Narrative Form and Heroic Expectation: The Tale of Arthur and Lucius, The Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake, and The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney

  • Catherine Batt
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The last chapter suggests that Malory’s Arthuriad begins early on to dismantle a providentialist frame and the rule of law as perceivable means to the containment of violence. The Pentecostal Oath apparently sets the boundaries of chivalric life, for it brings violent action to social account, and under the control of the sovereign. Yet, in its specification of gender roles and its replication of terms of war as well as of romance, the Oath exposes both the tenuousness of our grounds of knowledge and a fissure between theoretical “knowledge” of chivalric control and the experiences both of the knights within the text and of our reading of that text. For the reader, generic expectations, the social worlds the text projects, and different literary registers harness and direct our responses to violence. This chapter looks at how Malory investigates and questions both the reader’s and the writer’s ability to establish and maintain the parameters of a self-contained fictional world. Violence works on the residual knowledge of reader and writer alike to point up the subjectivity and variability of our response to the Arthurian narrative as a whole. So the rhetorical constructions of violence, and the cultural assumptions implicit in the text, indicate a general slippage between action and interpretation, for the actants as for the readers. Elaine Scarry, in her seminal work on physical pain, writes of the body’s “referential instability” in war, and of how cultural and political institutions yet make the body signify ideologically by virtue of juxtaposition.1


Round Table Narrative Form Extreme Violence English Prose Sexual Fidelity 
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© Catherine Batt 2002

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