Le Morte dArthur
Love in If I Die Young, The Lady of Shalott, and Le Morte d’Arthur
Throughout the song, If I Die Young, the poem, The Lady of Shalott, and the book, Le Morte d’Arthur, there were many likes and differences. Throughout all three, Elaine wants to marry Sir Lancelot, but he’s in love with Queen Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot won’t marry her anyway. These three works of art all show what he or she will do for the person they love. The Band Perry’s song, If I Die Young, Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem, The Lady of Shalott, and Sir Thomas Malory’s book, Le Morte d’Arthur, all show the theme of love and what one will do for who he/she loves through the use of social rules, imagery, and character development.
In Le Morte d’Arthur, Malory shows symbolism through Elaine and how she is pure in her nature and a right match for Lancelot. Malory uses words such as “earthly” and “clean maiden” to show that she innocent and that Lancelot would be her first lover (707). The only thing holding Lancelot back would be his love for Guinevere and that he is a knight and King Arthur doesn’t want him distracted. She was so in love with Lancelot and did everything that she could’ve, but it was Lancelot’s fault that it didn’t work. Elaine has a broken heart because of Lancelot, even though he never gave her attention or acted like he would marry her. Even though he broke her heart, Elaine still thinks high of Lancelot as Malory says in La Morte d’Arthur, “I shall die for the love of so noble a knight” (707). This shows that she would do anything for him to marry her even if it’s die a virgin. She also knows that she loved him a lot more than he loved Stracener 2her, because Malory says, “I loved this noble knight, Sir Lancelot, out of measure” (707). This is showing that she doesn’t care that he doesn’t feel the same way about her, she will still love him the same.
Another passage that uses words to describe Elaine’s innocence is the song If I Die Young. The Band Perry uses phrases such as, “I’ve never known the lovin’ of a man” on line 20 or “I’ll be wearing white” on line 18. These two examples show that one, she is a virgin and hasn’t been loved by a man and is ready to marry Lancelot and two, if she’s wearing white that she wants to marry him and the color of white also represents innocence and pure. So, Elaine is all in for Lancelot, even if Lancelot like Guinevere and won’t even give Elaine any attention or affection.
In the Lady of Shalott, Tennyson mentions the river in the first line as the central of the poem. The river acts as the middle because the fields are on both sides of the river, the island is in the middle of the river, and Camelot is down the river. The river is where she dies, and gets in the boat to go towards Camelot to see Lancelot, and also where the poem starts off which shows it’s in the whole poem. Also, in line 12 it says, “The wave that runs for ever”, which represents a current or wave that will never end. So far, the poem has been peaceful using an alliteration in line 10, “willows whiten”, and peaceful words such as “aspens quiver” and “little breezes’, but now the eternal wave makes it dark as if the wave will carry her to her death. This shows that even though the river starts off peaceful and almost gives you the feeling of happiness, it turns bad and kills Elaine at the end.’ Another literary device Tennyson uses is foreshadowing. In line 18, the last line of the second stanza, he says, “The Lady of Shalott”. From then on to the rest of the poem, he uses that phrase to end each stanza, which basically hypnotizes you and makes you think of The Lady of Shalott more and more each time he says it. This would be foreshadowing because he keeps Stracener 3repeating her name to show that eventually she will be gone and there won’t be a Lady of Shalott. The last time it says the phrase, “The Lady of Shalott”, it is the last line and it is describing her face and how she looks the few lines in front. This shows that Lancelot thought well of her and that she was pretty, but just didn’t care very much about marrying her because he had Guinevere and being a knight on his mind.
Throughout all the works of art, Elaine grew and so did Lancelot. Elaine grew more in love with Lancelot, which can be a bad thing or a good thing, and Lancelot grew as a knight and he also realized that she was pretty but that Guinevere was the one he loved. The reason it could be good or bad that Elaine grew more and more in love with Lancelot is because she could’ve moved on and been with someone else that loved her unlike him, but it’s also good because she grew towards something instead of staying still and not growing at all throughout the entire poem. The last thing that plays a big role throughout all three works of art is the theme of love and isolation. Elaine shows throughout all three works of art that she will do anything, even if it’s to kill herself, to get Lancelot’s attention or love. Isolation also plays a big role throughout this. From the very beginning, we know that she is locked up and alone in a castle, and we don’t know the exact reason. But, she most likely wouldn’t have been so obsessed about Lancelot if she wouldn’t of been alone by herself the whole time. One of the reasons she is so in love with Lancelot is because she is isolated in that castle and has nobody to talk to or think about, and she feels the need to be loved on like she loves him. The Band Perry’s song, If I Die Young, Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem, The Lady of Shalott, and Sir Thomas Malory’s book, Le Morte d’Arthur, all show the theme of love and what one will do for who he/she loves through the use of social rules, imagery, and character development. As one can see, throughout all three works of art, there is the love for Lancelot, and the pureness of Elaine. There are also minor differences such as the word choice by the authors, but all three show the theme of love and what he/she will do for the person they love.
Law and Justice in Le Morte d’Arthur
My literature review is on the role of law and justice in Le Morte d’Arthur. The general consensus in the articles I read appear to be that the law and how it is enforced is a hinderance to true justice and even brings about Arthur’s eventual downfall by its failure.
In “The English Law of Treason in Malory’s ‘Le Morte d’Arthur,’” Ryan Muckerheide points out how the legal definition with treason sometimes clashes with a more genuine definition since, in medieval times, the way the law defined treason could sometimes be far too all-encompassing. One example he uses for the failure of the law of treason was the apple incident in which Guinevere was accused of treason as well as the murder of a knight. Despite her innocence, she is put through the whole process and is tried via trial by combat. She is ruled not guilty and the culprit is revealed to be Sir Pinel, who flees instead of being exiled, making him a traitor. The duality and failure of the law is displayed by the innocent Guinevere being marked a traitor by law but not the guilty Pinel who flees before being tried or exiled, thus making him a genuine traitor, but not in the eyes of the law. Another duality he points out is in Agravaine and Mordred’s revelation of the Guinevere-Lancelot affair. What they did is essentially treasonous in betraying their queen and riling up trouble which eventually brings about the fall of Camelot, but legally speaking, they were not traitors. By certain laws, in knowing about a legally treasonous act and not revealing it to their king, they would also be guilty of treason. Circumstances regardless, the only way they could be legally loyal to Arthur would be to reveal the affair, thus dooming their king and country. In this way, Malory shows plainly how legal treason and genuine treason are not always one and the same, as well as the flaws in the legal system that allows this.
This may lead to how law is usually implemented in Le Morte d’Arthur, which is, as Amanda Taylor coins in her article, “The Body of Law: Embodied Justice in Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur,” embodied law. Essentially, embodied law is similar to English common law. It was unwritten, very situational, and largely determined by precedent. This is shown by how the demand of the common people “precipitates the actual moment of Arthur’s coronation” (Taylor 4). Oaths feature heavily in Arthurian society as well, with many characters repeatedly swearing on their body to uphold a promise. A prominent example of this is when Arthur swears to his foster father Sir Ector that he will make his foster brother Kay his seneschal and later keeps that promise. Taylor acknowledges how this kind of flimsy law can have its drawbacks, but overall has a “net beneficial impact on Arthurian society” (Taylor 4).
However, the law being arbitrarily enforced also has its downfalls. In “The Failure of Justice, the Failure of Arthur,” Laura Beckwell outlines how Arthur doesn’t enforce the laws fairly and justly which leads to problems which caused his end. In Le Morte d’Arthur, King Arthur makes his knights swear an oath to not commit murder, cause outrage, and other such crimes, which seems responsible at first, but the way it is implemented makes the oath next to worthless. Beckwell points out that for one, the oath didn’t have a priority order, meaning that if two aspects of it came into conflict, it was up to the knight to pick which one they wanted to break. This made it so a knight could commit murder in order to avoid causing outrage. The second problem was that the cost of breaking the oath was a loss of honor rather than actual punishment. This on one occasion kept Tristram from killing Palamedes because he cared about his honor as a knight. However, for the knights who don’t care, such as Agravaine or Mordred, the oath has no hold over them because there are no consequences for their actions. Take Sir Lionel, who murders two men, tries to kill his own brother, and only stops because literal fire from heaven separated them. Even when Arthur does punish his knights for crimes, it is very arbitrarily. Lancelot, for instance, is, to quote Monty Python, “a homicidal bastard” who kills without repercussion frequently. Four of Arthur’s nephews are well know murderers, but none of them are punished for their crimes. In large part, this is because their relationship to him makes Arthur go easier on them. This inconsistency leads to more and more crimes which eventually allows the whole thing to come crashing down. As for the punishments Arthur does use, Beckwell argues that they aren’t effective either. One common one is a loss of lordship, such as when he uses it as a means to screw over Sir Damas. However, even when he uses it, this punishment is just as arbitrary as all the rest. When he banishes Gawain and Uwain, he later rescinds them and lets the knights return, but the difference is Uwain wasn’t even guilty while Gawain was. Arthur essentially has only three punishments for any crime: loss of honor, loss of lordship, or death. (Citation?)
As for how those accused are deemed innocent or guilty, that’s another problem with Arthur’s justice. Guilt or innocence was determined by trial by combat most of the time, as it was believed God would guide the sword of whoever was in the right. The problem was that this method didn’t work in practice. Lancelot defended Guinevere the first two times she was accused of treason, and while she wasn’t guilty of the exact crime either time, she was absolutely committing treason with Lancelot by having her affair with him. Amant also accuses King Mark of treason, which he is indeed guilty of, but in the trial King Mark wins and beheads Amant. Overall, trial by combat “Results in a just verdict less than half of the time, even worse than what pure chance would predict” (Beckwell 12). Arthur also realizes it doesn’t work, which is why he doesn’t allow trial by combat to take place during Guinevere’s third trial for treason, where she is accused of her affair with Lancelot, in main part because he knows Lancelot will win no matter what. Ultimately, Arthur fails to met out justice in his realm which ends up creating escalating problems that lead to his and Camelot’s downfall.
