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 Copyright Statement This copy of the thesis/dissertation has been supplied on condition that anyone who consults it is understood to recognize that its copyright rests with its author and that information derived from it may not be published without attribution. Copyright ownership of theses and dissertations is retained by the author, but the student must grant to TWU royalty‐free permission to reproduce and publicly distribute copies of the thesis or dissertation. In circumstances where the research for the thesis or dissertation has been done in conjunction with other policies discussed in The Texas Woman’s University Policy on Intellectual Property, those policies will apply with regard to the author. No further reproduction or distribution of this copy is permitted by electronic transmission or any other means. The user should review the copyright notice on the following scanned image(s) contained in the original work from which this electronic copy was made. Section 108: United States Copyright Law The copyright law of the United States [Title 17, of the United States Code] governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted materials. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that use may be liable for copyright infringement. No further reproduction and distribution of this copy is permitted by transmission or any other means. Texas Woman’s University ©2013. www.twu.edu r1 THE FALL OF THE HIGH ORDER OF :KNIGHTHOOD IN
lViALORY 'S MORTE D ' ARTHUR
A THESIS
SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLriiENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR
THE DEGREE OF rr1ASTER OF ARTS IN ENGLISH
IN THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE
TEXAS WOMAN 'S UNIVERSITY
COLLEGE OF
ARTS AND SCIENCES
BY
VERNA 1\~TIN WILBUR, B . A .
Denton, Texas
August , 197 4
Texas Woman's University
Denton, Texas
J uly 1 0
We hereby recommend that the
thesis
74
19 -------
prepared under
our supervision by _ _ _V
_e_r_n_a_ M_a_r_t_
i n_W
_i-=1=-=b-=u=r_ _ _ _ __
entitled
The Fall of t he High Order of Knighthood
in Malory ' s Mor te D ' Arthur
be accepted as fuHilling this part of the requirements for the Degree of
Master of Arts
Dissertation/Theses signature page is here.
To protect individuals we have covered their signatures.
I
l"\'1~
.;\ \.; l& k
(
l
r
~
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS • • •
Chapter
I .
I NTRODUCTION
The
The
The
The
The
The
The
The
II.
IV .
. . . .... •
aim of t h is study
•
•
......
.. . • . .. • .• .• .• •
• • •
•
•
• • . • • • • • .
.•
• . . • .
.
.
.
.
• • •
• .
.
.
.
.
•
• • •
•
.
.
.
• • • . • . .
. .• • • • ....
romance genre
feuda l system • • •
code of chivalry • •
code of courtly love
code of religion • •
Aurthurian legend
tragic vision •
•
.• ..
.
..
•
.. . .. • .. •
•
•
•
•
.
.
• • .
.
.
.
.
• •
•
• • • . • . . .
.. .
.• .• • . .• • .
. • ..
THE CHIVALRIC CODE OF ETHIC S . . . . . . . . .
The Christian king • • . • • • . • . . . . •
...
The code of chivalry • • • • • • •
The code of courtly love .
• . . .
.
The code of religion • • . • . • . • .
.
.
.
.
.
.
•
•
The Holy Grail
•
•
• • • •
. . . . .... . . . ... . . .
CONCLUSION
historical ba ckground
Iiiorte D'Arthur •
• •
legenda ry Arthur •
purposes of the legends
tragedies • •
•
• •
Round Table •
ea rly chival ric code •
ne w order • • • • •
. . . ..
.. . .. .
.
iii
1
A GENERAL BACKGROUND OF ARTHURIAN LITERATURE • •
The
The
The
The
The
The
The
The
III .
.. . ..... . . .... . . .
1
2
4
5
6
7
8
10
18
18
.
.
.
.
19
20
21
23
28
31
32
34
34
.•
..
52
55
.
61
The turning a way • • • • • • • • • · • • • • •
61
63
68
The t r agic end
. . . . . . .
The full meaning . . . . . . ·
. . · · · ·
· · · •
• ·
• ·
37
43
. . . . .. . . . . ... . . . . . .. . . . . ..
70
BIBLI OGRA.PHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
....
l - 062 85
ACKNOWLEIXH'!'IENTS
Literature and psychology enlighten and complement
each other.
Both reveal the depth of human endeavor and
experience.
Great writers of any period do not accidently
record human psychology through the medium of literature
whatever the genre chosen to express those views.
This
study of Sir Thomas Malory's 1\lorte D'Arthur written in the
romance genre is such a view, and it is my hope that some
integration of human psychology and literature has been
achieved.
In view of the importance and complexity of this
great work of literature, this study is a mere introductory
statement upon which many studies could fruitfully be made.
I am indebted to those scholars whose publica tions or
works have been especially helpful:
Eugene Vinaver, R . M.
Lumiansky, Edmund Reiss, and Charles Moorman.
Specific
acknowledgment is due to Professor Lavon B. Fulwiler whose
especially illuninating and inspiring lectures on the medieval period created my interest in the literature of the
Middle Ages--particularly Sir Thomas 1\IIalory's Morte D'Arthur.
Through Dr. Fulwiler's assistance and direction, I have been
able to develop
grea t work.
Dr . s uza nne
my
opinion as to the tragic vision of this
I am grateful to Dr . Fulwiler as well as to
s.
Webb, and to Dr. William E. Tanner for their
untiring editing and suggestions concerning this paper.
iii
iv
I would like to note a lso that without the financia l
assistance and encouragement of Alvin Denman, Reginald R.
Reeves, Alton Allen, and Tom Steigledger, t h i s pa per, and
indeed my complete educa tion, would have been an impossibility.
I am grateful for their support, understand i ng and
cooperat ion as to my working hours.
They have g r a cious l y
coordinated their work s chedules with m;y s chool schedules .
There are no words which will genuinely express my deep
appreciat ion.
I am especia lly grateful to my mother, l':irs. Iva I.la r tin,
and my sister, Ivirs. J. s . Hammons, whose qualities a r e love ,
loyalty, and piety.
In orde r to make it easier for me to
continue my educa tion a nd complete this paper, they have
taken over some of my re spons ibilities of life and have
given me hope and courage.
And l astly , I wish to a c knowledge
the never failing love, understanding, and inspira tion of my
husba nd, Hubert, and my c hildren whom I have unwi l lingly net;lected this past year.
~~ family has gra ciously endured t~e
inconveniences of a disrupte d l ife style .
As J ohn Donne once
said ,
No man is an i sland , entire of itself; every
man is a piec e of the continent , a pa~t of
the main; • • • a ny man's dea t h diminishes
me, because I am i n volved in mankind •• ••
CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION
The medieval period was an age of chiva lry , a n age of
courtly love, and an age of faith.
duced the literary genre of romance.
It was an age whi ch proThis literary gen re
was in its beginning an aristocratic type appealing t o the
tastes of the nobility.
As long as the French language re-
ma ined the language of the Eng lish ruling class, t he romanc es
composed and circulated in England were written in Fr ench .
I!Iost of the English romances belong to the fourteen th century
and nearly all of t hem are translations or adaptations from
French originals . 1
One collection of romances embodying chi va lric, romant ic, and religious concepts and infusing in them a tragic
vision is Morte D'Arthur , by Sir Thomas Mulory. I t is the
aim of this paper to offer my view concerning t he chief
themes of the medieval period as they applied t o this great
work .
This paper is, therefore, confined to considera t ion
of the code of chivalry, the code of love, and the c ode of
reli gi on ~
and it is my intention to discuss ea ch c ode as it
a ppl i e s to Arthur and other cha r a c t ers of Ivlorte D ' Ar thur .
1 Albert c. Baugh, ed . A Liter ary History of Eng land
( New Yor k : Appl et on-cent ury-c roft s , Inc ., 1948~ PP · 17 ~ 193 , pa ssim .
l
2
First, let us consider the romance as a genre.
The
word "roman," used sometimes to designate the French l a nguage, referred also to the poems written in t he Frenc h
l anguage which purported t o rela te hi s t or i ca l f ac t s; it i s
t his literary connota tion with which we a re now pri mar i l y
concerned .
The ba sis of the French l a nguage was Latin, but
continual change s in s pelling, pronuncia t ion, and meaning,
t ogether with incorpora tion of Celtic and Germanic e l e ments ,
r es ulted in a divergenc e fr om the La tin l anguage empl oyed by
t he Church.
The word "roma n" was used to differ ent i a t e t hi s
"changed and e ver changing l a nguage of the peopl e f r om t hat
of the Church. n 2
To elucida t e the interrelationships among major medieval
l i ter a ry conc ept s and to cla r i fy the ir e mpl oyment by Ifialory ,
i t will b e h el pful to reca ll prinicpa l c hara ct eristic s of and
various hist or ical mat te r s c onc erni ng the r omanc e a s a genre.
I n addition, it will b e valuable t o examin e certain f a c ets of
the fe uda l system underly i n g much Art huria n l ite r at ure especia lly as the feuda l system was re l at e d to chi valry , to the
court ly-love tradi t ion, and t o r eligion.
Let us proceed ,
t hen, to the se c ons i dera tions .
During the t wel f t h c entury auth ors b egan to use the
vernacula r l a nguage a s a medium of l iter at ure .
The " romans , "
2A. B . Ta ylor , An I ntroduction t o I.:edieva l Romance
( New York : Ba rnes &-woble , Inc . , l9b9) , p . 1 .
3
usually composed in Latin, were works which claimed to relate history .
Conversely, the "romanc es ," usually composed
in the vernacula r language s , were works of imaginative
literature .3
The romance, therefore, differentiated history
written in the vernacular from that written in La tin.
When
authors began to use the vernacula r, they rea li zed that their
audiences must be entertained as well as edified.
Therefore ,
they a dded legends, folklore, and other popular superstiti ons to the historical facts , and historical trut h was
cla imed merely as a convention.
The medieva l romanc e , which
origina ted in France , refle ct s the spirit of the twelft h and
thirteenth centuries, in which it flourished. 4
The medieva l romances were, then, tales bas ed on the
conventions of the feudal system of the time which dealt
with the ac tivit ies of famous kings , knights, or distressed
ladies .
The cha racters in these romances acted under the
impluse of love , religious faith , or mere desire for adventure . 5
Having considered the romance as a genre , we may
turn to a brief a nalysis of elements of the feudal system
4Ibid ., p . 3.
5c . Hu gh Holman, A Handbook to Literature (New York :
The Bobbs- Merrill Company, Inc ., 1972 ), P · 309 .
4
and to the closel y related matters of chivalry, courtly love ,
and faith .
The feudal system, introduced into England by William
the Conqueror, arose because Europe was constantly beset by
invasions .
The inability of the central governments to with-
stand the attacks left the people without protection of law
and order .
Feudalism may , therefore, b e considered as a
political system of local government and of military organization for protection , an economic system of rigid c l a ss
distinction and of an unchanging way of life . 6
The organization of the feudal society suggested the
form of a pyr amid , with the nobility at the top and the common peopl e at the bottom.
The pyrami d was thus :
KING
PRINCES , DUKES , EARLS , COUNTS
BARONS AND VISCOUNTS
KNIGHTS
COIVIMON PEOPLE, PEASANTS
The king , in theory , owned all the land within the kingd om,
but in p r actice he retained personal control of only the
royal domain .
Dir ectly below the king were his powerful
followe rs, who were granted control over the remainder of
6I rving 1 . Gordon , Reviewing World History ( New York :
Amsco School Publications , Inc ., 195 3) , PP · 72- 73.
5
his land in return for their pledge of military aid and
other services.
Subsequent inferior levels of vassals, ever
enlarging in number, completed the hierarchical, or py ramidal, social organization. 7
Within this feudal system, ideas of chivalry flouri shed .
According to C. Hugh Holman, the system of manners and morals
known as chivalry was chie fly a fruit of this feudal system . 8
The terms chivalry and cavalry were originally different only
in dialectal form of the French word designa ting mount e d
troops.
Both words were borrowed into English.
Cavalry re-
tained the origina l meaning; however, chivalry defined a code
of conduct.
Since the higher ranks of men fought on horse-
back, the term chivalrY came to mean first the knight ly class
and then the ideals of character of tha t c lass .
The " ideals
of chivalry--courtesy, loyalty to duty, and s ervice to the
oppressed--were the combined product of social customs and
religious teachings. ,.9
Knighthood was eventually "glamorized i nto an elegant
ideal ," and the knight was expecte d, like the Knight in
Cha ucer • s 'Canterbury Tales, ' to exemplify "Trouthe a n d
7 Ibid .
8
Holman, p. 9 3 •
9Taylor , p . 190.
6
honour, fredom and curtei sie . " 10
I n theory, then, chivalry
was a code of conduct identified with virtue .
Nor was chivalry the only significant code emerging
under feudalism .
Courtly love, according to Holman , was a
philosophy of love and a code of love-making wh i ch existed
in chivalric times .
This code of love originate d a nd developed in France and then moved to England . 11 The flour ishing of courtly love in En gland appears to be close ly associated with the conditions of the feuda l society and the
venerati on of the Virgin Mary .
The effects of courtly love
a r e usually described as expressions of great emotional disturbanc es to the knight-lover : "he is b ewildered , helpless ,
tortured by mental and physical pain," and he suffers from
"trembling, loss of appetite , sleeplessness , sighing , we eping,
e t c . .. 12 In courtly-love matters especially , Geoffrey Chaucer
was influenced by French writers, i ncluding Guillaume d e
Machaut . 1 3 According to the French courtly-love tradition,
Cha ucer describes his "wel-fareyng lrnyght " in all the g lory
10Geoffrey Chaucer , The Wor ks of Geoffrey Chauc e r, ed .
