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Leigh Hunt’s “The Glove and the Lions” explores the perilous love games played at the king’s court as well as the results of going too far. Leigh Hunt’s four-stanza poem “The Glove and the Lions” was first published in The New Monthly Magazine in London, England, in May 1836. The speaker’s tone is consistently amusing and friendly.
The king has no genuine animosity toward anyone, and his love interest has no pretended hate either. The poet wants to illustrate how love and the need for attention and approval can influence behavior and push it beyond what might seem reasonable.
About the poet
Leigh Hunt was the pen name of James Henry Leigh Hunt, an English critic, writer, and poet. Hunt was a founding partner of The Examiner, a renowned newspaper of radical ideas. He served as the focal point of the Hampstead-based “Hunt circle,” which also included Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt.
King Francis was a hearty king, and loved a royal sport, And one day as his lions fought, sat looking on the court; The nobles filled the benches, and the ladies in their pride, And 'mongst them sat the Count de Lorge, with one for whom he sighed: And truly 'twas a gallant thing to see that crowning show, Valour and love, and a king above, and the royal beasts below.
In the first lines of “The Glove and the Lions,” the speaker describes Francis, a king, and the courtesans who serve him. The poem places the reader in a situation that was typical for the time period but seems bizarre to a modern audience. One learns right away that the monarch is “hearty” and seems to have a decent disposition; he is not a bad man.
He is watching one of his favorite sporting events—lion fighting—on this specific occasion with the “royal… court.” Aristocrats, lords, and “women in their pride” are all around him. Everyone is in attendance and performing at their highest level. One couple, in particular, captures the king’s special attention. The “love” of the Count de Lorge. The person “for whom [the king] sighed” is she.
Francis has a crush on a nobleman’s wife or lover who lives in his court.The speaker briefly steps away from the love tale that drives this short story’s plot to discuss how the fight is going. He claims that watching the “crowning show” is a “gallant thing.” The average person would never have had the opportunity to see such a royal event.
The king, who is looking down on the “royal creatures” below him, tops off the stadium-like setup, which is packed with “valour and love.” The “beasts” to which the speaker refers can represent both the lions and the nobles who must fight amongst themselves for the king’s favor.
Ramped and roared the lions, with horrid laughing jaws; They bit, they glared, gave blows like beams, a wind went with their paws; With wallowing might and stifled roar they rolled on one another; Till all the pit with sand and mane was in a thunderous smother; The bloody foam above the bars came whisking through the air; Said Francis then, "Faith, gentlemen, we're better here than there."
The atmosphere of the flight itself is described in the second verse of “The Glove and the Lions.” The lions “roared…with hideous laughing mouths” and are exceedingly ferocious. They start to argue and lash out at one another. Their “blows” are powerful like “beams,” and the wind appears to be moving in step with them.
They are making a huge commotion by rolling around on the floor. The sublimeness of this moment strikes the monarch as he sits there. Despite being fully safe, he can still feel the “bloody froth” that is “whisking through the air.” He makes the humorous claim that he and those around him are better off “here than there,” in the lions’ den, in a detached and condescending manner.
De Lorge's love o'erheard the King, a beauteous lively dame With smiling lips and sharp bright eyes, which always seemed the same; She thought, the Count my lover is brave as brave can be; He surely would do wondrous things to show his love of me; King, ladies, lovers, all look on; the occasion is divine; I'll drop my glove, to prove his love; great glory will be mine.
As is frequently the case, one can presume that the nobles laughed at the king’s remark. The lover of De Lorge, one of these lords, found the king’s wit to be exceptionally amusing. She turns to face him and beams at him with “beautiful…lips and acute brilliant eyes.” She sees the king and may be astounded by his majesty and power.
She immediately feels the need to put her own boyfriend, De Lorge, to the test to determine if he is as courageous as the king appears to be. That he is “brave as brave can be” and that he would “do marvelous things to display his love” are things she wishes to be proven to be true. In the end, she decides to throw her glove into the lions’ den in the hopes that De Lorge will dive in and grab it for her.
She dropped her glove, to prove his love, then looked at him and smiled; He bowed, and in a moment leaped among the lions wild: The leap was quick, return was quick, he has regained his place, Then threw the glove, but not with love, right in the lady's face. "By God!" said Francis, "rightly done!" and he rose from where he sat: "No love," quoth he, "but vanity, sets love a task like that."
De Lorge follows her plan exactly. He bows and smiles at her before leaping “into the lions wild.” They are unable to touch him because of how rapidly he moves. Before anyone can react, he is back and has taken “his place” once again as her lover. So far, everything has gone according to plan, but De Lorge found this act offensive.
At this time, he doesn’t show his love. Instead, he declares that he is “rightly done” with her before throwing the glove in her direction. He stands back up and exits the arena. The only person in this situation who appears to have a positive view of what a relationship should be is De Lorge.
He realizes that she did this more as a method to garner attention and indulge her “vanity” than as a genuine attempt to have his love for her acknowledged. He says the same before turning to face the king and nobles and walking away. In his opinion, “love” would not “set…as task like that.”