Overall, law in Arthurian society is less based on solid, written law and more on an embodied law, more flexible and situational but prone to errors in efficiency and judgement. Justice is attempted to be carried out, but often falls short of its goal through the actions or inactions of characters.
Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory. Personal Response
Response to Death Of Arthur
At the beginning of the chapter it says what this story is about. It tells of how Arthur dies. It doesn’t give the exact explanation right off as to how he dies or when he dies. It just basically says is that this is the story of King Arthur’s death. Early in the reading you read a prayer that is offered up as basically, what I took it is was that it was a prayer for Arthur. It seems fitting to start the book about the death of a loved and well known king. From there it begins to tell of Arthur’s glory days.
When Arthur came into power he started to collect land. He would conquer and gain land with each conquest. The land he divided up amongst relatives and he knighted knights under his banner, even though they were formally under another ruler’s thumb still. They all faithfully and loyally served Arthur, even though he had conquered them. He thought that everyone was finally united under his rule. He had reclaimed the land that his father once owned. Arthur ruled with an iron fist but was a very generous king, who cared about his kingdom.
After his glorious conquests Arthur grew somewhat content with his realm. He thought that there would be nothing but peace from there on out. So Arthur entered and enjoyed his glory days. His glory days consisted of traveling everywhere. He loved to visit the different kingdoms in his realm. Arthur would always host extravagant banquets, and feasts. He would go hunting and enjoy other sporting games as well. Arthur’s favorite kingdoms were Wales, Glamorgan, and Caerleon.
During the Christmas season Arthur would travel to Carlisle and host a Christmas feast that would last for 10 days and it was at the round table. While the feast and festivities were going on Arthur would tell the Dukes and Lords how it was and what they could do if they didn’t agree with him. Almost always the greater of them majority sided with Arthur on whatever he said. They knew that as quickly as they came into their new titles they could have them stripped if they dared to oppose Arthur.
So New Year’s Day comes around, and Arthur is throwing a party to celebrate it. His party gets crashed by some messenger that is escorted by sixteen knights. The messenger announced that he was from Rome and he had a message for Arthur. The message was basically a summons saying that Arthur was being sued for the lands he and his knights conquered, which the Roman Emperor claims that each of those conquered lands owes something to the emperor’s ancestors. The point of this whole message is that the emperor wants Arthur to make a payment to the Roman Empire. An he also says that if Arthur does not comply with this, then he will be hunted til the ends of the earth and will die.
Arthur is fuming by this point and is acting like he’s going kill each and every single one of the knights that are with the messenger. He is completely outraged by this and was just like getting closer to the knights and messenger. The knights then decided to beg and plead for their lives like the little cowards they are. They knew that Arthur could kill them in an instant. They were basically saying, “Don’t shoot the messengers! The emperor made us do it! We didn’t even want to come on this errand! All of us are slaves to the emperor. Arthur makes them shut up but only to be interrupted by the messenger. The messenger just wanted to egg it on just to see how much he could taunt and torment Arthur.
The whole point of this tells of how Arthur began his journey to the road that lead to his eminent demise. It’s just the beginning of it. It’s nothing more and nothing less than that. The whole book is one long epic poem.
Representation of Excalibur in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur
In Sir Thomas Malory’s medieval Arthurian Romance Le Morte D’Arthur, the swords that are most important to the story seem to be the swords wielded by King Arthur, the sword that he pulls out of the stone referred to as Excalibur and the sword given to him by a mystical lady in a lake also named Excalibur, as well as the one that is wielded by Sir Galahad that he pulls out of a stone which is never given a name. There is a predetermined fate for Arthur and Galahad’s swords; the swords, based mainly on their lineage, choose the person who is worthy enough to wield them. Both Arthur’s and Galahad’s lineages determine their worth as well as other factors that make them destined to be chosen by the sword, factors that involve being prophesized about, and being deemed an important individual, in Arthur’s case the king, and in Galahad’s case the greatest knight. Both Arthur and Galahad seem to be set up to follow the same pattern in order to be worthy of their swords, they are both born into the correct lineage, in Arthur’s case he is Uther Pendragon’s, the former king’s son, and in Galahad’s case he is Lancelot’s son and a direct descendant of Jesus Christ, and destined to be the best knight. Their swords also seem to contain similar characteristics such as the supernatural as well as being predestined for a certain individual, the two swords that are pulled from the stone also bear significance because they represent the beginning and the end of Arthur’s reign in Camelot, while the first sword makes him king, the second marks the beginning of the quest for the Holy Grail and the end of Arthur’s reign as king of England.
The first important sword that is seen in the text is the sword that Arthur pulls out of the stone, the story leads up to this event by depicting the honor that comes with the sword as no one is able to pull it out of the stone, not even the strongest of knights, countless knights try to pull the sword from the stone but fail: “So when all masses were done all the lords went to behold the stone and the sword. And when they saw the scripture some assayed, such as would have been king. But none might stir the sword nor move it” (Malory, I. V). The second important sword in the text is the one that Arthur receives from the Lady of the Lake. This sword is important because this is the one that becomes the sword that is with King Arthur till his death, the importance of both swords lie in their supernatural origins, the first sword is stuck in stone with an inscription that claims that only the true king of England, who is Arthur, can take it out of the stone, and the second sword is brought out of a lake by “The Lady of the Lake” who is a mystical woman, and given to Arthur as a gift. This second sword also comes in a scabbard, this scabbard in significant because it is what not only keeps the sword from harm but its supernatural qualities keep Arthur from harm as well. The third sword that carries importance is the sword that Galahad pulls from the stone. This sword allows for Galahad to become one of the Knights of the Round Table and proves him to be the greatest knight in the world.
Starting with the first sword, which is referred to as Excalibur, this sword is pulled out of the stone by a young Arthur who does not know of his relation to Uther Pendragon, the former king, he believes that he is retrieving the sword for Sir Kay who had left his sword at his father’s house. Like the other two swords, the sword in the stone that Arthur pulls out has supernatural properties that prevent anyone but the right person to take it out of the stone, this information is known through an inscription that is written in the stone: “And when matins and the first mass was done, there was seen in the churchyard, against the high altar, a great stone four square, like unto a marble stone; and in midst thereof was like an anvil of steel a foot on high, and therein stuck a fair sword naked by the point, and letters there were written in gold about the sword that said thus:—Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England” (Malory I. V). Although he is unaware of it at the time, he is the son of King Uther Pendragon and the rightful heir to the throne. Because of his relation to the previous King, Arthur is the chosen wielder of this sword and is easily able to pull it out of the stone to claim his kingdom: “Now shall ye assay, said Sir Ector to Arthur. I will well, said Arthur, and pulled it out easily. And therewithal Sir Ector knelt down to the earth, and Sir Kay. Alas, said Arthur, my own dear father and brother, why kneel ye to me? Nay, nay, my lord Arthur, it is not so; I was never your father nor of your blood, but I wot well ye are of an higher blood than I weened ye were. And then Sir Ector told him all, how he was betaken him for to nourish him, and by whose commandment, and by Merlin’s deliverance” (Malory I. VI). Arthur is told by who he thinks is his father at the time that Arthur was given to him by Merlin and is able to see that he is actually the son of Uther Pendragon because he is able to take the sword out of the stone easily when no one else is able to do so. The sword also symbolizes the coming together of Britain under a just king: “It tells us that the new king’s power will be drawn from God and sanctioned by Holy Church. The sword symbolizes Justice. It will do so again at the coronation, as it does in all real-life ordines, for to the medieval mind the maintenance of Justice was the primary function of kingship” (Morris, 42). It not only proves that he is a worthy knight, it is also representative of the beginning of a new kingdom under the most honorable man, and because of its supernatural qualities it becomes a divine object only to be handled by the most worthy candidate and gives Arthur’s reign as king validity directly from God.
The sword that Arthur receives from the Lady of the Lake is the second important sword that is mentioned in the text, this sword is called Excalibur and becomes the sword that Arthur uses for the remainder of his life when he returns it to the lake from which it was retrieved. This sword also possesses a supernatural origin as the Lady in the Lake gives it to Arthur after his first sword is broken during a battle with King Pellinore, the Lady of the Lake is a mysterious woman who seems to have magical abilities and lives under or near the lake from which Arthur retrieves Excalibur. “Well! said the damosel, go ye into yonder barge, and row yourself to the sword, and take it and the scabbard with you” (II. XXV). She gifts Arthur Excalibur as well as the scabbard in which it rests, not only is the sword’s origin supernatural, the scabbard that holds it also possesses magical properties which will keep the sword and its wielder safe from any harm. “Whether liketh you better, said Merlin, the sword or the scabbard? Me liketh better the sword, said Arthur. Ye are more unwise, said Merlin, for the scabbard is worth ten of the swords, for whiles ye have the scabbard upon you, ye shall never lose no blood, be ye never so sore wounded; therefore keep well the scabbard always with you” (II. XXV). Here the wizard Merlin explains to Arthur the significance of the scabbard that he holds is sword in, he tells Arthur that the scabbard’s magical qualities will protect him from ever being injured as long as he has the scabbard with him.