F . N. Robinson ( Boston: Houghton Miffl in Company , 1957),
p . 17 , Fragment I, 11 . 45- 46 .
11Holman, p . 127 .
12Ibid .
l3Robinson, p . 266 .
7
of his suffering.
In "The Book of the Duchess" Chaucer
explains why this knight did not see him approach .
For-why he heng hys hed adoun,
And with a dedly sorwful soun
He made of rym ten vers or twelve
Of a compleynt e to hymselve ,
The moste pitee, the mos! rowthe,
4
That ever I herde ••
This was most appropriate behavior; indeed the knight-lover
vvas one " who agonizes over his condition and indulges in
endl e ss self- questioning and r eflections on the nature of
l ove a nd his own wretched state ... l5
The opening episode of
Malory ' s Morte D' Arthur, then, is in keeping with thi s portraya l of the emotional state of the chivalric lover; i n
t his episode King Uther informs Ulfius , a noble lmight, t ha t
"I am seke for angre and for love of fayre Igrayne , tha t I
16
may not be ho ol. "
The same period which produced the chiva lric kni g ht a nd
the courtly-love tradition was a l s o an age of f a ith, o f a
s t rong relig ious code .
The Christian view of God d uri ng the
medi eva l period wa s that de s cribed in the Bi ble i n the fir st
1 4cha uc e r, p . 271, 1 1 . 461-66 .
1 5 Ho lma n, p . 1 27.
l 6Thomas Mal ory , Works , e d. Eugene Vi na ver ( Lon d on :
Oxfo rd Un i v e r si t .v Pr e ss , 1 971) , p . 4 . Sub sequent re f~ renc e~
lo t h is e d i ti on wi ll be inco rp or~~~d p~ r enthe~1 c a lly ~n~o t:e
te xt .
8
Book of Gen esis .
God, the Creator, placed Adam and Eve on
earth in a paradi se whe r e they en joyed and cont i nued to enjoy abundant satisfac tions , including closeness to God .
Adam
and Eve , however, even tuall y disobeyed God and were expelled
from the Garden of Eden .
Consequently , "Their descendants ,
sharing the guilt and the punishment , we r e denied Paradise;
man was required to work until he died • ., l?
For me d ieval
persons this sin of disobedience whereby Adam and Eve und all
humanity f e ll from God ' s gr ace was so great that the Son of
God , in His infinite love , offered Himself as a sacrific e .
Anyone who r eciprocated Christ ' s spiritual love through
obedience to God ' s commandments and who a ccepted the teachings of the Church would attain salvation. 18 And so the
third code , a code of religion, made its contribution to the
thought and the literature of the age .
The most important pseudo-hist oric al mate r ials in
medieval r omances which deal t with thes e three codes c ame
from three general sources :
the matter of Rome , which dea lt
with clas sical legends; the matter of France, which dealt
with the a dventures of Charlemagne ; a nd the Matter of
Brita in , which dealt principa lly with the legend of Arthur
l?David r.t. Zesmer, Guide to English Literature from
:beowulf Through Chaucer and Medieval Drama ( New York:
B~rnes & Noble, 1961), pp:-88-Bg .
18
I b i d . , p. 89 .
9
a nd the Knights of the Round Table . 19
The earliest r ecords
of Arthur represent him as a lea der of the Britons against
the Anglo-Saxon invaders .
It is thought he won t he batt le
of Ba don Hill in the sixth century .
Little space i n wri tten
literature is given to Arthur until the twelfth century , when
he becomes firmly established as a folk hero .
In his wri t -
ings a bout Arthur, Geoffrey of .Monmouth gave the Engli sh a
British hero as noble a s the Norman hero Cha rlemagne .
Geoffrey ' s History of the Kings of Britain i s a ma jor contributi on to t he Arthurian l egend, a n important part of t he
"immense literature in a score of l a nguages whi ch pays tribute
to one of the foremost fi g ures and symbols ever to enc hant the
.
. a t.l.On . .. 20 For two hundred years dur ing the Middle
human l.magln
Ages , from 1300 to 1500 , Arthurian explo i ts illumine d the
page s of manuscripts for nobility throughout the continent ;
and scene s from the best - known stories of t he legends were
portra yed by s culptors , wood- carvers , fre sco- painters , til e
maker s , a nd tapest ry wea vers . 21
l9Baugh, pp . 17 5- 193 .
20 Gwyn Jones, Arthuria n Chronicle s, translated by
Eugene Mas on wi th a n introduction by Gwyn Jones (New York :
Everyma n's Library , 1962 ), P• v.
21Hel en Hi ll Mi ller, The ~ealms of Arthur (London :
Peter Davies, 1969 ), p . 13 •
10
Arthur grew in popula rit y so much that he made t h e f i r st
l ist of the nine worthies.
These nine worthi es , as li s t ed i n
Caxton's prefa ce to Malory' s Morte D'Arthur , were t hre e gr eat
con querors of ant iquity, Hector, Alexa nder, and J u l i u s Caesar
(pr e-Christian pagans); three gr eat Jews , J oshua , Davi d , and
J udas Maccabeus (pre-christian J ews); a nd t hr ee g reat
Chr istia ns, Arthur, Cha~lemagne , and Godfrey of Boul ogne . 22
When Arthur dev e loped in legend into an important king,
~e
y i e lded his pos i t ion a s a per s onal hero to a g r oup of
g r eat knight s who s urrounded him at the Round Ta ble .
These
knights came to be representative of the bes t in the age of
ch i va lry. 2 3 King Arthur and the Knig ht s of the Round Table ,
embodyin g concept s of chi va l ry , c ourtly l ove , and religi on ,
became the cent er of one of t h e most i mportant and a tt rac tive
medi eval romances, Sir Thomas Mal ory 's Mor t e D' Ar thu r .
Since I ha ve suggest e d there is a trag i c vi s ion i n
Mor te D'Arthur, I f e el I should pau se t o i ndi cate what seems
t r a gic a bout t he book.
Therefore , a brief t r acing of con-
cepts of tragedy during various era s s e ems t o be i n order .
Hol man d e fine s tragedy thus :
A drama, i n prose or ve r s e, which r ec ounts
an important and ca usa l l y r elated s eries of events
22 Holmo..n, p . 351 .
2 3I b i d., -p . 45 .
11
in the life of a per son of significance such
events culminating in an unhappy catast ~ophe
the.whole treated with great dignity and
'
ser1ousness . According to Aristotle, whose
definition in the Poetics is an inductive description of the Greek tragedies, the purpose of
a tragedy is to arouse the emotions of pity and
fear and thus to produce in the aud i ence a
catharsis of these emotions . • •• The auestion
of the n a ture of the significance tha t 1s held
by that age .
In the Middle Ages the term tragedy did
not refer to a drama but to any n a rrative which
recounted how a person of high rank through ill
fortune or his own vice or error, fell from
high estate to low.24
It has long been recognized that the Greek unders tand ing
of tragedy embraced the idea that one vice or error of the
protagonist was pride , an overbearing pride wh i ch prompt ed
him to cla im for himself certain rights r eserve d to t he
deities.
But this understanding is not the only one whi ch
history has produced.
The Middle Ages gave birth to a n ew
concept .
In "The Prologue of the Monk's Ta l e '' of The Canterbur y
Tales, Chaucer's Monk describes tragedy:
Tragedie is to seyn a certeyn storie ,
As o1de bookes maken us memorie,
Of hym that stood in greet prosperitee ,
And is yfal1en out of heigh d egr ee
Into my~erie, and endeth wrecchedly .
And they ben versified commune1y
Of six feet , which men clepen exametron .
In prose eek been endit ed ma~y oon ,
25
And eek in meetre, in rnruw n. s ondr;v wyse •
2 4Ibid . , p. 531 .
25chauc e r, p. 189, Fra gment VI I, 11. 197 3- 81 .
12
Chaucer's attitude toward tragedy falls somewhere betwe en the
Greek concept and that of Malory.
One commentat or has ob-
served that "Chaucer's knights transform the basis of knight hood by turning pride into humility and so a djust themselves
to a new age and society. u 26
Malory , who wrote approximately one hundred years after
Chaucer, composed a unified work concerning the ri se , flowering, and fall--the tragedy--of the greatest brothe rhood known
t o man.
To communicate his tragic theme, Malory refers to
the Lot-Pellinor feud, the Holy Grail quest , and the cour tlylove tra dition especially in relation to the a dultery of
Lance lot and Guinevere.
Superficia lly these three narrative s a re essentially
unlike in that they concern disparate topics :
a family feud ,
a s emi-religious tract, and a romance of lovers' intrigue .
However, beneat h the surfa ce, each deal s with domi nant
aspects of chivalric knighthood:
loyalty, piety , and love.
These aspects mark the three stages in the development of
t he historica l kn ight:
t he feudal va ssal , the crusading
s oldier, a nd the courtly lover.
The knight s , then, a r e
seen in eac h of the traditional historical and
l i ~erary
roles--as s oldiers, as Christians , and as lovers ; onc e
26 charles Moorman, A Kn,yght There Was (Lexington :
Uni vcrni ty of Kentucky Preen , 1967 ), p . 117.
13
again, the idea of major codes arises .
Anot her quality
shared by Malory ' s three themes with which we are pri ncipa l ly
concerned is that each begins in a happy, innocent, and hopeful stage but ends in dissolution, decay and tra gedy . 27
According to Moorman, the downfall of Arthur's c ourt
cannot be fully explained in Aristotelia n terms --a s elfordained tragedy precipitated by the " h a martia" of the court
(Lancelot 's insta bi lity , Arthur's dogged blindness , Guinevere ' s
lechery , Gawain's rashness), "f or it is the es s enc e of
Aristotelian tragedy that it end in a mora l victory in which
the base emot i ons of pity and fear, having b een a rous ed by the
i n i t ial act ion, are purged. " 28 It is here that N. oorm::m fe els
that the Morte D' Arthur fails.
The heroes do f a ll, but they
f all in ignora nce and the grea t court i s not
29
ups urg e of s pirit or illumina tion of self.
~ccompan i ed by
Ga wa i n's dying letter to Lancelot is f ill ed
with remors e that he " s ought e [Lanc e l ot ' s]
dethe, a nd na t thorow [Lancelot' s ] de ser vynge ,
but [his] owne sekynge" ( 1 2 31) . Ector ' s
g reat eulogy looks backward ~o the yout hful
triumphs of Lancelot a nd pra 1ses only those
qua lities which destroyed_him-~hi s prow~ss ,
his love for the Queen, h1s ch1. va lry. Ne are
not convinced that his l a st holy days brought
him either pea c e or self-knowledge , on l y a
27 I bid.,
28
P · 101 .
J bid.' p . 104 .
:?9 I b id •
a
14
"broken slepe" in which he saw himself
"lyeing grovelyng on the tombe of kyng Arthur
and quene Guenever, and there was no comforte
t~at the Bysshop , nor syr Bors , nor none of
h1s felowes coude make hym, it avaylled not"
( 1 257 ) • . Arthur, whose vision and energy and
w~o~e s1~s had framed the new chiva lry , dies
d1s1llus1oned and haunted by failure. "Conforte thyself£ , • • • a nd do as well as thou
mayste, for in me ys no truste for to truste
in," ( 1240) he says at the last • • • • 30
Even though I disagree with Moorman on certain points of his
a na lysis, I will not discuss them at this time; however , I
will present such views in Chapter IV.
Henry James once wrote, "There is no impressi on of
life , no matter of seeking it and feeling it, to which the
plan of the novelist may not offer a place. "
The a uthor of
Morte D' Arthur is not a novelist; however, he ce rta i nly endeavored to catch the color of life a nd to provide his
reader with a rich commentary on man's life in medieval
society .
Malory proved a master in the unveiling of t he
structure of the human personality and the aualities which
a r e i nherent in the nature of man.
He proved to have the
ability to pre sent a unique plan of existenc e for his
char acters .
In addition he proved that he wus ca pa ble of
revealing not only how the cha racters chos e to be ·w hat they
were but also how their
choices determined the happy or
tragic lives they lived and wha t effect these cho i ces had
JOib.1 d
.,
p . 1-- 05 •
15
upon their fellow man.
Malory ' s charact e r development s are
representa tive of the conse quences one must suffer when
vision is limited to matters immediately at hand .
The idea
of human f ailure is inherent because one c annot see r esults
beyond tha t moment ' s decision.
An example of Mal ory ' s ability to combine char a c teri-
zation with tragic tone is illustra ted in the cha r a ct er of
1\~ erli n.
Merlin is introduc ed as the supernatura l age n t of
Ar thur ' s life.
All s eems well as J\Terlin is able to direct
Arthur ' s birth, his prog res s to the throne , and his succ ess
in many battles .
However, one has only to look close ly at
Merlin ' s developing character to see that he is beginning to
exhibit human fla ws as Arthur ' s agent; thus overt ones of
demonic tempta tions enter the work .
The first i ndication of
Jllerlin ' s imperfection arises when he fa i l s to warn a b out
Morgause or to pr event Arthur ' s a ffair wit h his sister ;
Arthur did not know until a fter the a ffai r that he had committed an act of incest.
