English 245 with Dr. G @ SUNY TC3
2. Beowulf 1
3. Beowulf 2
4. Middle Ages
6. Sir Gawain
9. Wife of Bath
11. Biblical Drama
12. Play of Mankind
14. Thomas More
15. Philip Sidney
16. Print Culture
17. Walter Raleigh
18. Twelfth Night 1
19. Twelfth Night 2
20. Civil War
22. Aphra Behn
23. Reading Papers
25. Rape of the Lock
27. New God
** 7. Malory **
Arthur in Gutenberg!
READINGS FOR THIS LESSON
Vol. 1A, pages
25-26, 259-291 from
Longman 3rd ed.
ASSIGNMENTS FOR THIS LESSON
This lesson includes both a quiz and a journal writing assignment to be submitted on the interactive course site at SUNY Learning Network.
Write for an hour (or more if you have time). Summarize the readings. Some other journaling ideas for today include:
|For a sample journal, see Dr. G's 2007 Brit Lit 1 Journal.|
Rounding out Arthur's story in this lesson, we jump ahead to 1485. That is when Arthur was introduced to an emerging reading public, an audience broader than that of courts and monasteries, an audience potentially as large as all readers of English. The meeting place was Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur (or Morte Darthur), edited, mass printed on a new fangled printing press, and sold by the first English book retailer, William Caxton of Westminster (c. 1422- c. 1492).
Nineteenth century illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley contributed to the Victorian revival of Arthurian legend and book illumination
Whoever he was, Malory reflected the turbulence of the Wars of the Roses in his fictional world of complicated intrigue, slander, grue, religiosity, treachery, delusion, and despair. Malory's Arthur and Guinevere seem to mirror the polite but sometimes catatonic Henry VI (1421-1471), and Henry's slandered queen, the beautiful Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482). If political parallels of this kind were intended, as they seem, then the author of would have had reason to hide his identity behind "Thomas Malory." And if he understood the secret, Caxton would have been smart to keep it.
Perhaps following Malory's lead, Shakespeare would found his career on "history plays" dramatizing the reign of Henry VI and other events that led to the creation of the Tudor dynasty and the later reign of his queen Elizabeth I .
Malory pushes the stories along much faster than the
leisurely French Arthurian romances that he used as sources.
As if to peel away the rationality of the action, Malory
drops the explanatory and moralizing passages from the
source texts while he maintains
their action. The result is enigmatic, sometimes
inconsistent plots that are episodic and diffuse,
filled with short scenes of brief dialogue and a big cast of
characters, often featuring minor figures
like Sir Pinel and Patrise in "The Poisoned Apple," or
Lucan and Bedivere in "The Day of Destiny."
The storybook collection has a
consistently melancholy tone but no central hero, or
other unifying plot device, to bring controlled continuity to the
But the music is broken as is the flow of meaning. Malory is an originator of paratactic sentence structure, its independent clauses linked by simple coordinating conjunctions, and without the implicit explanatory logic of subordinate clauses. There are few transition words or none. Descriptions of events and speeches are abbreviated and uninterpreted, leaving the reader to piece together what is happening and why.
Many noble and dyuers gentylmen of thys royame of Englond camen and demaunded me many and oftymes / wherfore that I haue not do made & enprynte the noble hystorye of the saynt greal [Grail]/ and of the moost renomed crysten kyng / Fyrst and chyef of the thre best crysten and worthy / kyng Arthur / whyche ought moost to be remembred emonge vs englysshe men tofore al other crysten kynges . . .