The sword that Sir Galahad pulls out of the stone is similar to the sword that Arthur pull out of the stone that makes him king of England: “Here Malory uses the sword-in-the-stone episode to not only remind the reader of Arthur’s destiny, but also to create links among Arthur and Galahad” (Archibald, 102). Just like the sword that Arthur pulled out of the stone said that only the true king of England could pull it out, this sword was also only to be wielded by the greatest knight, prophesized by Merlin to be Galahad: “there shall never man handle this sword but the best knight of the world, and that shall be Sir Launcelot or else Galahad his son“ (Malory, II. XIX). Although Sir Galahad does not become king, the sword that he pulls out of the stone also symbolizes his worthiness and honor as the greatest knight. It gives him a seat as a knight of the round table and because this sword also possesses supernatural qualities, it changes the writing on the seat he is to take to contain an inscription with his name on it to further display Galahad’s worth as the greatest knight in the world. Merlin also leaves the scabbard of the sword for Galahad to find and upon finding the scabbard he would be able to pull out the sword from the marble that it is embedded in by Merlin: “Also the scabbard of Balin’s sword Merlin left it on this side the island, that Galahad should find it” (Malory, II. XIX). Merlin leaves the scabbard for Galahad to find to ensure that he is the rightful bearer of the sword when the time comes for him to pull it out, it seems to be a way to provide credibility to Galahad before he attempts to take the sword out of the stone, it also adds to the predestined nature of Galahad’s task to be the greatest knight. In the same way that Arthur’s direct connection to the previous king Uther Pendragon allows him access to the sword in the stone, Galahad’s lineage also plays a direct role in him being dubbed as the greatest knight and being able to access his own sword in the stone: “Yea, for sooth, said the queen, for he is of all parties come of the best knights of the world and of the highest lineage, for Sir Lancelot is come but of the eighth degree from our Lord Jesu Christ, and Sir Galahad is of the ninth degree from our Lord Jesu Christ. Therefore I dare say they be the greatest gentlemen of the world” (Malory, XIII. VII). As told by Queen Gwenevere, Lancelot is a direct descendant of Jesus Christ, and as Galahad is his son, he is also a direct descendant of Jesus Christ. He is not only described to be a direct descendant of Jesus Christ but also upon his arrival at the river in which the sword was found he is also said to be related to Joseph of Arimaethaea: “Then the old man said unto Arthur, Sir I bring here a young knight, the which is of king’s lineage and of the kindred of Joseph of Arimathaes, whereby the marvels of this court and of strange realms shall be fully accomplished” (Malory XIII. III). this factor of Galahad’s lineage applies to him being able to pull out the sword from the stone the same way that Arthur’s direct relation to Uther Pendragon allowed him to take Excalibur out of the stone.
The swords are significant to Arthur and Galahad for similar reasons. The sword in the stone that Arthur pulled out displayed his worth to the whole kingdom and showed all the people in England that he was their one true king. Similarly, the sword that Galahad pulled out of the stone displayed his worth to the Knights of the Round Table and gave him a spot on the round table not just as a knight but as the greatest knight. Both of these events are prophesized and thus give them a divine quality as though they were set up by God and so they cannot be wrong. The swords are not the only significant part of the knights’ armors, the same kinds of supernatural and divine qualities are placed in other parts of the armor, such as the shield that Galahad retrieves. In a similar manner to the way that the swords were retrieved, Galahad also acquires this shield using the same previous formulas as used when retrieving the swords, the retrieval of this shield also comes with a prophecy, requirement of the right lineage, and it provides magical protection. The shield dictates that only the greatest knight in the world can wear it without coming into misfortune, much like the swords, which also prophesized similar prophecies, in Arthur’s case the sword dictated that the rightful king of England would retrieve it from the stone and in Galahad’s case the sword dictated that the greatest knight would pull it out of the stone. In the same way that Galahad was predetermined by Merlin to be the one to pull the sword in the stone, Galahad is also predetermined to retrieving this shield as well. The prophecy is revealed to Galahad by the squire in the Abbey in which the shield resides, he tells Galahad the story of a king named Evelake who’s shield was bestowed with the blood of Joseph of Arimathaea as a reminder of his love for the king. Similar to the way that the sword in the stone that Galahad pulled out that bore the warning that should an unworthy knight try to remove it from the stone and fail they would be hurt by the sword , this shield came with a warning as well that if the wrong person wore it, they would come to regret it“And never shall man bear this shield about his neck but he shall repent it, unto the time that Galahad, the good knight, bear it, and the last of my lineage shall have it about his neck, that shall do many marvelous deeds (XIII. XI). As this quote explains, Joseph of Arimathaea left the shield specifically for Galahad and as he calls Galahad the last of his lineage, it suggests that Galahad is directly related to Joseph of Arimathaea which allows him to be able to wear this shield.
The appearances of Arthur’s sword in the stone as well as Galahad’s sword in the stone also bear significance in that they represent the beginning and the end of Arthur’s reign as king. With the pulling out of the first sword from the stone Arthur becomes king and begins a new era of his reign over England, it also proves to other knights that he is seemingly worthy to be king by divine proclamation since the sword choosing him is supernatural in nature. When the second sword shows up, Arthur is not the one who is able to pull it out of the stone, this time it is a new knight who is able to pull it out and that is Galahad. By pulling out the sword Galahad fulfills his prophecy by proving to the Knights of the Round Table as well as Arthur that he is the greatest knight in the world, and it is no longer Arthur who is the receiver of this supernatural and seemingly divine proclamation of his worth. This marks the end of Arthur’s reign as king because the arrival of Galahad brings the quest of the Holy Grail to the knights of the Round Table, and it is this final quest that puts the knights to the ultimate test and leads to the end of the fellowship of the Round Table as well as Arthur’s death: “While Arthur’s kingship provided unity and the beginning of fellowship, Galahad’s arrival brought dispersal through the quest” (Archibald, 118). When Galahad’s arrival brings forth the appearance of the holy grail during one of Arthur’s feast, the knights cannot help but want to go after it, and Arthur seems to be aware that this is the final quest for most of his knights, he seems to sense the end coming towards his kingdom and expresses sorrow at the knights’ wishes to seek the holy grail: “And therewith the tears fell in his eyes. And then he said, ‘Gawain, Gawain, ye have set me in great sorrow, for I have great doubt that my true fellowship shall never meet here more again” (Malory, XIII. VIII). Arthur’s dismay seems to mirror the pattern of prophecy that precedes both occurrences of the sword in the stone.
The swords in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, specifically Arthur’s swords and Galahad’s sword, are significant in that they are the key to the beginning and the ending of Arthur’s rule. They are all fueled by prophecy and are predestined to choose their wielders based on their lineage. The first sword that Arthur pulls out of the stone is significant because it makes Arthur king, it’s supernatural properties make it so that no one but the correct person is able to take it out of the stone and be graced by the power that comes along with it’s possession. This sword also marks the beginning of Arthur’s rule as king od England, it allows him to bring together this knights of the Round Table and build his kingdom. The second sword of Arthur’s is the one that he receives from the Lady of the Lake, this sword is also supernatural not only because it is from this mysterious Lady, but also in that it’s scabbard keeps it’s wielder from injury, this is the sword that stays with Arthur for the remainder of his life. The third sword is the sword that Galahad pulls out of the stone, this sword is a mirror to the first in that it gives Galahad the same kind of power that the first sword gives to Arthur, it proves that he is the greatest knight in the world. It is also a mirror to the first sword in that it represents the beginning of a new era, and marks the end of Arthur’s reign as king. This sword’s arrival is the beginning of the quest for the Holy Grail and the separation of the Knights of the Round Table. Malory seems to follow a pattern with the arrival of each of these swords, he gives all of them an element of the supernatural, they are all linked to lineage of their wielders, they have prophecies attached to them that predetermine who will be able to possess them, and they give their wielders the highest titles.
Lust Leads to Conflict and Hinder Spirituality
Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur presents an intent focus on the ill effects of anything not in accordance with Christian morality and teaching. Malory portrays these elements of his story negatively—showcasing how they alter the mind and deny characters the ability to properly function in a chivalric and penitent society. The most common of these drug-like aspects of Malory’s tale is love. Conflated with lust, love drives the conflict of the Arthurian narrative and both psychologically and physically damages those who fall prey to it. Mary Wack’s Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The Viaticum and its Commentaries discusses how lovesickness acts as a disease that injures the soul, thus hindering spirituality. Although intensely pleasurable, love consumes the minds of those affected—rendering them unable to focus on God or reality. The adulterous relationship between Guenevere and Lancelot reveals the intense psychological and spiritual effects of lovesickness and how love removes the ability to exist in a penitent society.
Lovesickness in Le Morte d’Arthur is quite prevalent and afflicts many characters. The characters in Malory’s narrative who claim to love someone tend emphasize their sexual desires and exhibit more symptoms of lust than the traditional notion of love. Those who experience love become completely enchanted and have intense sexual desires and excessive thoughts—hindering their mental and physical abilities—effectively falling into lovesickness. This behavior supports Mary Wack’s claim that love acts as a disease of the brain “for it is a great longing with intense sexual desire and affliction of the thoughts” (Wack 2) and derives from the “intense natural need to expel a great excess of humors” (Wack 3). Wack’s definition presents lovesickness as Malory does in his text—as a physical need of the body. Wack explains how then this need affects the mind, “this illness has more serious consequences for the soul, that is, excessive thoughts…because of the soul’s thoughts [and] worries to find and possess what they desire” (Wack 3). The psychological and physiological effects of lovesickness allow it to become a disease which in turn has spiritual ramifications.
