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Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory Redacted by William Caxton.

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Presentation on theme: "Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory Redacted by William Caxton."— Presentation transcript:

1 Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory Redacted by William Caxton

2 Background History of the period – Henry V Henry V – Henry VI Henry VI – Edward IV Edward IV Malory’s LIfe Text Overview

3 What Structures the Work? Arthur’s Cycle as frame story Equivalence Parallelism

4 What Structures the Work? Temporal/Causal Relationships Chronology Arthur's life history functions as a framing device, providing the whole work with a beginning and a denouement. The story starts with the details of his conception, describes his accession to the throne, and ends close to the time of his death. Cause/Effect pairs connect events time-wise The love affair between Launcelot and Guenever and the death of Arthur with the ensuing collapse of the Round Table knighthood are obviously connected by a cause-and-effect motivation. Arthur’s incest with Morgawse, leading to the conception of Mordred, causes the death of Arthur as prophesied by Merlin. Other Examples?

5 What Structures the Work? Equivalence – The pattern starts with a preliminary adventure that demonstrates the knight's worthiness to undertake major adventures. Next comes the tournament, in which the questing knight excels. Then he overcomes a dangerous enemy and in consequence eradicates an evil deed. Finally, having displayed his prowess against the enemies of the Round table, he outjousts his fellow knights (Benson , 82). This pattern is fully developed in Launcelot's quest for knighthood (MA 1: ). How so? – Where is it evident with other knights?

6 What Structures the Work? Equivalence – Contrast between Galahad and Gareth as perfect knights vs. Lancelot as flawed – The contrast of Lancelot with Galahad is explicit – The contrast of Lancelot with Gareth is more subtle

7 Both Gareth and Launcelot, to prove their merits as lovers, render their ladies services and resist the temptations offered by other ladies as conventions of courtly love require. But Gareth wins his lady while Launcelot does not. Furthermore, Gareth's love story is one of the few that does not involve a triangle.[ 6]6

8 What Structures the Work? Parallelism The codex of knighthood--spelled out in the text of MA (1: )--is supraindividual: it is imposed by the social milieu. Every knight acknowledges it; tries to practice it, to make value judgments according to it; and, most of all, honors it. The victor will not replace his rival, and the loser will not be deprived of his status as knight. What the questers are competing for is the honor of high knighthood. This codexal value is shared by victors and losers alike, and both sides behave according to the chivalric ideal.

9 What Structures the Work? The quest for love in MA is formed by a different kind of axiological modality, relativized with respect to the various narrative agents. Relativized modalities are contrary: the original value holder aims at preserving the state of possession while the quester or questers are determined to change that original state. Modal discord entails antagonism between the quester and the original value holder and/or between the questers themselves (Dolezel, "Narrative Semantics" 149; "Narrative Worlds" 545). The main manifestation of modal conflict in MA is the triangles of Arthur-Launcelot- Guenever and of Tristram-King Mark-Isoud la Blanche Mains. A striking feature of this quest story is that competition for erotic love often leads to the destruction of the knights involved or to the collapse of the state of collective knighthood.[ 5]5

10 What is the Structure of the work? Repetition One narrative agent makes a request, and another responds to the petition, promising to carry out the requested task. If the contract is fulfilled, the party who has accomplished the task is rewarded. Thus a gentlewoman would come to Arthur's court asking the Round Table knights to render her a service. One of the knights, usually young and obscure, would volunteer to go with the damsel. If he successfully accomplished the task, he would either return a famous knight or be rewarded with the lady's love.

11 Malory’s Motivation(s) Nationalistic Resistance to Change yet Condemnation of the Old Order The Nature of Kingship

12 Malory’s Motivations Nationalistic [Malory’s] choice of the English prose tradition is an assertion of Englishness which should be recognized as something positive rather than as an absence of conscious decision Moreover, Malory’s choice of Arthur as his subject had nationalistic implications In an England that had lost its territories in France, a powerful political nostalgia would have been at work. This nostalgia might have inspired Malory, equally, to want to lay claim to French Arthurian narratives through rewriting them in such a way that his English narrative asserted its authority over the French source materials, and, simultaneously, to restore the link between the English and French traditions, now separated by national identity as well as language and geography.

13 Malory’s Motivations Resistance to Change – Malory was no sort of contemporary historian, "since in his book his attention was so firmly on King Arthur and Sir Launcelot, rather than on King Henry or King Edward or Sir Thomas Malory, that is very likely what he wanted."3 Nonetheless, Malory does seem to have had in mind King Henry V, as numerous commentators have pointed out, for, in recounting the history of King Arthur, Malory has him unprecedentedly conquering Rome in a manner reminiscent of Henry V's conquest of France and occupation of Paris.3

14 Malory’s Motivations Resistance to Change – Malory not only looked over his shoulder and saw Henry V, he also had in sight what the Wars of the Roses had done to England.11 Peter Field has shown us where Malory's own experience in the wars is to be discerned in the Morte, while Malory's occasional outbursts at the decline of courtesy, fraternity, and morality in his lifetime are often cited.11

15 Malory’s Motivations Resistance to Change – His sensitivity about sex is especially commented upon. Malory is by no means prudish, but sex does touch an uncertain nerve. – Did Malory notice a change in the sexual habits of the nobility of his time, a change typified by Edward IV's promiscuity (as against Henry VI's chastity)? For Malory's Launcelot du Lake, mistresses destroyed a man's moral fiber; bereft of confidence, men would be defeated by less able opponents or "sle by unhappe and hir cursednesse bettir men than be hemself."

