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)

Abstract

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

Keywords

Assimilation Kelly Defend Bran Dispatch 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 117.Google Scholar
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    Mark Breitenberg, Anxious Masculinity in Early Modern England (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996). The link between Lacan and chivalric narrative can be productive, as Lacan draws on romance vocabulary to describe psychoanalytic processes. See Robert S. Sturges, on Chrétien’s Lancelot, in “La(ca)ncelot,” Arthurian Interpretations 4.2 (1990): 12–23 (p. 12); Fradenburg, City, Marriage, Tournament, especially chapter eleven; Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and the members of Interscripta, “The Armour of an Alienating Identity,” Arthuriana 6.4 (1996): 1–24; Kathleen Coyne Kelly, “Malory’s Multiple Virgins,” Arthuriana 9.2 (1999): 21–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  25. 51.
    See Commentary (3:1408–13). 1:253.20–264.5 correspond to Micha 4:165–95 (Lacy 3:153–60). 1:264.6–272.31 are analogous to Micha 5:25–47 (Lacy 3:212–217). The rescue of Kay at 1:272–278 derives from Micha 5:281–93 (Lacy 3:272–77. The Melyot adventure (1:278–84) is based on Li Haut Livre du Graal: Perlesvaus, ed. William A. Nitze and T. A. Jenkins, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932–37), 1:340–45. Launcelot’s encounter with Pedyvere, 1:284.15–286.18 finds analogue in Micha 4:317–25, 339–45 (Lacy 3: 189–90, 193–94). The conclusion to the tale (1:286.19–287.26) is based on Micha 4:393–99 (Lacy 3:205–06). P. J. C. Field demonstrates how the Paris text of the Lancelot Micha edits is rather closer to Malory’s source than is the London version Sommer edited that Vinaver used for comparison, in: “Malory and the French prose Lancelot,” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 75 (1993): 79–102. David R. Miller relates sources to the Tale’s structure in: “Sir Thomas Malory’s A Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake Reconsidered,” BBIAS 36(1984): 230–56; A. E. Hartung, “Narrative Technique, Characterization, and the Sources in Malory’s ‘Tale of Sir Lancelot,’” Studies in Philology 70 (1973): 252–68.Google Scholar
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    Edward Donald Kennedy, “Malory’s ‘Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake’, the Vulgate Lancelot, and the Post-Vulgate Roman du Graal,” in Arthurian and Other Studies Presented to Shunichi Noguchi, ed. Takashi Suzuki and Tsuyoshi Mukai (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1993), pp. 107–29, sees the events of the Launcelot section as important primarily for their connective function (p. 108).Google Scholar
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    Dante, The Divine Comedy 1: Inferno, ed. and trans. John D. Sinclair (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 78 (5.121–38).Google Scholar
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    D. A. Miller, The Novel and the Police (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), p. 195. Coyne Kelly also draws on Miller, to argue for the erasure of violence in this text as another “open secret,” “Malory’s Body Chivalric,” p. 65, fn.2.Google Scholar
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    For moral readings, see: Derek Brewer, “Malory’s ‘Proving’ of Sir Launcelot,” in ed. Adams, Diverres, Stern, and Varty, The Changing Face, pp. 123–36; Andrew Welsh, “Lancelot at the Crossroads in Malory and Steinbeck” Philological Quarterly 70 (1991): 485–502, argues Launcelot’s love is “admirable in its loyalty but sinful and destructive in its effects” (p. 498).Google Scholar
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© Catherine Batt 2002

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