The most notable depiction of lovesickness in Malory’s text is the affair between Guenevere and Lancelot. Not only do they harbor intense sexual cravings for one another, “the queen sent for Sir Lancelot and bade him to come to her chamber that night” (Malory 430), but their lovesickness inflicts psychological damage upon both characters. Guenevere experiences intense mood swings, quickly switching between extreme hostility and affection for Lancelot. Throughout Chapter 62, Guenevere shifts between these two moods several times. At the beginning of the chapter Malory depicts how easily Guenevere’s mood changes, “Queen Guenevere was angry. She rebuked Sir Lancelot constantly and called him a false knight. Then Sir Lancelot told the queen everything that happened…So the queen forgave Sir Lancelot” (429). Although the queen forgives Lancelot and returns to loving him, a short time later she once again becomes extremely angered by him and wishes to never see him again, “she was angry beyond measure…and she said, ‘You false traitor knight! See that you leave my court and my chamber immediately! Do not be so foolish false traitor knight, to ever come into my presence again!” (431), only to change her mind almost immediately and begs her knights to “spare no expense until he is found” (432). Due to her intense feelings for Lancelot, Guenevere is unable to control her volatile emotions and quickly switches between love and hatred for Lancelot for she does not truly understand what is happening to her mind and body. Guenevere’s severe mood swings directed solely at her lover expose how her lovesickness has psychologically affected her.
While Guenevere’s lovesickness manifests as intense mood swings, Lancelot experiences complete madness. The madness of Lancelot derives from his lovesickness; he wishes to have an erotic release with the one he loves and if refuted or manipulated in some way, that release will be tainted and rejected by the body. After his night with Elaine, Lancelot realizes he is not with the woman he loves, and his body rejects the release it had the night before causing him to descend into a maddened state, “he well knew that he was not with the queen. He then leapt out of his bed in only his nightshirt, like a madman” (431). Once Guenevere rebukes him, Lancelot cannot bear the rejection and loss of his lover and loses control body, “he felt such anguish and sorrow at her words that he fell to the floor in a swoon” (431). Once he awakes from his faint, Lancelot “leap[s] out a bay window into the garden below…[running] forth, he knew not where, and was as crazy a man had been. He ran thus for two years; no one ever recognized him” (431). The effects of both the false sexual release and rejection from the queen cause Lancelot to have a physical and mental breakdown in which he loses his entire identity.
In conjunction with these physical and psychological effects of Lancelot and Guenevere’s lovesickness, the pair also displays the most prevalent symptom of the disease—excessive thoughts. More than just the want to “find and possess” (Wack 3) what is desired, this aspect of the illness results in sleeplessness and utter consumption of one’s mind and soul. Both Guenevere and Lancelot experience such symptoms, further revealing their lovesickness and its toll. Through Lancelot’s sleep-talking, Malory reveals how even while unconscious thoughts about his lover pervade Lancelot’s mind: “In his sleep he talked and chattered like a jaybird about the love that was between Queen Guenevere and him” (431). Guenevere also exhibits signs of excessive thoughts when she cannot sleep because of her concern for Lancelot, “the queen went nearly out of her mind, writhing and tossing about like a madwoman, and unable to sleep for four or five hours” (430). This consumption of thought then transcribes to the soul. According to Wack: “If the patient sinks into thoughts, the action of the soul and body is damaged since the body follows the soul in its action, and the soul accompanies the body in its passion” (3), meaning that lovesickness has a detrimental effect on the soul—tainting it and leading to spiritual deterioration.
If a mind is entirely consumed by thoughts for their lover due to their lovesickness, then little room is left for focus on anything else—a dangerous state in medieval society. Malory emphasizes the importance of Christian ideals and having God be the primary focus throughout the tale, and with Lancelot unable to think of anything other than Guenevere, he cannot fully devote himself to his faith, thus hindering him spiritually, “if Sir Lancelot had not been so focused on the queen in all his innermost thoughts and feelings while only outwardly seeming to serve God, no knight would have been able to surpass him in the quest for the Holy Grail” (538). By dismissing his penitence and thinking only of Guenevere, Lancelot shows how lovesickness causes utter devotion to the object of the affections and a dearth of spirituality.
Once those who have lovesickness fully surrender to the disease, the one they love becomes their motivation and focus in life. The intense infatuation becomes nearly impossible to stay, and the ill individual becomes willing to do anything for the one they love. When Guenevere requires a champion in Chapter 78, Sir Bors tells her “[Lancelot] would not have failed to fight for you whether your cause was right or wrong” (542), and Lancelot comes out of exile just to defend her. By allowing Guenevere to become the most important aspect of his life, Lancelot replaces God as his primary focus. Even when Lancelot promises to be holy and follow the morals of his faith, he quickly dismisses those oaths and once again begins an adulterous affair, “Sir Lancelot began to renew his attentions to Queen Guenevere, forgetting the promise he had made and the perfection he had attained while on the quest” (538). This refusal to follow the spiritual principles of his society due to his lovesickness keeps Lancelot from achieving his full potential and being entirely faithful to God and the Christian faith he is expected to follow.
Lancelot’s spiritual detachment becomes most damaging when on the quest for the Holy Grail and reveals how lovesickness disallows someone to be entirely pure of heart and moral, thus destroying their ability to be completely functional in a moral and Christian society. During his search for the grail, the holy vessel passes by him, however, because of his lovesickness, Lancelot has “no power to awake when the holy vessel was brought hither” (474). This physical inability to have the grail causes him to realize that due to his sin, he cannot “seek holy things” (475). Even though Lancelot eventually confesses his sin, his insincerity and underlying lovesickness still inhibit him from seeing the grail and fully pursue a moral Christian life.
By applying Mary Wack’s definition of lovesickness to Guenevere and Lancelot in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, we can see how lovesickness affects and hinders spirituality. The physical effects of lovesickness cause it to become a disease which affects both the mind and the soul. Causing volatile emotions and even madness, lovesickness forces its victims into excessive thinking—making the object of affection the only thing the lovesick individual can focus on—effectively becoming the most important aspect of the person’s life. In a society where God is meant to be the primary focus, replacing religion with love—especially a lustful one—causes a spiritual deterioration of the soul. With the lovesick person unable to achieve true morality and devote themselves entirely to their faith due to their physical, psychological, and spiritual impairments, they then cannot function properly in the penitent society in which they live.
Malory, Thomas, Sir. Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur: A New Modern English Translation Based on the Winchester Manuscript. Trans. Dorsey Armstrong. Anderson: Parlor Press, 2009. Print.
Wack, Mary Frances., and Constantinus. Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: the Viaticum and its commentaries. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 1990. Print.
Immorality in violent and Traumatizing events
What can the fall of the Round Table tell us about Malory’s view of English society and politics in the 15th century? Malory views the nature of the knight’s loyalties as destructive forces in themselves. Malory’s version of the King Arthur legend differs greatly from previous entries. The tale of the Round Table is given a more gritty and realistic telling. There is betrayal, adultery, blood feuds, among many other violent events described in visceral detail. The characters are also driven by complex motivations. There is greed, lust and revenge. Friends fight friends, brothers kill brothers, and lovers kill lovers. It bears a foreboding atmosphere well-suited for the tragedies that occur within the tale. All of these themes reflect the woe that England experienced during the War of the Roses. The civil war between England’s House of Lancaster and House of York marred the society and politics of 15th century England. It is a time of great uncertainty where loyalties are strained and betrayal is rife among lords in their desperate plays for power and prestige. The role of the knight in this chaotic period is also greatly challenged and redefined. Knights are forced to contradict their chivalric values by the turbulent political landscape as alliances are built and destroyed. The presence of these troubling events is reflected within Arthur’s own court in Malory’s works. In fact, Malory’s tales could be described as an allegory for the War of the Roses itself. The Knights of the Round Table must face these same issues concerning loyalty in The Book of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere and The Most Piteous Tale of the Morte Arthur Saunz Guerdon with desolate results. The knightly virtues of loyalty to love, king, and knightly brotherhood become a source of great tension for the knights. Often the loyalties come into conflict with one another. In many ways the fall of the Round Table is used to make a commentary on the destructive force of the knight’s loyalties during the War of the Roses.
The loyalty to love is particularly disruptive to Lancelot in the The Book of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere. In the books first chapter, Poisoned Apple, Lancelot has just returned from the quest for the Holy Grail in this part of Malory’s tales. After the many tribulations of that quest and the many near deaths, Lancelot makes it back to Arthur’s castle. He realizes that his affair with Queen Guinevere held him back in his quest for the Holy Grail. “ And if that I had nat had my prevy thoughtis to return to youre love as I do, I had sene as grete mysteryes as ever saw my sonne sir Galahad, Percivale, other sir Bors” (Malory, Book 1, Lines 36-39). Aggravayne and Mordred are of particular concern to Lancelot. He tells Queen Guinevere that he fears dishonor, shame, and punishment for her if they continue the affair. Of course Guinevere decides to kick him out of the court. Here Lancelot is forced to contradict his knightly values. Lancelot truly loves Guinevere and he is loyal to her but in this case, he is forced to leave Guinevere for the sake of his honor as well as Guinevere’s honor. He must forsake loyalty to Guinevere to keep his loyalty to his own knighthood. As a result of this choice Lancelot compromises his position as a knight in King Arthur’s court. Lancelot is the ideal knight in this tale. The greatest knight in the world and he still gets kicked out of the court. Lancelot’s loyalty to the knightly code (and maybe fear of dishonor) and disloyalty to love loses him his spot on the Round Table. In previous tales, such as Chretien de Troyes Knight of the Cart, Lancelot chose to openly dishonor himself by riding in a cart because of his great love for Guinevere. Lancelot was completely guided by his love for Guinevere. Now, Lancelot possesses a different attitude, one driven towards preserving honor and the pursuit of further honor. Lancelot clearly mentions that had he not been so concerned with thinking of Guinevere, he could have succeeded in finding the Holy Grail. The tension between Lancelot in defending his love for Guinevere and Lancelot’s defense of his own honor is an important contrast from earlier Arthurian tales where both love and honor are conjoined. The tension between loyalty to love and pursuit of honor is complicated in Malory’s works to resemble real life. Not all quests for honor will gain love and love will not always gain prestige for the respective knight.