16 Malory’s Motivations Resistance to Change – His sensitivity about sex is especially commented upon. Malory is by no means prudish, but sex does touch an uncertain nerve. – Did Malory notice a change in the sexual habits of the nobility of his time, a change typified by Edward IV's promiscuity (as against Henry VI's chastity)? For Malory's Launcelot du Lake, mistresses destroyed a man's moral fiber; bereft of confidence, men would be defeated by less able opponents or "sle by unhappe and hir cursednesse bettir men than be hemself."

17 Malory’s Motivations Resistance to Change – As for honor, loyalty, and lineage, they were not as they had been in days gone by. If Lancelot, a descendant of Jesus Christ, had been unable to avoid the sins of pride and vainglorious ambition, there was little chance that the nobility of Malory's day would do so. English politics was not conducive either to a quiet life or to a life of unswerving duty—and upholding one's honor was a Herculean task when a war was being lost, Henry V's hard-won conquests were being frittered away in the impossible pursuit of peace, and the country was in crisis. After 1447, if not before, English politics had been enmeshed in the dilemma of what to do about Henry VI. He was the son of England's greatest king and hero, but he was hopeless as a ruler (if indeed he ruled at all). To whom did Malory look for stability in a world in which, as he famously wrote, "there ys no stabylité"? Was it to the Kingmaker, rather than to the king?

18 Malory’s Motivations The Nature of Kingship – The Morte mounts a tacit but persistent critique of Arthurian kingship. – In Malory’s account, Arthur swears “unto his lordes and comyns for to be a true kyng, to stand with true justyce...” (16.21–23; I.7). “Comyns,” “justyce,” and “true kyng” are key terms which recur across a variety of contemporary texts, implying a commonly held “mix of ideas, ideals, prejudices, and assumptions” that were constantly tested as contemporaries attempted to comprehend the upheavals that formed their political lives. – Despite being the rightful claimant and having the reputation of an ideal king in the source material, in Malory’s version, Arthur looks like a usurper and proves to be a tyrant.

19 Malory’s Motivations The Nature of Kingship – Relationship to the “comyns.” One of the problems with the invocation of the “comyns” and related terms such as “comynealte” or communaute was that it signaled an unreliable and hazy form of political legitimization. 30 By placing Arthur’s accession in the hands of the “comyns,” Malory raises serious questions about his legitimacy and his capabilities. 30 The acclamation [by the people] was placed after the king had taken his oath in Edward III and Richard II’s coronations (1327 and 1377), implying that the people must consent to an already elected king The upheavals of late fifteenth-century England saw the direct involvement of groups which could be called “commons” in the accession of kings, in some ways combining the official and nonofficial roles discussed above. The Yorkist monarchs Edward IV and Richard III both succeeded to the throne in troubled circumstances, and both made the acclamation of the commons outside the coronation ceremony a component of their accession. These attempts to fall back on vox populi alone, rather than allowing hereditary succession to act as the sign of God’s will, were a mark of the fact that both kings usurped rather than succeeded to the throne.

20 Malory’s Motivations The Nature of Kingship – Relationship to Justice Malory’s version of Arthur’s coronation oath reveals a similar dismantling of the conventions of kingship. Arthur swears “unto his lordes and the comyns for to be a true kyng, to stand with true justyce fro thens forth the dayes of this lyf...” (16.21–23; I.7). Arthur’s oath in the French version broadly maintains the main points of the coronation oath used in medieval England, 44 including that of Edward IV. 44 Malory drastically truncates Arthur’s oath so that he omits to swear to defend the church, sustain law, or keep the peace. Reframing Arthur’s oath in the context of contemporary English texts on kingship suggests that he is ill-equipped to govern in an ideal fashion.

21 Malory’s Motivations The Nature of Kingship – Relationship to Governance Late medieval advice writers were all too aware of the potential that the king’s exceeding will had to turn to tyranny and tried to guard against it by urging the king toward personal virtue, specifically, the cardinal virtues: justice, fortitude, prudence, and temperance. 64 Justice therefore had two connected roles in kingship: the public expectation that the king would guarantee the rule of law, and the private virtue that was encouraged in the king as part of the effort to guide his will. 64 I suggest that the brand of stern, self-protective justice implied by Arthur’s coronation oath here has an impact on his conduct of war. Rather than acting as a sign that Arthur is imposing just rule over a rebellious country, 66 the brutality effectively negotiates resistance and eventually becomes caught up in vengeance, the antithesis of genuine public justice. 66

22 Malory’s Motivations The Nature of Kingship – Relationship to Governance In the Morte, a round of liberality follows the coronation. [But] His gift giving is upset by resistance from a group of kings, among them Lot of Orkney and Uryens of Gore: [T]he kynges wold none receive but... said they had no joye to receyve no yeftes of a berdles boye that was come of lowe blood, and sente hym word they wold none of his yeftes,… The kings’ antagonistic response to Arthur’s largesse is based on their questions over the legitimacy of “a berdles boye that was come of lowe blood.” Arthur’s hereditary claim is suppressed, and once crowned he appears as a usurper.


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