Another such i ncident is the advice
which Me rlin gives Arthur concerni ng a ll the chi ldren born on
l':lay Day .
Ironica lly, the child of this inc estuous re lation-
ship is the only one of the chi ldren to s urvi ve the death
plan as d evised by Me rlin .
The children who "were fou r
wekis olde and l ess " were "pu tt e in a shippe to the se ·"
3y
fortune t he " shyppe drove unto a c astelle , c::.nd was .::!.11
16
to-ryven and destroyed ." 3l
Malory, therefore, sets the stage
for the eventual downfall of Arthur ' s court, as well as
points to the fruitlessness of the trust that Arthur and
Lancelot put in the "unstable world ."
For the medieval
Christian, to put f a ith in the world vvas to be lost ; hence ,
for Arthur to trust Merlin was to trust the "unst ab le world "
rather than the steadfast kingdom of God .
Merlin ' s limitati ons a re further stressed in the fact
that he has no power to save himself .
He is burie d et er-
nally beneath a rock because he is so hopelessly stricken by
Nineve, the mai den brought to court by Pellinor .
face himse lf despite all his supernatura l powers .
He c annot
This
ep isode appears , then, to foreshadow the later helples s n esn
of Lancelot ' s love for Guinevere and points to t he warning
sent to Lancelot by his son Galahad .
Ga lahad bids his fQther
to remember the unstable world (p. 607) .
It is i nteresting to note a lso that after fflerl in is
sealed under the stone Nineve repla ces rllerl in as Arthur ' s
supernatural power.
She first rescues Ar thur from death
during the fight wi th Morgan le Fay ' s lover, Ac colon ,
~d
she l a ter warns Arthur about the mantel sent to him by
3 1Thomas f,ia lory, Works , ed . Eugene Vinc::ver, 2nd ed ·
(London : Oxford University Press , 1971) , p . 17 . 3 u~se c ueil­
referenc es to i'.:al ory will be incorpor ated prtrent.hC'tlc-::ll.Y
i nto the text .
17
morgan.
Thus, she saves his life twice.
Nineve a lso con-
soles Pelleas after the Gawain-Ettard episode.
The emphasis
seems to be on her goodness.
Me rlin is only one of the characters of l\1alory ' s Morte
D'Arthur who enjoys great moments, who bec omes involved in
intense sequences of a ction, and who suffers clashes of
personalities~
It is my intention to gather the var ious
threads of this work into a coherent commentar y on the modes
of responses of Malory 's characters to this peculia r social
and cultural time.
The purpose of this study, t hen, is to
discover the reason or reasons for the f a ilure of the " ideal
society " repre sented by the Round Ta ble.
Chapter II will present a general background of the
Arthurian literature a nd the varied purposes of the writ ers
who handed down this great legend from generation t o
generation.
Chapter III will presen t a n a na l ysis of the
outstand i ng king and knig ht s in I\lorte D ' Arthur a nd their
places in society as well as an analysis of their p l a c es at
the Round Ta ble.
It will examine the cha r a cters ' a ct s and
the ir react ions to the situa tions a t hand and will explain
the reasons this great brotherhood failed .
Chapter IV will
set forth , in conclusion, the views g leaned from the out standing Malory critics as well as my own opinion as to
r,~ nlo ry ' s
i n t cnt .
To these conc erns we :rKlY now tu rn ·
CHAPTER II
A GENERAL BACKGROUND OF ARTHURIAN LITERATURE
In the fifth century A. D. Britain underwent r a dical
periods of transiti on in its history .
The l egions of Rome
withdrew from the island a bout 410, and the Roman power
\"'I.S
distributed among a numbe r of small kingdoms which we r e
formed under loose overlordship both in c i vil and mil ita ry
matters .
Three hist oric a l or moral works portray the
s truggle from the point of v iew of the Britons :
Aneir ins '
poem "God odd in" ( ca . 600); Nennius ' His t ori a Br i t t onum (ca .
800 ); and the Auna les Ca mbriae , an ano~ymous l i s t of important dates in Welsh history ( ca . 950) . 1
Only a bare outline of Ar thur 's historical ba ckg r ound
can be g lea ned from such s cant eviden ce ; however , it is
thought that h i s prototype was proba bly born in t h e fifth
century a nd became a c ommander of mil ita r y f orc e s dur ing the
time when the Saxons domina ted ea st ern En gl and .
Unde r t his
commander, the Saxons were t empora rily over thrown a b ou t 490 ;
a nd from memories of him wa s t o spring the image of a gr eat
1n. w. Ba rber, Arthur of _Albion ( Ne w York : Barn e s &
Noble Inc. 1961 ), pp . 1-1 2 . For dat i n g I ha ve ref erre d
o.l so to Alb~rt C. B<:tugh, ed ., A Li t era ry Hi s tor y of -9;~1and
( Ne w York : Applet on-Century - Crofts , I nc ., 1048) , n . 1 d ·
18
19
hero .
Accounts of this hero's exploits, pa ssed on ora l ly fo r
half a millennium, reached the medieval world through folkmemory and fragments of chronicles.
Later they were writ ten
down , and by the twelfth century they had a c qu ired l i te r ary
form. 2
For more than five hundred yea rs , the Arthurian my thology provided a mirror for the medieva l ma n t o reflec t the
romance of his own life , a nd consc i ously or unc onsciously ,
to fulfill an imag inative need to see himself not as he was
but a s he thought of hims elf, as an individual a nd as a part
of his socin l surroundi n g s .
In all lit e r a ture , whethe r it is
idea l i stic o r rea listic, one encounters thi s s t ory of man ' s
relationship to man, or brotherhood, and an el abor a t ion on
his efforts t o s ecure an a ccept ed pos i tion wit hin t hat
society .
The soc i ety , or brotherhood, is, theref ore , that
circle which surrounds the individua l a nd is that which
brings purpose a nd unity to his l ife .
sir Thomas r.la lory in his Mor t e D ' Arthur recor ded a
unified history of one of the gr eate s t brotherho ods lmown to
the litera ry world .
Mort e D' Arthur i s a n assimilati on of
t he numerous a nd va rie d s t or ies conc ernine the li ter~ ry hero
King Arthur .
Mort e D ' Ar t hur i s not a body of literal his-
torica l trut h ; r at her it i s a work r evea ling a t r uth whi ch
2Barb e r, pp . 1- 12 .
20
concerns the creation and the ultimate tragic destruction of
a great human institution .
Arthur, perhaps a "rough and ready military commander in
Ce ltic Britain" about 500 A. D., was possibly a rea l-l i f e hero
who in legend became king of a medieval court that was known
as the model of knightly courtesy . 3 Thi s legendary Arthur ' s
life later became an i nexhaustible inspiration for poet s ~d
chroniclers . 4 Geoffrey of Monmouth ' s History of the Kings
of Brit on, ca . 1136, l a unched the medi eval Arthuria n leg end
which g rew in importance as time passed. 5 Through numerous
a nd various intermediaries the Arthuria n legend " serve d a
variety of med ieva l purpose s such a s the lingering pagan
memor ies of gods , of heroes, the Druid lore, the otherworld
merged i nto the mysteries of Merlin and Morgan le Fay , the
pass ing of the King who would come a gain, a nd the quest of
the Grai l. " 6
The legends of Arth ur were , then, easily adapted to
serve many conscious purpose s .
Geoffrey of 1\.onmouth i n -
tended to show the dynastic requirements of the Anglo- Norman
3Helen Hill Miller, The Realms of Ar thur (London :
Peter Davies , 1969) , p. 1 2 .
4Norma Lorre Goodrich J",1edieva l I·. \yths ( New York :
New American Library , 1961 ~, p . 14 .
5Ib id ., 'P · 52.
6Miller , p . 20 .
The
21
k i ng s in order to establish t heir Britis h s ove r eignty .
This
gen ealogy of Ge offrey was treated with g reat r e spect; King
Stephen (1141) relied on it i n his contest f or the t hrone ·
'
Edward I (1301) cit ed it when making h is c ase for domin ion
over Scotland before Boniface III; Henry VII ( fi f teen th
century) advanced it as s ubst antia tion of Tudor leg i timacy ;
and J a mes I ( seventeenth centu ry) use d i t as a defense of
r oyal divine r ight. 7
The monks of Glast onbury , a f t er t~e
d e struction of t he i r church, use d the l egend in 1184 as a
means of increas ing the revenues of the Church by s howing
t he newly dis cover ed g r Qve s of Art hur a nd Gu i nevere to pers ons who pa rticipa ted in r e ligious
pilgri~Ges .
The French
writers who gave literary form to the Arthurian legends
a dapted the Arthuria n cy cle to "relieve the ennui of c a stle
and court by an es ca pe litera ture . " 8 The c ourtly- love
tra dition was es t a blished a nd flourishe d because royal and
noble marr i a ges were a rra n ged "to s trengthen dynasties or
families or to unite cont i guous lands ." 9 Romantic l ove vvn.s
not expecte d i n ma rriage.
"The passion, l oyalty and de-
votion extolled in the roma nce s
7 Ibid., pp. 2 1-22 .
8
rbid ., p. 21.
9Ib i d ., P . 23 .
were ext r a.- mari ta l "; thus
22
Lancelot, Arthur's perfect lmight and Guinevere's perfect
lover, is a French addition to Arthur's c ourt . 10
The popularity of Geoffrey's history would have been
limited to those who could read Latin had it not been transl ate d by Geoffrey Gaimar and Wace .
Geoffrey Ga imar ' s
vers ion was lost; however, Wace's Roman de Brut
survive .
(11 5~ )
did
Wace was a Norman poet who wrote i n French under
English patronage , and he wrote a poem, not a hist ory .
The
first appe a rance of the Arthurian story in English is in the
work of Layamon, an humble priest who lived in Worchestershire .
He completed his Brut in 1205.
It vms Layamon ' s i n-
tention to write about the noble deeds of the English .
The
books he used as sources were Bede ' s Ecclesiastica l Hist ory
in the Old English transla tion as well as the original La tin
a nd the work of Wace .
Layamon ' s work was not only the first
appearance of the Arthur ian legend in English, but it
a lso the last appearance for some time.
\"Ja.S
'Nhen the legendary
Arthur returned in literature to the island of his birth , it
;vas after a considerable sojourn in France, a sojourn whic h
11
profoundly changed his cha r a cter.
The mos t popular subjects of twelfth- c entwrJ Fr ench
writers were the Perceva l-Grail theme and the
10
Ibid .
11Baugh, pp . 171-7 2.
Trist~- Iseult
23
story .
Chretien de Troyes in his Ta le of the Grail and
-----.;;;...;;..;.=
Perceval introduced Galahad and the Grail quest .
Robert de
Boron also us ed Galahad in his Joseph d ' Ar emathie a nd added
the sword in the stone a n d t he Siege Perilous in his r.1erlin . 12
Certain English a uthors of the twelfth century b egan to
write in the English vernacular, translating the French
ve rsions into English, but in the ir settings they brought
Arthur home to England . 1 3
The final r epatriation of the Arthurian legend c a me at
the close of the Middle Ages when Sir Thomas Malory wrote
his Morte D'Arthur. 14 This work is an a ssimila tion o f the
group of legends into a unifi ed hist ory of Arthur ' s r eign
that we t urn to for the story of the rise, flower ing, and
decay of the noble king and his Round Ta ble .
Thi s com-
pilation of the legends beg ins with the enfances of Arthur
and ends shortly after his death .
The importanc e of the
beginning of 1\'Ialory 's vers ion is that it set s the tone for
the forthcoming problems whi ch will invade and doom the
brotherhood of Arthur's r ealm .
The fi r st seed of the dovm-
fall of the noble knighthood appears, then, to have been
12 r bid., pp . 190- 93.
1 3p,'!iller, p . 24 .
14 Ibid .
24
planted at the conception of Arthur himself who wa s "be g oten"15 a fter the deth of the duke [Ig r ayne's husband] mor e
than thre houres, and thirtene days a fter [later] kyng Ut he r
[Arthur's father] wedded I g rayne [ Arthur's mother] " ( p . 1 3) .
I do not believe that it was by accident that I'.Ialory c hose
this beginning .
The f a ct that King Uther covet e d his duke ' s
wife and ndesyred to have lyen by hir" ( p. 1) adumbrates a
mora l decay.
Although this union between King Ut h er and
I graine does not f a ll within the courtly-love tra diti on, it
doe s establi s h a motif of lustful love foreshadowi ng the love
t riangles wh ich will wea ve through the f a bri c of t h e " hoole
b ooke ."
Att e ntion is inn:nedia t e ly f ocuse d on on e of the most
prominent f a ilures of the Round Ta ble.
A pa r a lle l to this
f a ilure can be seen in II Samuel 11.1-26 , which r ev eal s the
t riangle of King David, Baths heba , and Uriah .
The c i rcum-
s t ances of this Biblica l story are v ery muc h the same a s those
in the narrative of King Uther, I gr a ine , and the duke .
story of King David follows thi s pa ttern:
The
a t t he turn of the
y ear, when kings g o out on t heir c ampa i gns , David sent out
Joa b and the a rmy of I s r ae l, and they ravaged the Ammonites
and bes ieged Rabbah.
Davi d , howev er, r emained in Jerusa lem .
On e evening David saw a woman bathing .
l r.,· Thomas T::a l ory , 'i/orks , ed . Eugene
'
He made inqui r ies
v.lnaver, ,c..n
. , d ea, .