Another example of tension in loyalty is the loyalty to king. This is one of the major virtues of the knight stretching back all the way to the beginning of the Arthurian legends. All knights are completely loyal to King Arthur. This idea changes significantly in Malory’s tales. King Arthur is treated on a level equal to the knights. Of course The Round Table is supposed to be a place where there knights are equal to their king but in this tale the knights are able to charge crimes against Guinevere, King Arthur’s wife, and King Arthur must go along. This is the case in Poisoned Apple. After banishing Lancelot, Queen Guinevere hosts a dinner for the Knights of the Round Table. At the dinner, one of the knights, Sir Pynell, decides to get revenge on Sir Gawain for the murder of Sir Lamerock. He pursues this goal by poisoning the fruit set up for Gawain. Patrise eats of the pieces of fruit and dies. As a result of this the whole Round Table blames Guinevere for his death. They also come to believe that Guinevere is trying to kill Gawain. Sir Mador, Sir Patrice’s cousin, makes a case against Queen Guinevere and demands justice. Arthur doesn’t absolve the charge, and he doesn’t kill Mador however. He says that he would defend Guinevere but he must remain impartial as king and so grants Mador his case. It is a trial by battle and if Guinevere is unable to find a knight to fight for her, she will “brente” at the stake. King Arthur tells Guinevere to talk to Sir Bors when it is revealed that Sir Lancelot, the knight who would have fought for her, has been banished. Sir Bors is reluctant at first but concedes when King Arthur tells him to defend Guinevere.
What is interesting about this exchange is that King Arthur has to point blank ask Sir Bors to defend his wife. This is different from previous entries. Knights would clamor to defend the Queen in earlier tales but now they act as if they wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole. Indeed Sir Bors tells King Arthur that if he defends Queen Guinevere, his brother knights will be angry. At this point loyalty to knightly brotherhood directly takes precedent over any loyalty to the King. This situation illustrates how loyalty to brother knights would often contradict or supersede loyalty to King and Queen. The knights are all mad at Guinevere and hold her responsible for Patrise’s death. They even go so far as to call her a “destroyer of good knights” (Malory, Book 1, lines 13-14). And yet none of the knights consider the possibility that the poisoning could be devised by one of their own. No one pays attention to the fact that the culprit might be the knight whose brother was slain by Gawain. It doesn’t even cross their minds. This is important to 15th century society because of how the kingship has become corrupted. The country is divided into warring factions, it makes sense that knights would start to distrust royalty and question that loyalty. Knights are forced to take a side that could lead to their execution. So the conflicted loyalty in “Poisoned Apple” makes plenty of sense.
Loyalty to one’s knightly brother is also a great cause for tensions in Malory’s King Arthur. In the “Poisoned Apple”, the idea of knightly brotherhood almost brings about Queen Guinevere’s death. The poisoning of Sir Patrise is blamed upon Queen Guinevere completely by the Knights of the Round Table. They alienate her and none are willing to defend her against Sir Mador’s charge. When Sir Bors meets with the other knights, they are angry with him that he would consider defending Queen Guinevere. Even after explaining the situation and defending her as a “maintainer of good knights”, there are still knights who are angry with the idea. This is consistent in 15th century society because knights have devolved into roving bands of mercenaries and indeed the only people they can trust and remain truly loyal to is each other. There was no telling which alliance they would need to join. It was a part of self-preservation. But even their loyalty to each other is tested in the Malory tales. Many Knights of the Round Table bear grudges against one another as the case was with Pynell plot to kill Gawain with poisoned fruit.
While the tale of King Arthur commonly depicts the strong bonds of loyalty to brotherhood, lordship and love, Malory puts these ideas in opposition during the fall of the Round Table. Why does he do so? It illustrates disillusionment with the ideals represented by the Arthurian legends. The War of the Roses strained everyone’s loyalty and in many cases the loyalties prove destructive to the knight. Loyalty to one’s love made the knight weak and made them a target. The knight’s loyalty to their king or lord was regarded with anxiety because one never knew whether they would be betrayed by their lord. Even the solace of knightly brotherhood is sullied by common betrayal. The fall of the Round Table represents a wakeup call to England. The message is that loyalty is fleeting.
Luminarium. 18 May 2010. Web. 4 November 2012.
Malory, Sir Thomas. Complete Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971. Print.
Magic in Malory’s Arthurian Tales
Sir Thomas Malory’s masterpiece version of the Arthurian tales captures the spirit of the classic tales and brings something new to the heart of the stories. An important element in the traditional Arthurian legends is the presence of magic and sorcery. Ideally, magic could coexist peacefully with the real world, used as a means of benevolent action. This ideal is crushed, however, when most of the magic used throughout Malory is wielded in sinister ways with limited purposes. Sir Thomas Malory’s use of magic in his adaptation of the tales of Arthur is very different than any other version of the story. Although these powers exist in Malory’s retelling of the tales, magic is limited to pragmatic ends. While previous installments of the great Arthurian tales recognize magic as an otherworldly presence, magic in Malory is an accepted element in the Arthurian world, with no real sense of wonder. The character of Merlin is an example of how magic could realistically coexist with the Arthurian world. Merlin is wise and experienced from his years as a sorcerer, but he is far from perfect. Jack Fritscher, Ph.D. says of Merlin, “Neither devil, nor man, nor god, Merlin wears the masks of all three. He is equally capable of the miraculous feats of heroes and gods, or the undignified failings of devils and men. Empowered with extraordinary perceptions, he is also enfeebled, as in his lust for Nynyve, with weaknesses common to men” (Fritscher 3). Although Merlin is “popularly conceived as the epitome of the supernatural” (Fritscher 3), Merlin is also part human, which is where Malory ties a believable amount of reality into the story. Merlin’s supernatural nature does not equal a heavenly nature. Although we know him to be wise and cunning, he is as flawed as any fully human character in the stories. For example, he blindly teaches Nynyve all that he knows, and she traps him a cave sealed with a magic stone. Although Merlin knew that he would die by being buried alive, he is powerless to stop it, and his own magic is useless in attempting to free himself from his grave. Merlin’s story serves to show how magic, as an ideal element that may have done great good in the Arthurian world, has failed. While Merlin is certainly the most popular magical character in the Arthurian tales, other characters in Le Morte D’Arthur also have mystic powers. Merlin, who was undeniably an ally of King Arthur, departs early in the story, leaving way for characters such as Morgan la Fay, the Lady of the Lake, and Nynyve to be the main magical personalities. According to Jack Fritscher, Morgan la Fay, the Lady of the Lake, and Nynyve are three highly supernatural characters. Each associate, for good or ill, with a particular character: Morgan with Arthur, the Lady with Lancelot, Nynyve with Merlin (Fritscher 3), who is the agent of Merlin’s demise. Myra Olstead of Folklore magazine says of these women: “Arthurian enchantresses generally react only to specific insults, and are seldom jealous of a mortal maiden’s beauty unless she interferes with their own designs. Two enchantresses rarely, if ever, work a single enchantment because an enchantress is usually seeking a highly personal result: the love of a knight, or the death or discomfiture of some political figure in order to advance the status or fortunes of her own paramour” (Olstead 49). Although the women of Le Morte D’Arthur are cunning and sinister in their use of magic, their use of magic is for personal purposes, and is not always successful. Nynyve and Morgan le Fay initially have their own agendas, but eventually reconcile to being allied to King Arthur. Morgan le Fay is generally motivated by her attempt to assist one of her lovers, as shown in the theft of Excalibur for her lover Accolon, yet she appears on the boat that bears Arthur to Avalon. Nynyve uses her magic to a fatal end for Merlin, yet she develops into a loyal ally and servant of the king later in the story despite her ruthless disposal of Merlin. Ideals and reality tie into this aspect of the story in a very unique way. Jack Fritscher says that “Malory constantly opted for a realistic background instead of the fairytale settings of his sources” (3). Although the reason that Malory chose this kind of setting was never explicitly stated by Malory himself, one can conjecture that perhaps the reason Malory decided to portray a realistic background over the fairy world setting is that Malory wanted his readers, and perhaps himself, to believe that these events did occur in our world, just in a different era. Choosing to select a realistic background meant the inevitable reduction of the power and influence of magic, yet by limiting magic’s role in Arthur’s world, Malory essentially created a world where magic and common lives could coexist harmoniously, each with their own roles in the world, making the arrangement entirely realistic. In Malory’s Arthurian world, magic is not particularly miraculous or wondrous to the characters. As previously stated, the magic is limited in uses and purposes, and usually employed in mischievous ways. Despite these facts, it would be inaccurate to assume that Malory’s ideal world is one completely devoid of magic. Yet we must acknowledge simultaneously that Malory makes a point of demonstrating the damage that is done by the use of magic – Uther’s seduction of Igraine, Nynyve’s termination of Merlin, etc. Regardless of the misuse of supernatural powers, Malory does not denounce them altogether. The point that can be drawn from the study of magic in Le Morte D’Arthur is that magic, like any weapon, is not inherently evil or good, but depends on its user to determine the outcome. While Morgan has her mischief and Nynyve her moments of mercilessness, both women come to be respected and honored ladies. Malory’s ideal world is one in which magic coexists with all other elements in the world harmoniously, and is used to good and helpful purposes. For example, when Arthur departs to Avalon to await the day of his return, magic surrounds his leaving. Yet here, as King Arthur makes his final exit from the world and into legend, there is no hint of suspicion, no ominous air of impending danger, only a bittersweet end to the great king. This is the final glimpse of an ideal world. No sooner have we finally glimpsed the marriage of an ideal with reality that we see it disappear with Arthur, into the mists, out of our world, and into legend. Holbrook, S. E. “Nymue, the Chief Lady of the Lake, in Malory’s Le Morte Darthur.” Speculum 53.4 (1978): 761-777. Fritscher Ph.D, Jack. When Malory met Arthur 1 Jan 1967. Loyola University Library, Chicago IL. 1-3.