To whome I answerd / that dyuers men holde oppynyon / that there was no suche Arthur / and that alle suche bookes as been maad of hym / ben fayned and fables / by cause that somme cronycles make of hym no mencyon ne remembre hym noo thynge ne of his knyghtes /
wherto they answerd / and one if specyal sayd / that in hym that shold say or thynke / that there was neuer suche a kynge callyd Arthur / myght wel be aretted grete folye and blyndenesse / For he sayd that there were many euydences of the contrarye / Fyrst ye may see his sepulture in the monasterye of Glastyngburye / And also in polycronycon in the v book the syxte chappytre / and in the seuenth book the xxiij chappytre/ where his body was buryed and after founden and translated in to the sayd monasterye / ye shal se also in thystorye of bochas in his book de casu principum / parte of his noble actes / and also of his falle / Also galfrydus in his brutysshe book recounteth his lyf / and in dyuers places of Englond / many remembraunces ben yet of hym and shall remayne perpetuelly / and also of his knyghtes
Caxton’s Prologue is not unlike a jacket
blurb today, using the words of persons of prestige to
promote the appeal or social utility of the merchandise.
Note Caxton’s insistence on the “noble and dyuers
gentylmen” who press him to publish a full Arthurian
narrative. He touts his book politically, too: the
French in one direction and Welsh in another have all
the stories of Arthur, but the English “nowher nye alle.”
Caxton will supply the lack, though he does even this
under the favor and correction of both lords and
gentlemen: he is a servant of the reading public. Literate clerics are not the author's only
choice for audience any more, nor is the noble patron
the sole supporter of the writer's enterprise. The new
commercialism of the age of books is already under way.
Founder of the Tudor dynasty Henry Tudor (Henry VII) initiated programs of law enforcement, taxation and regulation that kept the barons in check and built the powers of the monarchy.
In Caxton, print culture arrived in England. Printing presses enabled standardized mass education, standardized miseducation, and standardizeed fantasy.
If you can find it in a monastery or book, it must be true? Caxton does not necessarily agree.
The Miracle of
The acceptance of death is the same theme as that presented in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but Galahad brings no garters back to Camelot. He doesn't even come back, and there's finally no Camelot to come back to. Galahad's vision of the grail is represented in terms of the Eucharist, the mass as a repetition of the Last Supper (compare also the twelve knights at Corbenic to the twelve of Jesus), and the transubstantiation of the wafer into the body of Christ. The Lord's meal transforms the flawed Round Table to a imagined spiritual fellowship on an unearthly plane.
Galahad's tale is thick with death, corpses and burials and wishes for death. The saintly knight heals the wounded and the sick, but it's a bizarre sort of healing that frees the patients to die and leave this world, rather than rejoin and reform it. No other knights can match Galahad's level of detachment. The last words of Lancelot's son are unsuccessful in raising Lancelot from his entanglement in the world and tragic passion for Guinevere.
The poisoned apple explores the sad paradox at the center of Malory's book: Arthur can't win with or without Lancelot. Desire for Guinevere is what keeps his star knight at court, yet overall it undermines the code and cohesion of the court. Public celebration of the Round Table is possible only in silence about the affair.
Arthur is undone by the animosities among
his knights. Sir Patrise is killed accidentally when Sir
Pinel tries to poison Sir Gawain. Sir Mador then tries
to avenge the death of Patrise, resulting in the recall
of Sir Lancelot and renewal of his affair with
Guinevere. This in turn results in the death of Gawain's
brothers, who are attempting to expose Lancelot's
adultery, so Gawain takes revenge against Lancelot, and
the whole kingdom is weakened to the point that Arthur
“The Day of Destiny” sets the final conflict between feudal loyalty and clan loyalty. As Gawain seeks vengeance for Lancelot’s killing of his kinsmen, Arthur’s absence while prosecuting that kinship vendetta provides Mordred with the chance to kill his father--first in fake letters and then in fact. He would if he could replace Arthur on the throne and in the bed of his stepmother. As evil as Mordred seems to be, many of the common people support him because Arthur's reign has brought them nothing but fighting. Only the church supports Arthur.
The future is degenerate and to be avoided. Throughout the final episode, one character after another abjures the world, to become a hermit, a nun, or a man suspended near death on an unknown island (rather like Henry VI). Faith and devotion console these individuals, but they destroy the fellowship of the round table which used to hold the world together.
Students are not examined on these "other resources and amusements." However, if you know of an excellent website that would wonderfully complement this lesson, please send it to Dr. G.
|Copyright 2008 by Gary Homer Gutchess.|