.J.
(London: Oxford Unive r sity Press , 19 71), p . 37 . S ~b scQucn~
refe r ence s to i.lalory wi l l be inc orpora t ed par enthet l c all y
i nto t h e text.
25
a bout her and was told that she was the daughter of Eliam and
the wife of Uriah .
Her name v~s Bathsheba, and her husband
was the a rmor-bea rer in Joa b's army.
sheba , a nd he had relations with her.
Da vid s ent for Bat hShe then r eturned home .
Bathsheba found that she was with child and so informed Ki ng
David .
Da vid tried to arrange for Uriah to sleep with Ba th-
sheba in order that he might not know that she had been wi t h
h i m; how~ver, Uriah refused to sleep a nd eat at home out of
respect to Joa b and the others who were out fighting .
Da vid ,
therefore , sent word to Joab to place Uriah up front , where
the fi ghting vvas fierc e , a nd to leave Uria h to be struc k down
dead .
After the mourning period for Bathcheba, Da vid t ook
her for his wife and she bore him a s on.
This serie s of
events g re a tly displeased God!
The literary a rtist of the Middle Ages vva s not the
crea tor of something of value in itse lf but r a ther the
preserver of value.
Literature '.vas t o u se its "o.ttrac ti vc
appearance" to interest the reader in getting benea th the
s urfa ce att r a ct ion to discover the underlyine t heme , or i ts
" Gcnte ntia ."
This basic " sententia" would , t hen , i n s truc t
the rea de r i n the basic truths of life .
life for the
f~' i ddle
The ba sic t ruths of
.
.
.t
16
Ag es we re the truths of Chr1st u:.n1 Y;
16 Edmund Reiss , Sir Thomas r:ia lory ( l'Je w Yo rk :
- 6 6 ) , pp . 22- '-3
')
Publ icnti ons , I nc ., 19
·
:rwn.y n e
26
thus this type of Biblical parallelism used by Malory would
be in keeping with medieval writings and would be readily
understood by the medieval reader or audience.
The love-triangle motif, a recurring theme of the
I\Iorte D'Arthur, will be dealth with more specifically in
Chapter III.
Love is, however, one of the best fe a tures of the
chivalric code if it is "properly and devoutly follo v-1ed . .,l7
Ideally the "service of the beloved prompts a knight to
reveal in action the noblest feelings possible to him; he
is required to demonstra te the sincerity and depth of his
love by displays of unusual courtesy, generosity, and
bravery • .,lB
Despite the fact that courtly love wes a c-
cepted within the ranks of the nobility, it
~~s
condemned by
the Church and by definition was immoral and adulterous. 19
Early in Book I Malory depicts Arthur a s e lustful man,
the father of two sons born out of wedlock.
The first af-
fair was with "an erlis doughter; his name was Sanam and
hir name was Lyo11ors, a passyng fayre damesell • • • and
kynge Arthure sette hys love gretly on hir, and so ded she
1 7charles Moorman, The Book of
Kyne Arthur :
of Malory 's r.Iort e Darthur-( Lexington :
Press, 1965), PP• 14-15.
18Ibid.
19Ibid.
The Unity
University of Kentucky
27
uppon hym, and so the kynge had ado wit h hir and gate on h. l· r
a chylde.
And hys name was Borre , that was a f ter a good
lrnyght and of the Ta ble Rounde" (p . 26) .
In the meantime ,
Arthur saw Guinevere and a t "firste syght of queene Gwenyvere , the kyngis daughter of the londe of Camyla rde," he
loved her ever afte r ( p . 26) .
Even though Arthur confesses
that he love s Gu i neve re, following close ly thereafter i s
"kynge Lottis wyff, " who comes to see Arthur ' s court wit h he r
four s ons, Gavmin, Ga h e ris, Aggravaine , and Gareth .
Once
agn.in, " the kynge c aste grete love unto [a woman ] a nd d e s i r e d
to ly by hir .
And so they agr eed , and he begat e uppon hi r
s i r Mordred " ( p . 27) .
Through the knowledge of Merlin ,
Arthur l ate r found he had "done a thynge l a te that God y s
displeased with., for he had lain by his " syster and on hir
gotyn a childe" who would destroy him and a ll the lmiF,hts of
his realm ( p. 27).
I n . the course of time, Ar thur was securely establis hed
as " chosyn kyn ge by a dventure a nd by gra ce," and it became
desireable for him to " take a wyff " ( p . 59) .
Arthur,
2.C -
c ording to the book, chose Guinevere, who s e f athe r " h oldy t h
in his house the Table Rounde " which had be l onged t o King
Uther, Ar thur' s father .
Merlin did not hes itat e t o i nform
Arthur tha t he had made a wrong dec is ion a n d he " w3.rn ed the
h~ng
covertly t hat Gwenyver was not h olsom for hym to t ake
28
to wyff.
For he warned hym that Launc elot scholde love hir,
and sche hym agayn" ( p. 59).
Arthur ignored this warning .
Looking back on the first tales of Morte D' Arthur, then,
we see love betrayal as an underlying theme .
sugr ests the breaking of the love code.
Such betrayal
These betraya ls in-
cluded Arthur- Morgause, Morgan-Accolon, a nd Gawain-Ett a rd .
These lesser love betrayals , therefore, seem to establish a
motif in the greater love betrayals to follow, Lancelot Guinevere and Tristram- Isolde .
The happy love of Nineve and
Pelleas looks forward to the happy love of Gareth and
Lyonesse .
When Guinevere was " delyverd" to King Arthur, she
brought with her the "Table Rounde " and an "hondred knyghts "
( p . 60) .
Arthur ' s a cquisition of the table caused him to fe el
excessive pride-- a pride suggesting an ultimat e tragic downfall .
The litera ry tradition of the Round Table may go 2-s far
back as e a rly Roman times a nd may parallel the history of the
legendary Arthur ' s military career .
In the early days of the
Roman empire the triclinium, a couch ext end ing al ong three
sides of a table, was repla c ed by a semi- circula r couc h
pla ced about a round tabl e .
When the Roman troo~s were i n
the fi e ld or when persons engaged in info rm~l s oc ial e vent s ,
this couch
\·nr;
rc pJ llced by b olsters l ::t.i d upon the ground ·
Somrtimcs t h ese bolsters we r e substituted by usr of st r~~
29
covered with a cloth.
This custom was a ppa rently ret a ined by
the Brit ons after the departure of the Roman legions, a nd ,
therefore, the instituti on of Arthur ' s Round Ta b le may b e no
more than the " officers ' Mess " of Arthur ' s Romanize d Br itish
a rmy.
This manner of eating was forg otten when men b egun to
eat at wooden t a bles, seated in wooden chai r s . 20
The Round
Table appea red in the Arthurian l egends for the f irs t
time
in 1150, when Maistre Wac e of Caen tra n sl2.ted Geoffr ey of
f>~ orunouth ' s La t i n into French verse as Roman de Brut . 21 These
- --
pseudo-hist ories were c a lled "Bruts " b e c nu c.e Brut u s wo.s
l i sted as Bri t a in ' s first k ing . 22
The customs and manners of the e a rly Arthur ian l egen ds
depict the h a lls of the great feasts a s bea r i n g a r esemblance
to those depic ted in Beowulf.
Layamon ,
in pa rticula r , por-
trays the manners of the e a rly Britis h kniF,hts a s extremely
At a feast i n London on Chri ot lll2.s Day , a " r- erious fight brea k s out throug h jea lousy , and b l ood is shed . " 23
boisterous.
20 John J ay Parry , " The Historic a l Ar thur ," in Art hur ,
King of Britain, ed . Ri chard 1. Br en gle (N ew York : App letonCentury-C roft s , 19 64), P . 335 ·
21
Baugh, p . 170 •
22Henry Cec i l Wy ld , " Layamon as ....,. . n .wr.>n r?:ll
. sh Poet , " in
1~
Arthur , King of Britain , e d . Richard L . Brengl e (New York :
Appleton-C e ntury - Croft s , 1964 ) , p . 37 3 .
30
Arthur is a ble to quel l the fight, and all pre sent are bound
by "oaths sworn on sacred relics" to behave pr operly in the
24
future .
The dead are carried away and the hall is cleane d ,
and then the feast proceeds .
Later a crafty worlanan of Corn-
wall makes a splendid table where "no quarrels shall break
out over priority of place. n 2 5 This , state s Wyld , is the
virtual founding of the Order of the Round Table , though the
na me is not mentioned.
Laya mon describes the t a ble as " the
same table • • • a bout which the Britons boa st a nd tell many
. . • • • ., 26
1 1es
Robert Flet cher feels that '.Vace ' s a ddition to the t heory
of the " Roonde Ta ble ," or "Ta ble Roond e ," i s signi fic a nt.
Ac -
cording to Fletcher , v'/ace r est a te s that Arthur ma de the Round
Table so that none of his " barons could boa st of sitt ing
higher than a ny other ," but h e a dds that the knights who were
in Arthur ' s court formed the king ' s bodygua rd a nd that the
praise of the knights of the Round Ta ble was great t h r oughout
the world . 27
24 Ibid .
2 5Ibid .
26 Ibid .
27Robe rt Huntingt on Fletcher, " Wace ' s Roman d e Brut ," in
Arthur , King of Britain , ed. Ri chard L . Br engle ( New York :
Apple t on-c e ntury - Crof ts , 1964 ), p . 364 .
31
In " The Quest of the Holy Grail" we lea rn that Merl i n
made the Round Table in the likeness of the roundness of t he
world ,
for men sholde by the Rounde Table undirstonde the rowndenes signyfyed by ryght .
For all the worlde , crystnyd and hethyn ,
repayryth unto the round Table , and wha n
they ar chosyn to be of the felyshyp of
the Rounde Table they thynke hemselff more
blessed and more in worshyp than they had
gotyn halff the worlde . ( p. 541)
When me rlin had ordained the Round Tabl e , he sa id ,
By them whych sholde be felow,ys of the
Rounde Table the trouth of the Sankegreall
sholde be well know,rn . • • • Ther e sholde
be three whyght bullis sholde encheve hit ,
and the two sholde be maydyns and the
thirde sholde b e chaste . And one of thos
three shold passe hys fadir as much a s the
lyon passith the lybarde , both of st r ength
a nd of hardines . (pp. 541-42 )
The early form of
chiv~lry
existing before the establish-
ment of Ar thur ' s noble knighthood glori fied the warlike
spirit , the military prowess , and the heroic achievemen ts of
the knights .
These attributes were in keeping with tradi -
tional chivalry .
Examples of the old chivalry c an be iden-
tified in episodes such as the incident surrounding the birth
of Torre , the first man to be knighted a t the wedding feas t
of King Arthur and Guinevere .
Torre ' s mother "was a fay r e
houswyff • • • and whan she was a mayde and wente to mylke
hir kyne , there mette with hir a sterne knyght , a nd h a lf b e
forC'e he
h~d
pr e s ent e d a
hir maydynhodc " ( p . 62 ).
br e~k ing
The knight ' s sin rc -
of t h e r el igiou s cod e .
Othe r r elated
32
faults were Gavvain ' s temper , which cau sed him t o have "done
passynge foule for the sleynge of a l a dy " (p. 67); Gawain ' s
betrayal of Pelleas a nd seduction of Etta rd (p . 103); Balin ' s
smi ting off the head of the La dy of the Lake (p. 41 ); Balin ' s
not preventing Columbe ' s committing suicide (p . 45) ; Pellinor ' s refusal to hel p a damsel in distress (p . 75); and
Garnish ' s murdering his damsel and her lover and his commit ting suicide (p. 55) .
These knights of seemingly g ood char-
a cter, then , " grope in a world of no established standards ,
where the f i nest purpose a nd the truest instincts of untut ored honor do but lead a man int o even worse blunders and
failures . " 28
Against this bac kdrop of the old c hivalric code , King
Arthur establishes the High Order of Knighthood t ha t was to
become the g reatest brotherhood known to the world.
'.'/hen the
knights were ordained as pa rt of this society , King Art hur
cha rged them thus :
• • • never to do outerage nothir mourthir ,
a nd a llwayes to fle treson, a nd to gyff
me rcy unto hym that askith mercy , uppon pa~ne
of forf i ture [of their] worship and lordsh1p
of kynge Arthure for evirmore; a nd a llwayes
to do l adyes , damesels , and jantilwomen nnd
w,ydowes [succour : ] strengthe hem in hi r
ryght e s, and n ever to enforce them, uppon
payne of dethe . Also , that no man take no
batayles in a wrongefull quarell for no love
ne for n o world is g ood is . ( p . 7 5)
28
Reiss , p . 47 .
33
So unto this all the knights, both old and young, were sworn,
a nd every year they repea ted this oath a t the high fea st of
Pentecost (p. 76).
Arthur's noble purpose in the establishment of his High
Order of Knighthood is re adily seen when one compa r es the old
chivalric codes with the new code set out in the oath to be
a dministe red to all the ordained knight s of thi s Round Table .
Arthur's purpose, then, may be termed as a Christian aim .
His a im was to establish a new order looking toward a b etter
way of l ife for a ll tho se persons within his r ealm .
But one
has only to look ba ck to the limitati ons of huma n n a ture , a s
exemplified by Merlin, to see tha t once aga in 1\'lalory is p ointing out the limitations of all human endeavors.