Evolution of the Modern Heroic Archetype
The evolution of the tragic heroic archetype in post-roman literature can be traced from one of the most well known of medieval heroes, King Arthur of Camelot, to such fictional creations as Aragorn, from Tolkien’s twentieth century masterwork The Lord of the Rings. The definition of a tragic hero is generally accepted as pertaining to characters who are morally good, but who contain a ‘tragic’ flaw that is responsible for their defeat. Taken from the Aristotelian definitions which define good tragedy on a classical Greek scale, these general terms are easily applied to the Arthurian myths and their modern heirs. The question of whether or not Arthur was a real person in Britain’s stormy history must be addressed prior to assessing the validity of his status as a tragic hero. While it does not affect the presentation of the myths and the points in them which pertain to this analyses, it is a controversy which includes the very nature of the myths themselves, streamlining them into either exaggerated supernatural versions of real events, or the mythos of a legendary pagan god-king. Several points as presented in classical Arthurian mythology are debatable in the simplest of manners – temporal possibility. The traditional “knight in shining armor” that is presented as the model for both Arthur and his knights of the round table, was not present in the world until well into what are now known as the middle ages. The use of splint, chain, and especially plate mail did not come into common use until the eleventh and twelfth century, and plate mail was cumbersome and awkward for knights in the saddle until developments in design and construction allowed for greater dexterity and range of motion in the mid fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. While assorted forms of chain mail and leather armor had been in use since the period of classical Greece, these forms of armor did not reach Britain until the mid-twelfth century; Roman legionnaires wore splint and chain mail armor, but it was a mark of the Empire and was refused by the native Britons despite the advantages it offered in combat. Historians have localized the possible time periods in which Arthur could have lived, based on historical records from medieval times, as well as the earliest known references to Arthur’s mythology. If Arthur lived, it was most likely between the fourth and sixth centuries, as the King of a tribe or group of tribes of Britons, half a millennium from the time of the knight in armor. While the possibility of the romanticizing of medieval scholars provides impetus that disregards such impossibilities, it has been the gradual conclusion of most historians that no such person with a life of such apparent importance in local British history ever existed. It is at the point of determining that Arthur is indeed a purely mythological figure where the evolution of an entire mythos can be said to begin. Tales of the sword Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake, Morgan Le Fay, Merlin, and the isle of Avalon abound in classical and modern works, reinterpreted, renamed, and presented in every fictional format from televised series to bedtime storybooks. But all of them wind inextricably around one man. From his mythology, Arthur appears to be the most perfectly chivalrous of knights, able to win both the love of the shy Guinevere and any military battle, no matter how difficult. Indeed, Arthur represents all that was considered good and noble in any gentleman of the era in which his myths first began to become standard fictional material, through the scholarly interest and writings of Sir Thomas Malory. He was an English nobleman with a slightly stained reputation, but excellent skills in compilation and revision, as evidenced by his Le Morte D’Arthur, perhaps the most celebrated of classical Arthurian works. Finished in the ninth year of King Edward IV (therefore between March 4th of 1469 and 1470), Le Morte D’Arthur chronicles the events of Arthur’s life, from the union of his parents due to the magical trickery of Merlin, through his claiming of the throne of England, and ending with his confrontation with Sir Tristram, who bore a shield detailing the affair between Guinevere, Arthur’s wife, and Lancelot, his most trusted knight. As a work of literature, the book is sadly lacking, having been compiled and edited rather roughly by one Caxton, within ten or so years of Thomas Malory’s death. The chronicle remains, however, one of the most complete and chronologically ordered works concerning the life of King Arthur, as well as certain adventures and misadventures of his knights. Those qualities thought to be most exemplary in a truly chivalrous knight of the fifteenth century are generally known, and specifically documented. Piety, chastity, courtesy, and generosity are all listed as major requirements of chivalry, and it is important to note that the first of these plays perhaps the most important role, in conjunction with the second. Based around the ideals of a perfect Christian morality, the concepts of piety and chastity go hand in hand. Piety refers not only to attendance at church, but to an utmost devotion of self and soul to the perpetuation of the Christian cause. Chastity, as defined in the fifteenth century was not restricted to sexuality, but also concerned personality. It denoted a chasteness of thought and action that goes beyond explicit sexual conduct and contrived courtly games of seduction and innocence that force natural human desires into complicated linguistic travails. It is Arthur’s embodiment of these characteristics which seem make him the perfect fodder for the hero mill, and yet while he has been presented as a noble and great King, one must take into account both his origins, and several accounts of his actions during life which contradict the chivalry with which he is gifted by popular account. Most tales agree that Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon and Igraine, who was the wife of the Duke of Cornwall, a mortal enemy of Uther, who claimed Kingship of all England. The sorcery of Merlin allowed Uther to sleep with Igraine in the guise of her husband for a single night, during which Arthur was conceived; three hours before his conception, the Duke of Cornwall died on the battlefield, and it was later concluded by Merlin that his death previous to the sexual act that was responsible for Arthur’s life meant that he could be considered a legitimate child of the then deceased Uther Pendragon. Whether or not Arthur was legally the legitimate son of Uther, it is quite obvious from the story that his origins are far from pure, and the culture of the time considered bastardy to be a fault of the child, rather than the parents. Later in his life, a crowned King and survivor of his first war, in which he demonstrated admirable efficacy of strategy and feats of arms, (as befits a legendary hero) it is discovered that Arthur has fathered Mordred, a son by his half sister, Morgan Le Fey. The mythology differs as to the woman, whether she was actually the evil queen who was Arthur’s bane, or another woman who was his half sister, but it is an accepted part of the mythology that Arthur’s son was conceived with his half-sister. It is this action that constitutes Arthur’s ‘tragic flaw’, though he is unaware of his relationship to the woman at the time of the act. It is later, by Mordred’s sword, that he is either slain or sent to the mystical isle of Avalon to await the time of Britain’s greatest need, when he will be called up from the Otherworld and sent back to protect the land. It is the fact of his death (or disappearance) by Mordred’s hand which counts most importantly towards the analysis – the tragic flaw must be responsible for the destruction of the hero, and Mordred is most directly responsible for Arthur’s destruction. Even if it is considers lustfulness to be his tragic flaw, it is Morgan Le Fey, working through Mordred, who plans the battle which defeats the great king, and the same conclusion is reached. Arthur is thus securely defined as a tragic hero: mythological, containing those virtues which support moral goodness, and possessed of a tragic flaw he is unaware of, which causes his ultimate destruction. The question remains, however, of how a single mythos could inspire an evolution of an entire archetype that permeates modern western literature. The answer may be found in the simplicity of the myths themselves, however complex the ideas they present may be upon analysis. In their most honest and open form, they are stories of adventure and romance, based upon courtly ideals amongst valiant men who vie for the favor of a beautiful woman. There are of course tales of defeat and sorrow woven in amongst the more heroically traditional, but the stories of Arthur are a saga more complete than those of Homer, though without the flowing grace of epic poetry. A saga requires defeat and sorrow in order to make victory and joy more poignant and meaningful, because it gives the characters a depth of life which is missing in shorter myths that do not encompass the entirety of a heroe’s life. The latest evolution of the Arthurian myth appears in the twentieth century, far past the time of the knight-errant, but in the dawn of a new form of fiction writing that expands into a mythical and mystical world that is completely dependent on the creative capabilities of the author: fantasy writing. In the same way that Jules Verne pioneered science fiction in a time before it was a popular style of writing in the literary community, J.R.R. Tolkien pioneered fantasy writing. A British bred author, it is not surprising that he would turn to British mythology for a source of inspiration, and as is noted by his critics, Tolkien’s linguistic feats and astonishing detail in planning the world of Middle Earth is due partially to the rich cultural and traditional history of his homeland. As one of the most prominent of British myths, Arthur has an obvious appeal for any fantasy-inclined western authors, but it is the character of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings that appeals most directly both to the figure of King Arthur and to the heroic archetype that he spawned.The proofs that apply to Arthur are not as difficult to apply to his fantastical doppelganger. Aragorn is a fictional character, and therefore obviously “mythical” in the most basic sense of the word. His virtue is displayed multifariously by selfless abandon in the face of danger, ultimate devotion to an ultimately unforgiving quest, and devotion to a love that is defied by socially and culturally structured boundaries. It is the idea of the tragic flaw that seems most difficult to pin on Aragorn, and it is in this area that the discrepency between Arthur the tragic hero and Aragorn, the tragic hero, is most plainly seen. Arthur’s flaw destroys him in a physical manner, causing his death and, following his death, the destruction of the values which he had fought for. At the end of The Lord of the Rings however, we see in the Appendices that Aragorn has not only won the battle against the evil Sauron and aided Frodo in accomplishing his quest to destroy an artifact of great evil. He has reclaimed a kingship vacant for generations and won the hand of his elven princess, the bond of true love proving stronger than social or cultural restraints. He fathers sons, who are sure to carry on his dynasty and assure the stability and positive rule of the kingdom. It is apparent that he is not destroyed by any sort of flaw; rather, exercising a power of his ancestors, he chooses to end his own life in quiet sleep in a comfortable old age rather than slip slowly into a degenerate senility. In a very real way, the triumph of the evolution of the tragic hero is the ability of the hero to evade destruction by recognizing and overcoming the tragic flaw. In this manner, Aragorn’s tragic flaw is his very humanity, the fact that he carries the blood of Isildur, the man that succumbed to the lure of the ring that Aragorn fought to destory, in his veins. The aspect of penance is also apparent in this updated version of a tragic hero; rather than be destroyed, Aragorn toils for long years in order to make right the arrogant mistake of his ancestor, seeking to clean his blood of the taint of evil power. The moment when Aragorn consciously chooses to leave the ring of power in Frodo’s care, against what might seem like good sense and all vestige of hope, is most important. It is Aragorn’s recognition of his own frailty as a human that allows him to overcome the aspiration to inhuman greatness that destroyed his ancestor. The evolution of the tragic hero shows an important quality in mythological literature that seems out of sync with the idea of mythology as an unchanging tradition, against which the new can be measured. While it remains true that the tragic hero faces a mortal flaw, it is a flaw which is recognized by the character, something they may successfully overcome rather than an overweening disturbance of basic moral character which makes disaster ultimately inevitable. The fine line between moral humanity and moral perfection which a hero walks upon must be trod even more carefully than in ancient days, due both to a more complicated set of social proscriptions and to a sense that the myths of humanity must evolve as humanity evolves. The insurmountable obstacles of the past have been overcome by the twin tides of human ingenuity and sheer stubbornness, and it is these two traits, more than any other virtue, which endure as the defining, evolution-defying characteristics of the tragic hero.
