November 2018 – King Arthur building the legend contd

By | December 5, 2018

The session:

1/.  Completed looking at Chretien de Troyes French Romances (Romance is an old version of the French language).  He produced five Arthurian Romances.  He was influenced by the earlier writers and stories and was under aristocratic patronage rather than working in an ecclesiastical environment so could write a different type of book and add his own details.

He was the first to link Queen Guinevere and Lancelot.  The storytelling in ‘Lancelot or the Knight of the Cart’ employs the rules of courtly love with the female being revered and the male disdained, gallantry, within a deeply Christian context.  It starts with some deep flattery to Marie de Champagne his patron.  The story covers the abduction of Guinevere and other members of the Camelot Court by Meleagant.  Lancelot who is Guinevere’s champion sets off to rescue her.  Along the way he is subject to many trials, temptations and tribulations.  Not all goes well and he suffers conflict and soul searching which at times is at odds with his courtly love ideals.  He hesitates to get into the cart as it is a very low status means of transport linked to the crusades and to losers but he should only have been thinking about Guinevere.  There are suggestions of the other world.

2/.  ‘Vulgate Cycle’ was written just under 100 years after Chretien works.  It is a reworking of the French Romances by Cistercian monks sometime between 1230 and 1250.  The church had wealth and political power and had their own agenda; they rejected the questionable values of courtly love.  They used the Arthurian stories as a vehicle to promote an alternative more Christian/spiritual way of living.  The stories were transposed from the 6th century to the Middle Ages.  Guinevere is used to show the perfidious nature of women, they are sexual, fickle, betraying, and bad tempered; Lancelot is shown as wracked with grief and remorse.  As a result of Guinevere’s behaviour and the failings of Lancelot Arthur’s glory fades.

3/.  Le Morte DArthur, Sir Thomas Malory c1469/1470.  This book was Caxton Press printed so had a much larger potential readership.  There is a mystery as to the real identity of Malory he may have been a noble man who went off the rails and wrote the works in prison.  He may have been a professional gentleman soldier who was a prisoner of war but there is no evidence he was ever knighted so he would not have been a Sir.  Malory read Chretien and the Vulgate cycle and he also knew Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work and the others.  He then added in his own bias and influences.  Malory lived in the time of the War of the Roses and was afraid the country was going to collapse.  Arthur was a strong and resolute king whose power and glory did not last due to unrest within his court.