Chapter III will analyze the cha r a cteri zation of the
knights of the Round Table, their glorification as a par t of
the High Order of Knighthood, and possible r eas ons for their
failures a nd thus the failure of the nobl e purpose of the
Round Table .
CHAPTER III
THE CHIVALRIC CODE OF ETHICS
The p a gan spirit of chivalry exhibited a need for i dea ls
and order; however, Arthur's oath emphas i ze s his i dea l s of
chivalry, loyalty, mercy, and prowess--idea l s embodi e d i n t he
codes by which cha r a cters in literature of t he Arthurian cy cle
l i ved.
This change of direction p oi nts to the gr ea t n ess of
t he "Christ ian king " a nd his court.
The te s t for Art hur' s
worthiness to bec ome the king of Engl a n d i s s t aged " i n t he
g rettest chirch of London," and the test it self i s san ctioned
by the Archbish op of Canterbury.
"In the chi rchegard nyens t
t he hyhe a ult er a grete s tone • • • a nd i n mydde t here of wns
lyke a n anvylde of stele a foot hyghe, a nd t heryn s t a c k a
f ayre swe rd."
1
Ar t hur prove s t o be the only per son wh o i s
a ble to remove t he sword from the s tone , a nd he d oes s o on
New Year's Day.
He is re quired t o r e p e a t this a c t on
Epiphany, January 6, traditiona l ly the h oly day c e l ebra t i ng
the manifestation of Christ's glory ; a ga i n on Cand l ema s ,
February 3, the fe ast of the Puri fic a t ion and t he c limax of
the rites
celebrating t he I ncarna t i on of Chr ist ; a ga in on
1Thoma s ~~alory , Works, ed. Eug~n e Vinaver, 2n d e d.
( London: Oxford Unive r sity Press , 19 71 ) , ~ · 7. Su?sequent
refer ence s to Malory will be incorp ora t e d pa r ent het l c a lly
int o the text.
34
35
Easter, the holy day celebrating the Resurrection and the beginning of a new and g l orious life ; and for the l a st time at
Pentecost , which is fifty days after Easter and ten days a fter
the Ascen sion of Christ .
Pentecost , then, is the " celebr ating
of the g reat awakening that came to the world after Chri st
ascended into Heaven" and refers spec ifically to the descent
of the Holy Spirit to the world.
This is an act which enables
the new or der, represented by the Church, to come a bout . 2
The ritualistic manner in which Arthur comes to the English
throne , therefore , links the coming of his High Order of
Knights of the Round Ta ble with Christ and the coming to earth
of the Christian Church.
tant event.
The success of Arthur is an impor-
He does not come to the throne a s a savior but
rather b r ings a new society , " one that is seen in Chri st ian
terms • ., 3
Through Arthur , then, the new order (the High Or der
of the Round Table) , or the new brotherhood of chiva lry , is
symbolic ally established .
The knights of the new order, "both olde an d younge ,"
were sworn t o uphold the new code of conduct now ordained as
n pa rt of their knighthood .
Arthur with his High Order of
Knighthood brings to the court --and thereby to the world- - not
2Edmund Reiss , Sir Thomas 1\Ialorv (New Yor k :
Publishers , Inc., 1966 ) , pp . 37- 38 ·
TvV2.ync
36
onl y the new code of ethics, but a lso the human imperfect ions
which will gradually and ultimately corrupt their own fellowship .
This c orruption will lead to fi nal dea th of the broth-
erhood, and is , thus, symbolic of the darkness a f te r the
Pentecost that occurs at the time of the s ummer solst i ce and
is the time during which the church rehea r ses the ministry and
miracles of Christ .
This pa rt of the Christian year is con-
cerned with t he waning sun and the coming winter sols tic e ,
the time of great darkness , which precedes Advent when Christianity again c elebrates the birth of Chri s t; thus t h e cycle
beg ins anew. 4
r:la lory ca refully correlates the establi shment of Ar thur's
court with the symbol ic rituals of the Church in order to use
these ritua ls as a backdrop not only fo r the grea t drama of
t he rise of that court but also fo r the tragic f a ll of the
Order , which is surrounded by weaknesse s inherent in human
nature .
The fall , therefore , is a n inevitable as the fall of
man.
It will be fruitful a t this point to look at the prominent themes of r,; ort e D ' Ar thur in a n e ffort t o de t e r mine the
contributin g factors to the f a ll of s uch a high orde r of
h iehly ordained Chri stians .
L).Hc i so , p . 39 .
The promi n en t theses nre the
37
interla cing code of chiva lry , the code of courtly love , and
the code of religion .
A b r ief look at the code of chivalry will show the
e mblems of c curtesy , prowess , and love .
Wi th the spread of
Christianity, the warlike spirit of the knights withe r e d t o
a certain extent .
The Christian knight s were orda ined t o
emphasize the brotherhood of their society , and , therefore ,
h onored the g enerous and the courteous , not the prima r i ly
wa rlike , knights .
The knights owed their servic e t o t heir
l ord as a pra ctica l duty , to women as a matter of c ourte sy ,
and t o the Christian faith which emphasized the Christ ian
v irtues humility , purity , a n d godliness . 5 The Christia n
knight could not restrict himself to loyalty and court e s y
only , but he must also a void pride a nd debauche ry .
The
knights could marry, but chastit y was regarded as the supreme i dea l , and the sexua l i mpulse \vas regarde d n s unn~t ural
8.rld s inful .
The t eaching s of t he "Church became s o distorted
thn.t it d i d not clearly rea lize tha t this i mpul se was p:iven
t o m:1n to e n s ure propaga tion of t he rac e . "
The Chris tian lmight s f i nd tha t i t
6
i s n ot o..lv10..ys cas:v
to chan p.:e old habits ; and when Rome dema nds t r ibut e fro:n
5A. B . Tay l or An Introduct i on to Medieval Romanc e
( 7'icw Yo rlc : B~ rnes ' & Nob le' , I nc ., 19b9 ) . n . 195 ·
(.)I b i d . , n . 198 .
38
Engl a nd, the messenger from Emperor Lucius meets with Kin~
0
Arthur ' s " grymme countenaunce ."
The knights welcome the
hostilitiec, for now they would have " warre a nd worshyp" as
they have r ested many days (p . 114) .
To settle the disnute
between Rome and Eng land, Arthur gat hers together " the
fayrys t
felyship of knyghtes " and the " beste peple of fyftene
realmys " (p . 11 5) , whereas Lucius enlists the ai d of he~thens
a.nd "many gyauntys • • • of the kin of Cain" tha t were "eng endirde with fendis " ( pp . 116- 17) .
These heathens a nc
Gi~nts of Lucius ' army negate the value of his Chri stian
forces and c a u se the tribute- conflict betwe en Arthur and
Luc ius to become one between the "force s of right and tho8c
of vrrong , specifically between Christianity and paganism. " 7
Arthur is further shown as an advocate of Christ iQ.n i ty
in his fight and destruction of a g iant who was "the foulyst
syghte that ever man sye , and there was never such one
f ourmed on erthe , for there wns never d evi l i n helle more
horryblyer ma.de . "
The gi:-tnt
r.~s
n. thre nt to a ll civil i. -
:3D tion , a destroyer of "C rysten ch,yldern , and a raper of
women " (p . 121) .
Arthur ' s victory -possibly indicates tha.t
he has been " cleansed of the sins that earlier stained him,
including those steffiQing from his own a ct of killing
8
Christian children . "
8Tayl or, p . 186 .
39
Despite the success with which Arthur and the kni ghts
of the Round Table comba t and overthrow the Roman Empire ,
they are unsuccessful in their own fellowship--even
in l ivinR"
v
by their own code of ethics .
There is a growing bi t terneso
and feuding betwe en the House of Lot of Orkeney and the House
of King Pellinor of the Ileso
This feuding is one of the
most import a nt symbols of destruction to the High Order .
This
dest ructive force has been prophesied in Book I I I when " letters of golde wretyn how that Sir Gawayne shall revenge his
fadi rs dethe on lcynge Pellynore" were found upon the tomb of
King Lot ( p . 51) o
St . Mark 3. 24-26 rela tes the dangers one encount ers wi th
d ivi s ion , which may simult a neously brea k the code a nd lead to
downfall .
This passage rea ds:
c\nd if a kingdom be divided against itself ,
that k ingdom cannot stand o And if a house
be div ided aga inst it s elf, that house ca n not stand . And if S2t an r is e up a gainst
himself, and be divided, he c annot stand ,
but hath an end .
Thus as the Bible predicts g ene ral doom a nd as the '' letters
o:f golde" prophesy concerning Gawa in's revenge , the cie.:::!.th of
King Lot does bring trag ic consequences.
Gav~ain, a l r eady
enr age d tha t Pellin or's s on, Torre, was knighted before him
a nd t h a t Pellinor himself \·v ns seate d at the Hound Tab le nt
the d i r0.ct i on of t'\ rthur , h a d " Grr.te env;,r ," ::md r- worc , " T
woll c;lcy h.,ym " ( p . 6 3 ) •
'.'l e a r e lL'~ter to lcn rn t~1rou~h a
:'eport of Pcllinor ' s vvidow that Pel l ino r wns ind eed
40
" shame fully slayne by the hondys of sir Gawayne and hy s
brothir, sir Gaherys!
treson. "
And they slew hym not manly , but by
The death of Pellinor was tragic in itself , but
it was more so " conciderynge a l so the dethe of sir Lamor ak
t hat of knyghthod h a d but fe aw fealowys " ( p . 490 ) .
He , t oo,
was the victim of the son s of King Lot .
Just as divisi on in a n order may lead to difficulties
i nvolving lmightly codes , s o may false a ction break c odes .
Such f a lseness i s
s pe cific epis ode .
sh o~vn
t o contribute to downfQl l i n one
Pellinor ' s son, Lamerok, a ppea r s at a
tournament at court under the gui se of a red s hie ld a n d wins
a dmiration from the king a s well a s g r eat
Tab l e fellowship , except
a nd h is brothers .
joy from t he Round
from the son s of King
Lot ~
Gaw..1.in
Gawain aptly s t a tes one of the und erlyinc;
evils of the fellowsh i p when h e comments that "wh om we hc.t
~cynge Arthure lovyth , a nd whom we love h e hatyth" ( p .
a nd once again h e vows revenge .
375) ,
The need t o tc.ke v engeance
c r eate s a never- ending feud which in turn involves further
false a ction .
The thread of treac h ery i s t i ghtly woven l~tcr
when Sir Ga~in a nd his brot hers set a trap for LQmerok and
their mother , 1\Iorgause .
La merok s t a t es t:b-'-'lt he loves I1iOrt;1Use;
howev e r , it i s Ga wa in ' s opin i on that Lamerok ha. s had " 8.do "
wit h his mother i n orde r to dishon or the sons .
Lamerok and
: . orr:~tuso set ~1 :7!Cetin& time , a.nd r;hen 1:-tmero L "'·;nnte unt o the
~~ ucn,ys
bed ,
8-nd she made h_ym pc.ss;1nge t;rcte
.
JO~f
~
.
.r
·-.no. :w o~
41
aga yne, for ayther lovid ot h er pa ssynge sore ," Ga he r is c ame to
the bedside , "gote his modir by the h eyre a n d s tra ke of her
'nede " (p. 377) .
1 ame r o k J.· s no t h arme d a t t h i s time •
Malory
s tre s ses the g rossness of this a ction a s well as it s for es ha dowing of downfall through the words of Lo.merok :
Gah erys, Knyght of the Table Rounde .
done , a nd to you gr e te sha me !
modir that b a re y ou?
me !" ( p . 37 8 ) .
" A sir
F owle an d evyll have ye
Ala s, why ha ve ye sla yne your
For wi th more ryg h t y e shu lde h ave s l ayn e
The ques t i on which a ri ses here i s what happe ned
t o the code of chi va lry?
Accordi ng to t h e oa t h m<:l d e and sv·tor n
to by each of t he lmight s on each Pentecos t , Lot ' s sons should
forf e i t their "worship and lords hip o f kynge Art hure fo r evir more " ( p
o
7 5)
o
The wealmess of Arthur in not a biding by this
oa th i s seen in t he fact tha t he disa pproved the a c t
of
r.l orgau s e ' s . murder a nd approved t he relat ions hip betwe e n her
a nd Lame rok ( p . 406) .
have g re a t
La me r ok , on the ot h e r ha n d , proves to
c hiva lri c qualit i es in t hat he re fuses to take
r e veng e upon the s ons of Lot bec ause of the reverenc e he felt
for Ar t hur a n d h i s hig h p o sit i on ( p . 406 )
The e v e n t ua l murde r
o
of S i r La me r ok by Ga.nain and his
b r othe rs, who " wyth grete pa yne . . • s l cwe
h~rm
folounsly ,
unt o a ll g o od knyght es g r e t e damage " ( p . 4 20 ) , brings one
of the ma in turni ng p oints of Morte D' Ar thur.: t o s urface .
'rhe
consea u enc cs of t he t ragi c love a f fa ir b ring obout hir> death ,
'
:ln d the e ff e ct js i mme d i a te ly app.:trent in the rel:1tions of
42
the brotherhood of the Round Table .
The knights a re n ow
divided between the House of Lot a nd the House of Pell i nor .
Fina l
judgment does not come from Arthur , however ; i t
comes
f rom Tristra m, who speaks in s orrow for the waste of FOOd
knighthood .