Violence in Malory
By focusing on sex and violence, Malory’s rendering of the Arthurian legend becomes something quite distinct from the French originals. Malory unveils a complex cast of characters including Arthur, who is both Christ-like and Herod-like by turns. Sex and violence, while certainly sensational, lends a poignant, yet gritty realism to the Arthurian legend. It is through this violent, and jarring realism that Malory unveils a distinctly political and worldly agenda. Malory focuses on Camelot as a worldly ideal. His reign is linked to the coming of the Christian church. Sanctioned by God, the sword test is the means by which Arthur is able to rise from obscurity and eventually rule England. Arthur, as the chosen one, is anticipated and proclaimed at the onset of the Works and a new form of political society may be expected. From its inception, however, his order is shown to be steeped in sin and violence. He is marred, personally, by the sins of lechery, incest and pride, while his political tactics invariably involve some form of terror. Arthur’s rise to rule is intertwined with Christ imagery, but it is also contradicted by markedly Herodic overtones.After committing state wide infanticide, Arthur escapes public derision because his subjects, “for drede and for love… helde their pece,” (Malory 37). Fear is placed significantly before love, in this instance. In Book XXI, we learn that “with kynge Arthur was never othir lyff but warre and stryff (Malory 708). Clearly, Arthur’s conception of order involves a strong and violent hand, and Malory’s rendering of Arthur reveals both a worldly sinner and a political saviour. This is a complex rendering of human nature. Arthur may be the “once and future king,” but he readily succumbs to imperfect passions, such as pride, revenge and lust.Malory is a gritty storyteller. As a man who has been involved in a considerable amount bloodshed, he brings his own unique perspective to the Arthurian legend. While bloody and violent, war proves instrumental in demonstrating the worldly code that Arthur heralds and Malory champions. The King’s early battles are based on the idea of courtesy (Moorman 62). The opposing armies seem more determined to out vie each other in courtesy than in battle. Knights are unhorsed far more frequently than they are slain. The general tone of war, while tumultuous, is of propriety and mutual respect. Enemy armies do not fail to complement each other’s valor and prowess. Malory’s detailed battles do not only convey a sense of military propriety, but they also reveal the importance of strong leadership. Arthur’s prominent presence in battle is necessary for victory, as Merlin points out in Book I, Arthur must fight alongside his forces. The king’s figure seems to have magical properties as it propels the army to victory.Strong, able government is manifested in young Arthur and his ability to unify various noble families should be noted. The families of Lot, Pellinor and Ban are traditional enemies, yet Arthur is able to bring them all together, however briefly, at the Round Table. Although this volatile collection of families appears to be unified at Arthur’s Court, sinister undertones ripple beneath the surface. The feud between Gawain and Pellinor is an early outbreak of this rancorous rash. Plots, intrigues and personal vendettas threaten to tear the Round Table apart. This downward movement of the Round Table begins in Book VI where, as the critic Terrence McCarthy points out, “The one quest that the whole of the round table undertakes, the one which therefore reflects their perfect unity, is the one whick will disunite them and prove their imperfection” (McCarthy 40). By the end of the Works, the realm has been so thoroughly disintegrated that strife between families is replaced by strife within families. Arthur’s final battle is against his own son, Mordred. Ties of kinship may have once offered Arthur an essential power base, but the rot of sin finally reaches the core. Mordred, a product of incest, returns to his father, to share the final unity of death. As the critic Beverly Kennedy observes, “This deadly embrace of father and son is a fitting emblem of the destructive power of vengeance (Kennedy 342). No image could be as poignant as Mordred climbing the spear of his father to deliver a shared death.The fall of the realm is immediately noticeable. Malory describes a terrible scene, in which the fallen knights are ravaged by a horde of looting peasants. The dying are dispatched without mercy and stripped of all their finery. Malory’s aim is unmistakable. Without strong government, subjects will naturally fall into an animalistic state of chaos. In this case, the writer’s use of riveting, jarring imagery makes a powerful suggestion. Arthur’s regime, though one of terror and violence, is a political necessity.Ultimately, Arthur’s power rests not so much in his personal virtue, but in his political guiles. The battle to maintain his power base is Arthur’s true challenge. For this end, Arthur would tolerate the abuses of Gawain and even the scandalous hints of Lancelot’s dalliance with the Queen. This is a king whose priorities are never in doubt. At the onset of the Grail quest, Arthur is made wretched by Gawain’s proposal to recover the Holy Grail. He accurately predicts that the Round Table will never again host such a noble collection of warriors. The Round Table empowers Arthur’s will. As such, holding it together is of fundamental importance. What we find in Malory is an acute interest in politics and how kings maintain power. The text offers a detailed depiction of the rise and fall of a kingdom as well as that of the ideology that nurtured it. Arthur’s realm is backed by a new, Christian sense of morality. Notions of honour, courtesy and, most importantly, kinship hold the realm together, but standards of mercy, charity and piety arise to direct the Round Table’s strength. The failure of the political system is the failure to maintain this exalted ideal in a less than perfect world. It must, like all things transient, fade. During Arthur’s wars of ascendancy, we see knights engaged in righteous battle. Even the young king’s enemies, such as Lot of Orkney, fight valiantly because they are driven with purpose. However, what motivates Arthur’s later military campaigns? He pursues a repentant Lancelot into France and wages a bloody struggle over a vendetta. Indeed, this vendetta is not even his own. Guinevere has been restored to him, but Gawain is still without his brother and blind to forgiveness.Arthur’s French war is madness, and for the most part, the French battles are entirely void of honor. As Lancelot observes, Arthur will “gette here no worshyp,” (Malory 691). It is a meaningless crusade propelled by Gawain’s desire for vengeance. Knights like Balyn and Lamorak are no longer catching the King’s eye with incredible feats of slaughter. War’s changing aspect from glorious to shameful is an essential element in this presentation of Arthur’s rise and fall. Arthur’s is a police state, but as Malory suggests, such a circumstance is a necessity of the times. The true tragedy lies in Arthur’s inability to police his own policemen. His weakness, as a king, becomes increasingly obvious from the moment that Balyn decapitates the Lady of the Lake at court. At the time, she stood under Arthur’s protection. Balyn seems to escape lightly with exile, but later his personal prowess returns him to the King’s favour. Arthur expresses an interest in keeping Balyn at court, despite the knight’s heinous transgression. Physical might is in great demand in troubled times. It is Arthur’s only surety of maintaining authority and it takes precedence over all other concerns. Even love must take a backseat to power as Arthur articulates in Book XX: “much more I am soryar for my good knyghtes losse than for the losse of my fayre quene; for quenys I myght have inow, but such a felyship of good knyghtes shall never be togydirs in no company,” (Malory 685).Unfortunately, in order to rule, Arthur must reconcile himself to the unruly. Gawain provides our most obvious example. His underhanded, thuggish tactics in dealing with Pellinor’s family as well as his endorsement of his own mother’s murder are outrages to Arthur’s government. All too frequently, Arthur is portrayed as helpless in relation to his own knights, trying fruitlessly to hold onto what he calls, “the fayryst and the trewyst of knyghthode that ever was sene togydir in ony realme of the worlde,” (Malory 522). The threat of losing a knight of Gawain’s caliber is a greater source of concern for Arthur than the erosion of evil.Force is admirable when organized and terrifying when at large. As Arthur’s great enterprise spirals downward, friends become foes and sons rise against fathers. All forms of social bonds unravel completely. Violence is the inevitable symptom of a fallen world, but the effort to direct and draw moral strength from it is a truly elevated principle. Arthur arrives, according to Heaven’s mandate, to herald a new kind of order, but this is not the seamless otherworld that Galahad hints at. It is a world inhabited by humans and governed by their imperfect nature. The world is naturally turbulent, and Malory’s interest lies in how order may be imposed upon such a place (Benson 236). His flair for violence and spectacle is instrumental in emphasizing the volatility of Arthur’s realm. The King’s efforts to keep everything together are nothing short of epic. Random violence may only be countered with organized violence. Malory’s world is a vibrant and dynamic one, inhabited by men of fierce passions and faultless integrity. Even when Malory inserts the grisly detail of how Lucan lay “fomyng at the mowth and parte of his guttes lay at hys fyete,” we can not justly attribute it to the author’s taste for sensationalism (Malory 716). Instead, we are struck with an image of loyalty that is magnificently memorable. This is not an ugly moment, but a sublime testament to a glorious king and the values that he heralded. Lucan, without regard for his own condition and literally falling apart at the seams, will serve Arthur until his very last breath. After Arthur’s death, the great king and all of the admirable knights are gone forever. While another king may take the throne, a glory like that of Arthur’s Round Table is gone forever.Works CitedBenson, Larry D. Malory’s Morte Darthur. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1976.Kennedy, Beverly. Knighthood in the Morte Darthur. Great Britain: St. Edmundsburg Press Ltd., 1992.Malory, Thomas. Malory: Works. Ed. Eugene Vinaver. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.McCarthy, Terence. Reading the Morte Darthur. Great Britain: St. Edmundsburg Press Ltd., 1988.Moorman, Charles. The Book of King Arthur: The Unity of Malory’s Morte Darthur. Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 1965.
