she first hears of Gareth's coming, she sends him food. When Gareth first sees her in the window of her castle, he comes to see her as a distant ideal to fight for on the battlefield. This relationship is a more courtly one than the more aggressive power play between Lynette and Gareth, though it too has unconventional dynamics: Though Gareth is the active rescuer, Lyonesse refuses to give him her love until she is sure of his noble status.

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