Tris tra m' s words a re:
" Hi t is shame , th.'l.t sir
Gavmyne a nd ye be commyn of so grete bl ood , that ye
fo~r
brethGrn be so na med as ye b e : for ye be c all ed t he g rettyste
des troyers a nd murtherars of good knyght s tha t i s now in the
realme of Ingelonde " ( p . 422 ).
Tristram ' s stat ement not only
s t:::mds a s a r e cord that some lmights ha v e a lready b een des troyed but also looks
for~srd
to the destruction of the whole
of Arthur ' s High Order of Knight s .
A point to recall ;;.t this
t i me is that the oa th made and sworn to b y each of t he
knights on each Pentecost forba de such conduct ; should a
knight take part in s uch beha vi or, he would f orfeit h is
" worship a nd lordship of kynge Arthure f or evi rmore " ( n . 7 5) .
The fact c a nnot b e s tres~ed too strong l y thQt there is no
mention in the book thnt Ar thur eve r r e nrim<::.nds the sons of
Kin g Lot for either of the sins c ommi tt ed .
The sin of hate
a nd r e venge d isplay ed here looks forvva rd -~o the bas i s of the
pl ot aga inst Lancelot a nd Guineve re .
The ~lot aga inst Lancelot a nd Guinevere , made by
.\ge;rava ine a nd Mordred , i s not s::mct ioned by Gawa in , but
the coTJplete c atas trophe of the R o~d T~blc is seen when
~othe r trap set by t he House of Lot
destroys ma~v knights
43
a nd i s the c a use of the ult imat e downfa ll of the High Order
of Knighthood .
Because of the ha tred (which in all proba-
bility is b ased on envy of Lancelot the " hede of al crysten
knyght eses " ) , the s ons of Lot pla n to tra p him i n the aueen ' s
cha mbers .
This pla n will present positive proof of the
qu een ' s a dultery to Ki ng Arthur .
Lan celot i s trapped in the
queen ' s chambers , a nd in order to escape he not only kills
Aggr a va ine a nd wounds Mo r dred, but l ater, in a battle t o save
Guineve re , h e a ccidentally and unknowingly slays Gaher is a nd
Garet h .
Thus, the Pellinor- Lot feud ha s brought the " £;retti s t
mortall warre that ever w·.::ts " ( p . 685) P and King Arthur e r ieves
for the los e of his " Fay :ry s t fe ly s hyp of noble Jmyghtes that
ev er hylde Crystyn kynge t ogydirs " ( p . 685).
A.rt hur w:1s much
more distreosed a t the lo ss of his g ood lmi ghts than h e w·...1s
for t h e lo ss of his " f a yre qu ene ," for " ouen,ys [he] rny ght have
inow, but s uch a felyshyp of go od lmyghtes shall never be
togydirs in no company " (p . 685) .
Another importa n t thre ad interwoven through the fabric
of t h e brotherhood i s the theme of love .
The code- of- l ove
theme in rtlorte D ' Arthur is perhaps t h e most compelling of
the motifs .
As previously stat ed , the courtly- love tra dition
cLUne to the Arthurian cycle through the French v\Titers .
It
under the femini ne influence of ~.~ arie of Chc:: .mnat;ne that
the courts of love we're established .
Ti1. t""'! SC
cou~t::::
of
'O\.· c
:Jnpplied t he nobility wi t h a nev1 rc.me , -:no the; Prcnc h :::; oc iety
44
did not view the illicit or even a dulterous love as necessarily alien to the spirit of chivalry a nd courtesy . 9
The
basic theory of courtly love was that the courtesy of a
knight was refl ected in his devotion to his l ady ; devotion
i mplied adoration, and adoration desire ; the knight mu st love
h is mistress a s well as serve her.
The chief st r ess , then,
of courtly love was upon service.
It wa s the knight- l over ' s
duty to obey hi s mistress , but it was not her duty to yield
herself to him; yieldin g wa s a purely volunta ry f a v or .
One
critic has observed that " It was this qua lity of servic e a nd
devotion tha t made Lancelot f amous and c a us ed him t o be re garded a s the gr eat exempla r of chivalry . "lO
Awar e of t he pa radoxica l nature of courtly l ove and the
difference between courtly love a nd divinely inspired love ,
l'iialory works diligently to exploit and to define this paradox
and to emphasize its pra ct ice a s one of t he chief f a ilures of
the High Order of Knighthood.
He is careful to illustrate
throughout his work the tragic effect of c ourtly l ove upon
his cha racters.
The cha r a cters of La nc elot and Guine vere
a r e the vehicles by whic h I'Jfalory works to point out this
tragic effect .
The tragedy of thei r love doe s not keep
gHe l en Hill Miller, The Realms of Arthur (London :
fuvies , 1969) , p . 22 .
10
Toylor , p . 89 .
Peter
45
Lancelot f rom being the noblest knight of the Round Ta ble ,
but it does k eep him f rom becoming the noblest kniRht of
Christ i a n ity .
Indeed , the very nature of the l ov e , which i n
itse lf ac c ords with the courtly - love code , l ea ds to re su lts
running count er to the Chri stian code .
Further evidence of the conditions of this love m3y be
i n order.
Lancelot is a warrior of g r e a t prowess and a
lmight of high honor ; he practices mercy and just i c e tmvar d
those whom he has conque red , he is loyal to his king a nd
n_ueen, a nd he is l oyal to his love .
In the t :1l e " Si r
Launcelot du Lake ," Malory early esta bl ishes Lanc e lot ' s
" worship a n d honoure • • • wherefore quene Gwenyvere h a d hym
i n g rete f a voure aboven all othir knyghtis , and s o h e l oved
the qu en e agayne abov en a l l othir l adye s dayes of h is lyff ,
a nd for hir he dud many d edy s of a r mys and saved he r fr ame
the fyre tho row his noble chivalry" ( p . 149 ) .
As has been
previ ously pointed out , his doing his deeds of va lor in her
honor hints a t a f uture d evelopment into a tragic aff a i r
noted particularly in the fact that he "sav ed her fr ome the
fyre ," from death by fire , for "the l aw wa s such i n tho dayes
that whomsomever they were , of what asta t e or degr e , if t hey
were founden gylty of tre son there shuld be none ot he r r emedy
but deth,
• an ryght so was hit ordayned for au e n e
Gwenyv e r " ( p . 682 ) .
The proper a ttitude wit hin the c ode of
court l y love of the knight to his lady is s ervic e .
Lanc elot
46
had promised to serve Guinevere and promised not to fail her
whether she was in the right or whether she was in t he wrong .
Within the code of chivalry Lance l ot was her pledged knight
and was ordained to protect her from all harm.
Bors , Lancelot's honor was in danger .
According to
He counsels Lanc e lot
thus :
Insomuch as ye were takyn with her , whether
ye ded ryght othir wronge, hit ys now youre
pa rte to holde wyth the quene , t ha t she be
nat slayne and put to a myschevous deth .
For and she so dye, the shame shall be ever more youre s . (p. 680)
The da n ge r, then, in the practices of courtly love is
that it is difficult to control and tragic re sult s a r e insepa r a tely connected .
The growing love of La nc el ot fo r Guinevere
is seen in an episode involving four queens (one of whom is
r.!organ le Fay) .
Even though she tries, 1\Torgan le Fay is un-
a ble to cast an enchantment upon Lancelot that will be strong
enough to cause him to yield to any of the four queens of
" ca stell charyot " ( p . 152) , and again in the "Terquyn" episode.
The damsel of this episode informs Lancelot that it i s t old
that he loves the que en Guinevere, a nd tha t she (Guinevere )
has orda ined by enchantment that he shall "never love no
other but hir" ( p . 160 ).
Guinevere's ordaining Lance l ot ' s
love by enchantment s eems t o indica te t he re is " witchery"
involved and ha rks ba ck to the prophecy of I\,erlin in which he
w:1rns Arthur tha t Guinevere would not b e "holsom" for hirr. to
rn~ rry .
47
A steady progression toward an adul terous love is s e en
developing in " Launce lot and Elaine ," as Dame Brusen t e l ls
King Pelles, " Sir, wyte you well sir Launcelot lovyeth no
l ady in the worl de but a l l onl y qu ene Gwenyver ."
Dame Brusen
does , howeve r, have the power to cast an enchantment u pon
Lance l ot, a nd he and Ela ine "lay todydir underne of t h e
morne " ( p . 480).
It vvas of this union that Ga l ahad , the most
perfect knight of the Round Table , was born.
f a ct t o note here i s that
r~~organ
An i nt e r esting
le Fay was unable to c as t an
enchantment over Lancelot strong enou gh to cause him to be
untrue to hi s love of Guinevere , but Dame Brusen , the advocate
of El aine, i s able to do so .
In a n involved way , Ma l or y
undermines the love of Lance lot and Guine vere .
1\':alory ' s
reas on for doing s o will b e di scussed l a ter .
'1/hen Ln.ncelot discove r s that he has been t h us enchanted ,
h e i s a n ge red beyond a l l re a son .
l i fe .
El a ine ha s t o p l ead fo r her
Her words echo the past , the present , and the f uture .
Sh e tells Lancelot that she has only fulfilled t h e comman dment of her f a ther and obeyed the prophecy .
In fulfill i ng
t his prophecy, she ha s given him the greatest riches a n d the
f a irest flower that she had to offer , her "maydynh ode ," and
t hi s v~s s omething she would n ever have aga in ( p . 481 ) .
The
me ntion of Ela ine ' s v irginity rec a lls the virg in b i r th of
Christ .
the
Th i s Christlike symbolism i s further portrayed i n
ap~ ea ranc e ,
·
ana' Bors , of a " w"'·ygh
t d owve " and
t o ~'1 a 1ne
~~
a m::!. iden tha t " ba re [the] Sa nkgreall " who openly t e l ls them
48
that this child, born of Lancelot and Elaine , will sit in the
" Syege Perelous ," that he will achieve the " Se.nkgreall ," and
that he will surpass his f a ther , Lancel ot ( p . 482) .
reminde d of Matthew 3.16 which reads :
"
One is
lo the heavens
were opened unto him , a nd he saw t he spirit of God desc endine
. . ."
like a dove .
Thus t he circums tances of the birth of
Ga l ahad he lp to render h im a type of Christ .
Sometime l a ter El aine comes to King Arthur ' s court and
whan sir Launce lot sye her he was s o as ha med ,
[ a nd] that bycaus e he dre w hy s swerde to her
on the morne a ft ir that he had l ayne by her ,
that he wolde n at sal ewe her nether spekc
wyth he r . An d yet s ir La uncelot thought that
she was the f a yre st woman that ever he sye in
his lyett dayes . ( pp . 485- 86)
This poignantly points to a n imperfection in the " hede of
Crysten knyghtes ," and hints to wha t mig h t have been .
To reinforce the ri ghtness and the meaning o1 the union
of Lancelot
a nd El a ine, Ma lory a llows Lancelot to be en-
chanted a second time .
Lanc elot aga in l i es with Sla ine .
Ironical ly, Elaine ' s guest chambers a r e next to the chambers
of Guinevere .
Wh en Guineve re di s covers that Lunc el ot has
been with El aine , her wrath causes him to bee orne ".::ts wylde as
eve r v.;a s ma n.
And so he r a n two yere , and never man h ad gr a ce
to know hym" ( p . 437 ) .
'rhe f act that IJa nc elot b ecame so angry
with Elaine tha t he drew his sword towa rd her , and the fact
that he lost his mind for two years , indicates the spiri tue.l
~g ony he felt at the a ct of being unt rue to his l ove ,
49
Guinevere.
From this point on, the lovers move toward a
tragic end .
It is at this point that Malory speaks through El a ine .
She says to Guinevere:
Madame, ye ar gretly to blame for sir
Launcelot, for now have ye loste hym,
for I saw and h a rde by his countenaunc e
tha t he ys madde for ever . And t h er e fore ,
ala s ! madame , ye have done grete synne a nd
youreselff grete dyshonoure, for y e ha ve a
lorde roya ll of y oure owne , a nd therefor e
hit were youre p arte for to love hym; fo r
there ys no quene in thi s worl de tha t h::1t h
suche a nother kyng,e as ye ho.ve. And yf ye
were nat , I myeht ha ve getyn the love of
my lorde sir Launcelot; a nd a g rete c au se
I h a ve to love hym, for he had de my
maydynhode and by hym I have borne a f ayre
sonne whose [name] ys sir Galaha d . And he
shall be in hys tyme the beste knyght of
the worlde. ( pp . 487-88 )
The grea t tragedy of the a dulterous love of Lan celot :1nd
Guinevere is , then , that it is not only trag ic for t he lovers,
but i t is a l s o tragic for others outside the court as v;rell as
the Hig h Orde r of Knighthood .
It speeds t ovv:tr d the end of
the High Ord e r, and it bri n g s dea th not only to Elaine , who
d ies from g rief for Lancelot a s her love f or him i s divine ,
but ~lso to innocent and honora ble knig ht s , and ultim~tely
leads to the death of the "noble s t Crystyn h-ynge ."
Such
trag ic ends come to the courtly lovers of IITort e D' Art hur .
The love rs who reach tragic ends a re L2nce l ot - Guin evere ,
p,·rorgan l e F:.ly- 1\ccolon , I s ode- Tri stra m, f,lorgau se- Lo.me r ok, and ,
of course , the mo s t trag ic of a ll--Arthur- r.:or gau se --the union
50
which brings into the world the son , r.fordred, who is l a ter to
kill his king a nd father .