Boundaries Set for Women in Arthurian Romance: Queen Guinevere and Elaine of Ascolot
In Sir Thomas Mallory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur, the majority of the characters face serious conflicts with chivalry and romance. This essay however will analyze female characters and their roles in Mallory’s rendition of Le Morte d’Arthur and how these female characters handle the pressures and restrictions placed on them as women. Queen Guinevere and Elaine of Ascolot represent the ideals of women in Arthurian romance; both Guinevere and Elaine are beautiful, Arthurian, aristocratic ladies that love hard and are willing to put everything they care about on the line for the sake of their love and their lover. Although Queen Guinevere and Elaine of Ascolot are both considered ideal lovers by Mallory, their gender reveals the boundaries set for women in chivalry and romance through their similar struggles with the patriarchy and their differences in how they express their love.
The similarities between Queen Guinevere and Elaine of Ascolot follow a common theme of women being controlled or repressed by men. We see this in many examples with Guinevere because she is constantly being accused of some kind of heinous crime and then needs to be defended by a man, specifically Lancelot. She can never defend herself; she always needs a man to do it, even when she uses her words to try and defend herself she more or less gets nowhere with Arthur’s court because she is a woman and her words are considered meaningless. Which is why a man, or Lancelot, has to come in and fight on her behalf and save the day. Here we see Guinevere trying to explain herself for the mysterious death of a knight who happened to die after eating a dinner she had prepared: “‘I made this dinner for a good intent, and never for no evil; so Almighty Jesu me help in my right, as I was never purposed to do such evil deeds, and that I report me unto God’” (Mallory, 407). She really could not have been any clearer in what she was trying to saying to defend herself against the accusations the court was rising against her. Yet a few lines later we see Arthur dismissing what she says and asking where Lancelot is to defend her word. Why does she need a man to defend her word? This proves that judicial outcomes in Camelot and within Arthurian romance are only considered just or truthful when a man is defending the case or issue. “‘Where is Sir Lancelot?’ Said King Arthur. ‘And he were here he would not grudge to do battle for you’” (Mallory, 407). This is a perfect example of how Guinevere is put down by a patriarchal society, and although she is an ideal lover and even though she is a member of high society, her opinion is still regarded as unimportant or less important than a man’s opinion. However, Guinevere is not the only female character who gets ignored and abused by the patriarchy.
Elaine of Ascolot, another female character, is again described as an ideal lover: “So this maiden Elaine never went from Sir Lancelot, but watched him day and night, and did such attendance to him that the French book saith there was never woman did never more kindlier for man” (Mallory, 427). Elaine is described as ideal; however, even though she is described as the most kind and loving woman, she still gets taken advantage of when it comes to romance and chivalry. As the tale continues, poor Elaine gets completely manipulated and used by Lancelot; her good nature and his selfishness creates a toxic combination and ends up getting her heartbroken and ultimately results in her death. We see in many examples with Elaine, how she is confined to a certain feminine role because of her gender. An example of this inequality would be when Lancelot tells Elaine and her family that he has to leave to go back to Camelot. Lancelot explains that he has no intentions of marrying Elaine even though he had led her on by wearing her sleeve to a tournament which is an obvious symbol of love in Arthurian romance and he also expressed his fondness of her earlier when she nursed him back to health. However the scene continues and we see clear sexist gender roles when Elaine’s brother, Sir Lavain, professes his love for Lancelot also and says he wants to stay with him and understands why his sister wants to kill herself if she looses Lancelot. Lancelot says, “Father,’ … ‘I dare make good she is a clean maiden as for my lord Sir Lancelot; but she doth as I do, for sithen I saw first my lord Sir Lancelot, I could never depart from him, nor nought I will and I may follow him” (Mallory, 433). This quotation shows how a man can do something a woman cannot in Arthurian romance. Elaine wants to stay with Lancelot and be with him forever, but she cannot, because she is a woman. However, her brother, because he is a man, can be made a knight and follow Lancelot and be with him forever. Even though Elaine saved Lancelot and nurses him back to health and had a very active feminine role, she still cannot be made a knight and as a result she can never stay or be with Lancelot. The only way Elaine could still be with Lancelot would be if she was his lover or his wife, both possibilities were rejected by Lancelot.
Although Queen Guinevere and Elaine of Ascolot are described as ideal lovers, they do express their love differently. While Queen Guinevere has a more demanding approach to how she handles her love with Lancelot, Elaine has a generous or endowing way of expressing her love. While Lancelot rejects Elaine and serves Guinevere, the issue at hand is still gender. Elaine’s love is not seen as legitimate to Lancelot because she is not his lover, therefore a woman’s love is only considered valuable if she is his lover, which is a double-standard within Arthurian society. Queen Guinevere tends to be considered the perfect Arthurian lady and lover; she is beautiful, graceful, and puts her love for Lancelot above all, she truly believes and inflicts all the ideals of romance and chivalry, as does Elaine. However, Guinevere tends to be more taxing and demands Lancelot’s full attention and devotion, if he does not comply with her demands or expectations Guinevere will think that he does not love her because he is not demonstrating the ideals of chivalry. An example of Guinevere’s overdramatic expectations would be in the very beginning of The Tale of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, a few lines in we see Guinevere scolding Lancelot for his lack of attention: “Sir Lancelot, I see and feel daily that thy love beginneth to slacken, for ye have no joy to be in my presence, but ever ye are out of this court. And quarrels and matters ye have nowadays for ladies, maidens, and gentlewomen, more than ever ye were wont to have beforehand” (Mallory, 403). These idealistic attributes that Guinevere lives up to and strives to achieve are simply expected of her, they are expected of her because she is a beautiful woman. If Guinevere were a peasant, or a less attractive woman, such strict ideals would not be as critical to her life. Therefore proving that these dramatic ideals and rules she expects from herself and Lancelot are just implemented in her by the patriarchal society she lives in. However, the debate is not about class or beauty, because Elaine was also an aristocrat and she was also very beautiful, the point is that women can only be loved by a man if she is his lover. A woman who is not his lover, such as Elaine, is considered meaningless, and her love and feelings are disregarded because she is a woman who he is not in a relationship with.
As for Elaine of Ascolot, her approach to loving Lancelot differs from Guinevere’s in the sense that she does still believe in the ideals of romance but she executes them differently. Guinevere shows her belief in chivalrous ideals by expecting perfection and expecting the ideals of romance to be executed fully. While Guinevere demands perfection from Lancelot and waits for him to make a change, Elaine takes a more active approach and instead of demanding Lancelot’s attention she provides attention and care towards him, such as when she rode out in the middle of the night to find him or when she nursed him back to health after he was wounded in the tournament. Guinevere never took that kind approach to loving Lancelot, she simply called for him and he would come and do her bidding. If Elaine felt she needed to see Lancelot she would go and find him herself and take on a more progressive feminist role, she does in fact bend gender roles in many scenes such as when she goes to find Lancelot. Eventually Elaine becomes the martyr for women in romance as a whole because she is so wronged by the romantic ideals she believed in so much at the beginning of the tale.
After Lancelot breaks Elaine’s heart by selfishly leading her on and then leaving her and telling her that he will never marry her, but will instead pay her off every year after she does find a husband, Elaine sees the serious flaws within romance and the roles women have in it. Elaine has an awakening and she decides that without Lancelot, and because of the way he has hurt her and shattered her dreams, that she will kill herself as a martyr and take control of the situation to prove a point about how women are being mistreated by men. Elaine starves herself and sends her dead body down a river to Camelot with a letter attached to her body for Arthur’s court to read. A section of her letter stated: “Therefore unto all ladies I make my moan; yet for my soul ye pray and bury me at the least, and offer ye my masspenny, this is my last request. And a clean maiden I died, I take God to witness. And pray for my soul, Sir Lancelot, as thou art peerless” (Mallory, 435). Her letter is directly calling on women to see the flaws in the romantic society they are forced into, she asks them to pray for her soul and also calls out Lancelot for hurting her and altering her view of romance. She is trying to warn and advocate for all the women who have been mistreated by men in romance. Overall Elaine takes a much more active role than Guinevere because she not only actively pursues Lancelot and has a much more generous attitude towards romance, she also literally kills herself for the cause of women being treated unfairly in romance. Elaine dies for the ideals of chivalry and romance, whereas Guinevere suffers with self pity and guilt after the fall of Camelot and ultimately believes that the ideals of romance are flawed themselves, while Elaine believes that men are just not living up to the standard that ideal romanticism requires which is why she made herself a martyr after Lancelot left her.
Although Queen Guinevere and Elaine of Ascolot are both considered ideal lovers, their gender reveals the boundaries set for women in chivalry and romance through their similar struggles with the patriarchy and their differences in how they express their love. Elaine expresses the boundaries set for women in romance by making herself a martyr for the cause and recognizes that there are aspects of her society that limit her opportunities because she is a woman. Queen Guinevere on the other hand, is still also considered an ideal and true lover, but she takes on a less active role when it comes to loving Lancelot and demands more of the romantic expectations she had been taught to care about by the patriarchal society she lives in. Overall, both female characters’ roles are key to showing the boundaries set for women in Arthurian society and romance.