The lovers who r each tragic per-
portions a re Lanceor-Golumbe (ca using the most dolorouD
stroke) , Pelleas - Et t a rd (ca using the dea th of Ettnrd) , a nd
S ir r.tyles - Alyne (causing the death of r.'iyles o.nd Alyne) .
Ac -
cording to Edmund Reiss , there a re many ot h er examples of
excessive love .
He discus ses the m a s follows :
Aunoure , be-
cause he r love of Arthur is not reciproc ated , t ries to h:::.vc
t he king killed ( p . 364) ; morgan le Fay l oves Lance l ot end
since she is unable to win him, she h a tes Gui nevere and tries
constant l y to shame Art hur e nd his court (p . 413 ); Sir
I\ n l egryne ki l l s te n g ood knjght s und at le:u;t ten other
lmiehts for the love oi' Guinevere ( p . 4 79 ); :\ lexa ndcr t'1c
Orphan is
.:t
prisoner of 1\'! organ le Fay for l u s tful r e'"'sons
( p . 480) ; a nd 3 ir Persyde s is bound and cha ined b e c nuse he
r efus es to love an " uncurteyse l a dy " ( p . 600 ) .
In addition ,
Tieiss states that the e xc essive love of Palomides f o r I~olde
hos both ~ood and evil b earings upon Arthur ' s court .
The eood
is that Pa lomides loves Is olde without " offenc e " ( p . 510 ) , a nd
th is love does n ot prevent his seeking the spiritual love of
God .
The evi l of the love is that P a lomides is ~: o toroented
by his u nsat isfied love f or IsoldA thn t he pnvics and hates
lwr L0vr r ,
l't· iui. t•:tm .
l\ill 'P t~ i~~t. t·:t t:t .
He ,
11. i ~~ h L~
thc rcf~' t·c ,
tr · it · ·~ rc ~·il:~H~e :~ n.~ to
Lnt·nLn:- to :~ ~'L~ · i:1r:l
lovr ti··~r.
51
Christianity, Elaine's love for Lancelot is in itself not
bad, but becomes so because it is improperly used.
If the
love had not been improperly used, she would not have died
out of love for Lancelot.
"It must be emphasized that l ove
itself is not being criticized; for, as Paul writ es ,
' To
crown a ll, there must be love, to bind a ll together and complete the whole.' 1111
Even though fl'i alory is clearly depicting courtly l ove a.s
a corruption of lives, he uses it to his advantage in situational characteri zation.
in this way:
He cleverly u ses
a.
Christ i an ethic
r.ialory allows Guinevere to pass judgment upon
Palomides concerning his excessive love for Isolde .
She
elaborates upon her judgment of Palomides by advising him
that his envy of Tristram will jeopardize his conduct a nd his
reputation, and therefore, he vall never win honor (p. 567) .
~atthew
7.1-2 reads, "Judg e not tlmt be y e not judged .
with what
For
judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged : a nd with
what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again ."
Guinevere is finally judged by these same s t andards--she
j eopa rdizes her conduct and her r eput at ion, and , therefore ,
she loses her honor .
There a re good manifesta tions of l ove in Tilorte D' Arthur
e ven though t here a r e fewer examples--Pelleas- Nineve ,
11Reiss, p. 164 .
52
Gar eth- Lyoness--and there a re many other knights who have
ladies who spur them on to noble deeds , and conseque ntly
c ause their nobility to increase ; but the l a dies a re hardly
emphas ized at a 11 . 12
Malory is not without humor on the subject of love
either , for the most lova ble knight of a ll pa sses comment
on the matter .
He says , " God deffende me ! for the joy of
love i s to shorte a nd the sorrow thereof [and what com0th
there of] is duras over longe " ( p . 424) .
Palomide s plays an import ant role not only in the code
of love but a lso i n the code of r eligion .
P~lom i dcs
in first
!)resented in
T.~ort e
not bee orne
knight of the Round Table unt il he bee omes a
Christian .
Q
D' Arthur n.s a Sn r n c en (hcnthen) .
He cn.n-
He explain s thnt he will not bec ome a Chriotian
until he has done seven true battles for Je sus ' s ake .
This
medieval period , lmovm as the Age of Fn.i th , was characterized
by a unity in the belief that it was th e duty of man to conduct life a ccording to the la\vs of God a nd that God had
right to receive worship.
A Christian vvas one who
h~d
'"!
been
bapti zed a nd who by the duties a nd rights which he a c quired
through bapt ism was secur ed his place in the world .
tianity wus , then, a system of ideas
:)l:1.cc
j
n the universe .
J~
. .
· hcJss
,
rm .
11.] - 16 , p·1ss ir.1.
r el~tin&
to
m~n
ChrisQnd his
53
According to Summerfield Baldwin, Christianity taught:
"There was a God, existing from all time and to a ll time,
before and after and above all time, therefore, eternal .
This God was also without limit, infinite, everywhere
present, knowing all things (omniscient), being able to do
all things (omnipotent), and the most remarkable characteristic of God was love • • • • " 1 3
The emphasis upon Palomides and his conversion to
spiritual love (Christianity), then, fore shadows the coming
episode of the quest for the Holy Grail.
After his con-
version, Palomides no longer desires worldly honor, he no
longer envies Tristram, he no longer dwells on hate , and he
no longer seeks earthly love.
Reiss suggests tha t Palomides '
change is symbolic of the change which will be neces s a ry for
the brotherhood of the Round Table to make • 14 The knights
must turn from the earthly love to the spiritual love .
In this Age of Faith, when learning was centered in the
Church and the Church was the center of the medieval life,
r:Ialory would be expected to include a theme of religion within
the framework of Marte D'Arthur.
King Arthur , there fore , was
a "noble Crysten kyng, " and he was dedicated to overc oming
heathens and to bringing Christian knights to the Round Ta ble .
1 3summerfield Baldwin, The Organizat ion of 1\ledieval
Christianity (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1929) , PP · 9-13.
14Reiss, p. 120 .
54
Since Arthur's knights rode in quest for "marvelos adventures" which would bring "worship" to them, to their king,
a nd/or to their paramour, Malory present s these quests a s
transi tory in nature .
The s ea rch for the Holy Grail , the
object of the ideal , then, would of nece ssity be their final
quest.
Through this quest , the knights would bring mean ing
to their worldly quests . 1 5
I agree with Reiss in his suggestion that Palomides '
change is symbolic of the change which the brotherhood must
make ; however, I will add that it is my thesis that Malory
used Palomide s as a symbolic transition from earthly living
to spiritual living.
Palomides is explicit in that h e must
win seven battles for the sake of Jesus.
To me, the seven
bat tles would be representative of the seven deadly sins
i nherent in man--sins which he must conquer .
After these
sins are conqu ered, he must seek forgiveness ; he is , then,
gr anted forgiveness , and is baptized.
followed in Palomides' conversion.
This is the proc edure
The f east at Ar thur ' s
court which c elebrates the christening of Palomides is r eminis c ent of t he heavenly celebration, as r ecor ded in
Luke 15.7 , of the ". • • j oy [that J sha ll be in heaven over
one sinner that r epent et h ••
. ."
Sir Galahad , the perfect
knight, who appears at this feast , is r epre sentative of man
15Reiss, p . 20 .
55
(confessed and baptized) now without sin who will make his
earthly journey through Christianity, the one who will
finally attain the Holy Grail (Christ's salvation), and the
one who will be lifted up to heaven.
The Grail quest is presented by Malory as a reason for
the existence of the Round Table; 16 therefore, some background on the Grail tradition will be of interest.
The Grail
tradition began with Chretien de Troyes' "Conte del Graal."
Perceval, the hero, is a guest in a castle where he encounters
the mystery of a procession in which are carried a bleeding
l ance and a vessel which lights up the hall.
He does not in-
quire as to the meaning of this event; therefore, his host,
the Fisher King, remains maimed and the country remains a
wasteland.
Robert de Boron in his Joseph d'Aremathie, or his
"Estoire du Graal," identifies the lance of Chretien's poem
as the one which was used to pierce Christ's side and the
Grail as the cup from which He drank at the Last Supper.
The
.
d s1' d e. 17
cup was used to catch the blood from the p1erce
The source which Malory uses is the Vulgate Cycle "La
Queste del Saint Graal," and according to Eugene Vinaver
16Reiss, p. 157.
1 7charles Moorman, The ~ of Kyng ~rthu::: The Unity
Qf Ma l _o ry 's Norte Darth~Lexington:
Un1vers1ty OfKentucky
Press , 19 6 5 ) , p • 29 •
56
Malory follows this source very closely; however, he does
not slavishly follow any source •18
Malory is the only
J,iiddle English writer to treat the quest of the Holy Grail.l9
Again, according to Moorman, Malory reduced the religious
fabric and tone of the whole tale and adapted the quest to
the history of Arthur's court.
In the Grail quest of the
French Vulgate Cycle, the French hero's f ailure is the
general failure of all mankind, whereas Malory saw the f a ilure
of the Grail Quest not as a symbol of mankind's f a ilure, but
rather the ultimate failure of members of Arthur 's court. 20
The origin or varia tion of the theme of the Holy Gra il
is not important to this study.
The important fact is that
r.lalory did include the quest and used it as one of the
unifying devices of his work.
The Grail is first a lluded to
in Book I in the tale of "Ba lin."
Because Balin did not pre-
vent Columbe from killing herself when she saw her lover
dead, she commits suicide because of the great, true love
that was between them ( p. 45).
Merlin predicts or foretells
of the e v ents to follow and gives specific details of the
18Ibid., p. 32.
York:
l9Albert C. Baugh, A Literary HistoaiJ of England
Appleton-century-crofts , Inc., 194)-,p . 182 •
20
r.Ioorman, p.
33.
( New
57
consequence he calls the "stroke moste dolerous that ever
man stroke."
Merlin further prophesies that Balin
• shalt hurte the trewyst k:nyght and
the man of moste worship that now lyvith;
and tho row that stroke three kyngdoreys
shall be brought into grete proverte,
miseri and wrecchednesse twelve yere.
And the knyght shall nat be hole of that
wounde many yerys. (p. 45)
Despite the fact that the Grail quest v~s a spiritual
quest , King Arthur saw the quest as a disaster.
His sorrow
a nd greatest concern was that all the knights of the Round
Table would depart on this venture and he would never see
them all together again ( p. 520).
Many of the lmights did
depa rt on the quest , but only three were even pa rtially
successful:
Galahad, Perceval, and Bors.
The honor of the
Grail was achieved only by those who were perfect or ne a rly
perfect in spirit and body.
Galahad was perfect.
He \V<ls
described as being as "demure as a dove" ( p. 516), a n d I1!alory
uses him as a "lesson in heavenly chivalry. " 21 Perceval was
the original Grail knight; therefore, he had to become pa rt
of the quest .
He was nearly perfect; however, he a llowed
himself to drink too much wine and become almost persuaded by
a "ja ntillwoman of great beaute" to "lay" with her (p. 550).
Bors, on the other hand , was one who was "never gretly
correpte in fleys s ly lusts but in one tyme tha t he begat
21 Ibid ., p . 41.
58
Ely an le Blanke " ( p. 564) •
Bors, therefore , is chara c-
teri zed as a lmight less great than Lancelot and less s i nful
than Lancelot.
Bors confessed and rep ented his sin of lust ·
1
there fore , he is able to a ch i eve the Gra il by dilig ently
following the path leading from temp oral va lues to s piritual
va l ues .
He is depic ted as a worldly man who is able t o t a ke
the vows of his conversion and remain steadfa st therea ft er
in God ' s service . 22
Lancelot is deni ed a chievement of the Grail e ven t h oueh
he i s "hede of a l Crystcn knyghtes" ( p. 725).
His o.dv entures
do, however, t a ke him closer to t h e Gra il than any of the
other knights of the Round Ta ble.
Lancelot's tie to the
worldly realm of love (Guinever e ) prevents his tot a l c onversion to t he l ov e of God.
Through t he words of " a go od
man," Lancelot finds that he v-ri.ll not have the powe r to see
the Grail "no more than a blynde man •
• • sholde se a bryght
s 'lverde ," and the reason is that he [ Lancelot] "ys l onee on
[hy s ] synne , and ellys [he] were more a b e l er t han Ol'lY man
lyvyng e " ( p. 553 ).
I\lalory lea ves no doubt in t he mind of his
render that he is indic tine the " 'uhole compl ex of a dultery
o.nd strife . u 2 3 Lanc elot is a pa rt of t he court ' o gre a t est
a dven tures , inc luding the fi~~l test (t he Grail qu est ) , a nd
22
2
Ibid ., p . 44 .
~e is s , p . 1 31 .
59
in his failure of this te st , then, lies the symbolic f a ilure
of the whole system of chivalry since Lancelot, though the
perfect embodiment of the system, represents the sins that
are to lead to the destruction of the noble brotherhood of
the Round Table.
His failure is the more complete b e c ause
the possible answer to his soul ' s needs was so near a nd
beca u se in his pride he erred a&ainst his Crea tor (p.
557) .
LS-YJ.celot took the secular pa thway b 2.ck to Arthur's court,
and " o.s the booke sayth, sir Launcelot began to resorte unto
quene Gwenivere agayne and forgate the promys e o.nd the perfcc c ion that he mo. de in the quest • • • " ( p . 611) •
Bugene Vinaver asserts that the Quest for the Holy
Grail condemned the Round Table in no unc erta.in t e r ms :
"In
this quest your lmighthood will avail you nothing if the Holy
Ghost does not open the
V{G.Y
for you in a ll your adventures . 11
The lmights who achieved the holy quest, Ga l a had, Perceva l ,
and Bors , were those who had had little or no pa rt in the
adven tures of the
~\rthur i an
Ro~tnd
Table.
And the gr eat heroes of
chiva lry were disqua lifi ed either •• wholly , l ike
Gmv:::in, or p a rtly , like Lancelot 11 who \'ras all owed only to
a pproa ch the ·!;hreshold of the sanctuary.
perished because it had offended God . 24
The Round Tc:.ble
2 4Eugene Vinaver , .. r~·. _ alory ' s Le I.Iort e Da rthur,
i n .Ar thur ,
Ap plet on Kin& of Dri t a i n , cd . Ri cha rd L. Dr enel e ( New York :
Cent ury-Crofts, Inc ., 1 9 64) , pp . 400- 01 .
11
60
The earthly honors and love are seen in the Grail quest
as inadequate.
Worldly quests are no longer held up as the
things one should desire most.
"At the heart of the medi-
eval attitude toward life is the idea that one must go beyond
the surface of things, beyond the beauty of the created world
to the ultimate source of the beauty. " 24 And in the words of
St. Augustine as quoted by Reiss, "All sins are contained in
this one category, turning away from things divine and truly
enduring, and turning toward those which are changeable and
uncertain. u 25
2 4-aeiss, p. 113.
2 5Ibid.
CHAPTER IV
CONCLUSION
"The turning away from things divine and truly enduring,
and turning towa rd those which a re changeable and unc erta in" 1
a pt ly describes r.Ialory ' s Nl:orte D 'Arthur.
Despite the mar-
v elous adventures which the Holy Grail quest -vvas to p r e sent
to the High Order of Knights of the Round Table , the quest
did not bring honor to Arthur' s court as h ad been predicted
2
by Sir Lancelot.
And despite the fact t hat the Gr ail \v:::ts
a chieved by Ga l a had, Perceva l, and Bors, the quest w·u s coneluded without "ennobling permanently the world of the Round
Table • "3
Lane e1ot, the perfect chiva lric !might, wa s the
only other knight of the Round Ta ble who was honored with a
spir itual~
uplifting adventure concernine the Gra il.
Lcmcelot saw:
• • • the ca ndyllstyk with the [ s i x]
tapirs c~ before the crosse, and he
saw nobody that brought hit . Al s o
there cam a t a ble of syl ver and the
1
~dmund Reiss , Sir Thomas r~!alory
Publishers , Inc., 19bbJ, p . l 33 .
( New York:
T'r\Gyne
2Thoma s r.:a 1ory, \Yorks , ed . Eug~ne Vinaver ( London :
Oxford Un iversity Press , 1971) , p . 522 . S ubs e ~uent r e f e r enc e s
to this edition will be incor por a ted pa renthet1c a lly i nt o the
...
'
~.. en .
,
~)el·,~s
,
. \.
~
.l,.J, .
1~">
/ 8•
61
62
holy vessell of the Sank:grea1 which
sir Launcelot had sene toforetyme in
kynge Pe[scheo]rs house. (p. 537)
Lance lot, however, had no power to awake when the holy vessel
was brought before him because "he dwelleth in som dedly
synne whereof he was never confessed" (p. 537).
Lancelot's
f a ilure to a chieve the Grai l was due to two important human
failings--he was guilty of the sin of adultery a sin of the
body and he was guilty of the sin of pride a sin of the
spirit.
No one is more aware of these failings than he.
In
the end of the work, Lancelot as a priest saw Guinevere "put
in th 'erth" beside her husband, Arthur, and his human heart
su£fered.
The principal rea son for his grief was his re-
membering "how by [his] defaute and [his ] orgule and [his]
pryde that they were bothe layed ful lowe •• ·" (p. 723) .
Malory is careful to show how deceiving appearances can
be.
A "hermyte," a man of God, tells Lancelot that God is
displeased with his behavior when Lancelot swoons at the
graveside of these two people whom he loves.
It is far to
ea sy, Ifialory seems to say, to judge a situation from the
surface appearance; to do so is to judge unjustly.
I do not
believe as does Moorman that Lancelot swooned at the dea th
of Guinevere because he was still intent on the "lustful
love" they had shared; r a ther he swooned because, as he sa i d ,
he wa s much to blame for great sorrow to both his love and
his ki ng .
His words seem to me, then, to clea rly indica t e
63
his repented state of mind.
He says, "I trust I do not
dysplese God, for He knoweth nzyn entente • • • " ( p. 7 23) .
':le find, however, that God has not been displeased with
Lancelot's actions; He has in fact seen into Lancelot's
heart and known his "entente."
The last vision of "syre
La uncelot [was] with mo angellis than ever [was seen by the
Bysshop] men in one day" ( p. 724).
Lancelot alone was not to blame for the dis honor
brought to his king and queen.
Guinevere is much to blame ,
a s can be seen in the t a le of "The Poisoned Apple."
Guinevere is not guilty of eating the forbidden fruit and ,
thereby, of obtaining the knowledge of the tree of l ife , but
out of her jealousy of and spitefulness to\mrd Lancelot fo r
his changed a ttitude toward her she sets the stage for the
final scene of the tragedy.
Guinevere's natural human
instinct for revenge draws the court toward disaster.
Her
personality is not a s important a t this point as a r e the imperfections which are a part of her human nature.
Jea l ous
and envious, and fearful that Lance lot's love "begynnth t o
slake,"
she vies for her position as first in his thoughts
a nd service (the code of courtly love and the code of
chivalry), because Lance lot, a ft er the Gr ail quest , " applyed
bym dayly to do for the pleasure of our Lorde J esu Cryst"
(p. 511).
Thus , Guinevere "begins to a ct like a spoile d
64
demanding woman."
4
The "boldenesse" resulting therefrom
brought shame and slander to the court; since Lancelot had
determined to be the queen ' s lmight "in rygb.t othir in
wronge" and since Guinevere has come to the point of no
longer caring a bout honor and reputation, the a ction begins
to move from noble to ignoble.
The theme of Marte D'Arthur turns once again to
excessiveness in love.
Guinevere, according to Reiss, must
b e taken as a symbol of the dangers of excessive ea rthly
love and of what will happen when one puts one' s eye wholly
on surface attractions.
Surface attractions a re like
Guinevere, then, unstable and shifting, and we a re again
reminded of r,·Ierlin 's prediction that she would not b e
"holsom" to marry.
The "unholsomness" of Guinevere h as
proven fat a l not only to Arthur, her husband, but a l so t o
her lover, Lancelot.
Guinevere, therefore, may be viewed
a s the "worldly alternate to the Holy Gra il" and a s t he
"counterpart of Perceva l's sister."
The worldly, then, is
a n inadequate substitute for the spiritual, and destruc tion
i s inferior to sa ving.
It is Reiss's opinion that
Gui nevere, conta ining the fla ws of Eve, ironically r eplaces
the virg in. 5
••'1 'c ,.
l
r.
,,.~
.._._,
"-' ,
9.
160 .
:,)Re is s , pp . 158-6 2 .
65
Nor is Guinevere wholly to blame.
place beside her in guilt.
Arthur must t ake his
Arthur has exhibited vvealmess i n
his marriage, as he put the fellowship of the Round Table
a bove all else.
He fails also in the authority of his c curt •
He fails to enforce the standards of the oa th of the Round
Ta ble and thus the code of chivalry.
He allows Gawain to
dominate the court after the downfa ll begins and is stripped
of a ll dignity when he allows Gawain to pull him into continued b at tles against Lancelot much against his own will .
Despite a l l that has happened, Arthur recognizes Lancelot as
a superior knight.
l\1a lory 's Arthur was king and ruler of the Round Ta ble;
thus the affairs of the Round Table were his whole life.
His
greatest concern was that he possess the most "worshipful "
knights, and he was most g rieved for the loss of the fellowship of his knights.
He said, ". • • now have I los te the
f a yryst felyship of noble knyghts that ever hylde Crystyn
1~nge
togydirs" (p. 685).
Arthur's tragic human fla w, then,
is his excessive pride in the High Order of Knights known
fo r their g rea t "prowess " and their grea t "worship. "
His
g r eat est desire seems to be t hat he vrcwnts to h old fast to
the world.
Arthur is unab l e to see tha t
the Gr ail qu est is
in a ctuality the whole reason for the exist enc e of the Order;
however , the lmights too beca me too int ent in their seeking
of worldly recognit i on a nd worship for Ar thur ' s court ·
The
66
king enjoyed these marvelous adventures of his knights, and
it became a ritual for the lmights to vie for first position
in the Order.
Arthur and each of his knights, therefore,
suffer from the sin of pride--the "he de of every synne" ( p.
531).
Arthur's final realiza tion of the fruit lessness of his
efforts appea rs in his dying words, "Comfort thyself, and do
as well as thou mayste, for in me ys no truste for to truste
in" ( p. 716).
Malory does not judge King Arthur; indeed,
the final judgment of his fruits is not lmovm.
We a re only
told that Arthur must go into the "vale of Avylyon" to heal
his grievous wounds.
These wounds refer to his bodily
wounds; however, symbolically speaking, Arthur may have been
referring to the need to hea l his grievous spiritual wound-a n eed for a restoration of his soul •
.t' \.nother tragedy underlying the downfall of the Order,
the theme of brother against brother, is prominent throughout
the book.
This tmnatural act is not only anti-christian, but
i t also breaks the code of chivalry.
Through this theme,
the House of Lot and the House of Pellinor must share the
b l ame for downfa ll.
The House of Lot i s plagued by human
fai lings : jea lousy, malicious r evenge, hate, envy, wrath,
rashness , and murder, which has been used against the
brothers of the knighthood.
It is further described as a
house condemned because of the us e of trickery and " open-
67
mouthedness."
The House of Pellinor must also carry its
weight of the cross, for it has been guilty of deceit, lust,
and murder.
Malory's Morte D'Arthur, then, is a recording of the
human behavior which underlies the downfall of the High Order
of Knighthood, and he depicts these human "tragic .flaws" as
being inherent in all the knights of the Round Table.
Malory
points out that it is not the tragic flaw of any particula r
person which causes the fall of the Order, but he seems to
underline the fact that it is the culmination of faults of
all the individuals within the society which moves the action
toward the ultimate downfall.
The earthly Round Table (the court--the feudal system),
then, had become a representation contrary to the medieval
Christian doctrine.
It was symbolic of lust of the flesh,
covetousness, and pride.
The l ady of the court, the object
of love, had become synonymous with sexual lust or adultery,
a nd the knights of the feudal system had entered an arena of
envy and hate; thus, chivalry and its intent on "worship"
degenerated into pride--the head of all sin.
Malory signs his grea t work "Syr Thomas Maleore,
knyght," and "servaunt of Jesu bothe day and nyght."
It ap-
pea rs that he felt he ha d made his journey through life.
'.Vhat his pa rticular sin or sins were are not important; he
felt, I am sure , tha t he was starting on his final upward
68
movement from the earth realm into the spiritual realm.
Therefore, Malory 's Morte D'Arthur is his recording which
represents man's journey through life, a journey which is
made not on a "straight and narrow" path but rather on
many paths that divide and diverge, leading toward final
destiny.
The full meaning of this work may be expressed in the
term of man's quest for deeper meaning, or man's quest for
God.
Malory' s work, like classical tragedies, has a be-
ginning, a middle, and an end.
The beginning emphasizes
that man lives in a pagan world, that he struggles for
power, and that he struggles to bring order into the world.
The middle portion of the book stresses the Christianity
quest-.-the turning toward something which is greater than
struggle .
The end concerns the knowledge which man has
g ained through his previous struggle.
What one has gained
a t the end will be what he has to offer to his Creator.
If man has failed to gain any knowledge or to produce a:ny
fruits for his Creator, then he suffers a sense of f a ilure-indeed, his personal tragedy.
One critic notes that "Even in our process of lea rning
the things we are to continue in heaven we cannot expe ct
to be free from failure, but we c an learn from what is n ot
g ood a s well a s wha t is good.
So a s oul may see 'by t h e
69
means of evil that God is best. '"
6
Even in the downf'all of
the High Order of Knighthood, there was nobility in purpose.
The failure of the knighthood is a part of the imperfectibility of the nature of man.
Despite the fall of the High Order of Knighthood, as
A . B. Ferguson notes, Morte D'Arthur contributes to the
change in social history of the concept of the medieval
knight to the sixteenth-century gentleman with his sense
of civic responsibility, and is perhaps one of the most important
i~
our social history.?
6 vi Marie Buster Taylor. "Imagery in the Poetry of
Robert Browning," (M.A. thesis, Texas Woman ' s University,
1951), p. 32.
1D. s. Brewer, "The Present Study of Ivialory" in
Arthurian Romance, edited by D. D. R . Owen (New York: Barne s
& Noble
Inc., 1971), p. 87, citing from A. B. Ferguson,
The Indian Summer . of ~lish Chi valg (Durham, North
Ca rolina: Duke Unl. versl. ty Press, 19 0) •
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