Setting Limits: Textual Parameters and Sites of Resistance in The Book of Sir Tristram

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


The relatively few sidenotes glossing the Tristram section of the Winchester Malory inscribe an intriguingly haphazard reader-response.1 They do not uniquely underline narrative climaxes, but accord the same status to a fall from a horse at a tournament (the fate of Palomides, Dynadan, and Gareth at fol. 330v), as to the fatal consequence of Tristram’s first great victory, over Marhalt (fol. 154v). Notes draw attention to the Princess of France’s love-gift of a dog to Tristram (fol. 152r), and to the animal’s role in the later recognition scene between Tristam and Isode (2:501.27–502.4) (fol. 205v). There is no comment on the crucial episode in which the lovers share the potion that seals their fate. Yet, there is a method of kinds in this selectivity, an interest in the recurrence of motif (the little dog represents devotion and recognition): the records of tournament procedure, the commemoration of who slew whom. Scattered associations and events play at the edges of this manuscript, and suggest random expressions of cultural and generic detritus as potential ordering and categorizing processes.


Recognition Scene Narrative Event Affective Space French Text Hunting Skill 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 7.
    Vinaver identifies Malory’s source as a version of the narrative for which he cites several manuscripts as close cousins, among them BN fr. 103, 334, and 99 (Commentary, 3:1449), but Michael N. Saida, “Reconsidering Vinaver’s Sources for Malory’s ‘Tristram,’” Modern Philology 88 (1991): 373–81, suggests a composite text, closer to the manuscript that would have served as a base text for the 1489 printed edition of Tristan. Renée Curtis’s edition covers the story up to Tristan’s period of madness in the forest, with MS Carpentras 404 as the base text. Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek MS 2542, continues and concludes the narrative; gen. ed. Philippe Ménard, 9 vols. (Geneva: Droz, 1987–1997). References to these editions will be by editor, volume, and page number. Neither of these manuscripts fully represents Malory’s source. Tristan 1489 is a facsimile edition of the printed text, with an introductory note by C. E. Pickford (London: Scolar Press, 1976).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 10.
    Gerald L. Bruns, “The Originality of Texts in a Manuscript Culture,” Comparative Literature 32 (1980): 113–29, notes writing is “always mediated by the texts that provide access to the system. To write is to intervene in what has already been written” (123).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 12.
    Van Coolput, Aventures quérant et le sens du monde: Aspects de la réception productive des premiers romans du Graal cycliques dans le Tristan en prose (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1986). See also Janina P. Traxler, “Ironic Juxtaposition as Intertextuality in the Prose Tristan” in Text and Intertext in Medieval Arthurian Literature, ed. Norris J. Lacy (New York: Garland, 1996), pp. 147–63.Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Lyn Pemberton, “Authorial Interventions in the Tristan en Prose,” Neophilologus 68 (1984): 481–97, notes how, when the narrator continually highlights his own narrative’s structure, “the referential function almost becomes subsidiary to the artistic function” (p. 496).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 14.
    For Van Coolput, the work makes no claims to possessing transcendent truths, but recognizes the limits of its own narration (Aventures quérant, p. 220). See also Baumgartner, La Harpe et Yépée: tradition et renouvellement dans le Tristan en prose (Paris: SEDES, 1990), pp. 43–61.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    In Thomas’s poem, the lines are Tristan’s: “El beivre fud la nostre mort, / Nus n’en n’avrum ja mais confort” [The drink was our death: we will never have comfort from it]. Thomas: Les Fragments du Roman de Tristan, ed. Bartina H. Wind (Geneva: Droz, 1960), ll. 1223–24. Baumgartner, La Harpe, p. 55.Google Scholar
  7. 22.
    Anne Rooney, Hunting in Middle English Literature (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1993), pp. 85–93; Corinne J. Saunders, “Malory’s Book of Huntynge: the Tristram section of the Morte Darthur,” Medium Ævum 62 (1993): 270–84.Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    P.J.C. Field considers the accusation against Malory for breaking into the Duke of Buckingham’s deer park, The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1993), pp. 100–01. I.M.W Harvey discusses late-medieval state suspicion of hunting as a cover for seditious practices, in: “Was There Popular Politics in Fifteenth-Century England?” in The Mc-Farlane Legacy: Studies in Late Medieval Politics and Society, ed. R. H. Britnell and A.J. Pollard (New York: St. Martins Press, 1995), pp. 155–74 (p. 163).Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    Sylvia Huot, From Song to Book: The Poetics of Writing in Old French Lyric and Lyrical Narrative Poetry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987). Emmanuèle Baumgartner, Le Tristan en prose, pp. 298–307, provides a list of the lyrics and their subject matter. See also Maureen Barry Mc-Cann Boulton, The Song in the Story: Lyric Insertions in French Narrative Fiction, 1200–1400 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), pp. 42–51.Google Scholar
  10. 26.
    Tatiana Fotitch and R. Steiner, Les Lais du Roman de Tristan en prose, d’après le manuscrit de Vienne 2542 (Munich: Fink, 1974).Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    See Maureen Boulton, “Tristan and his Doubles as Singers of Lais: Love and Music in the Prose Roman de Tristan,” in Shifts and Transpositions in Medieval Narrative: A Festschrift for Dr Elspeth Kennedy, ed. Karen Pratt (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1994), pp. 53–69 (p. 65).Google Scholar
  12. 32.
    Trauma: Explorations in Memory, ed. with intros. Cathy Caruth (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), p. 8.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    Freud, “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, gen. ed. James Strachey, 24 vols. (London: Hogarth Press, 1958), 12: 145–56.Google Scholar
  14. 35.
    See Françoise Le Saux, “Pryvayly and secretely: Personal Letters in Malory’s ‘Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones,’” Études de Lettres 3 (1993): 21–33 (21); Georgiana Donavin, “Locating a Public Forum for the Personal Letter in Malory’s Morte Darthur,” Disputatio 1 (1996): 19–36.Google Scholar
  15. 38.
    See James I. Wimsatt on Dynadan as partaking in the fluidity of perspective that characterizes the Tristram in general: “Segwarydes’ Wife and Competing Perspectives within Malory’s Tale of Sir Tristram and Its Model, the Prose Tristan” in Retelling Tales: Essays in Honor of Russell Peck, ed. Thomas Hahn and Alan Lupack (Woodbridge, UK: Brewer, 1997), pp. 321–39 (pp. 333–39).Google Scholar
  16. 42.
    “Thomas Hardy, Jacques Derrida, and the ‘Dislocation of Souls,’” in Taking Chances: Derrida, Psychoanalysis, and Literature, ed. Joseph H. Smith and William Kerrigan (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1984), pp. 135–45 (p. 136). Françoise Le Saux, “Pryvaly and secretely” (30), maintains that the iconography of Launcelot’s holding Mark’s letter reinforces its truth-value, which interestingly relativizes Launcelot’s body.Google Scholar
  17. 45.
    Philippe Ménard, “Les Fous dans la société médiévale,” Romania 98 (1977): 433–59, discusses, with literary examples, the multiple coexisting interpretations of the madman, from the demonically possessed, to the mentally ill, the one who may speak out with no fear of reprisal and the Holy Fool. Lillian Feder generalizes on madness and moral culpability in Madness in Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 101: “English imaginative literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries generally reflects the assumption that madness, a sign of inner corruption, is inspired sometimes by God and more commonly by the devil.”Google Scholar
  18. 46.
    On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa’s Translation of Bartholomæus Anglicus, De Proprietatibus Rerum, gen. ed. Malcolm Seymour, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975–1988), 1: 348–50 (p. 348).Google Scholar
  19. 49.
    On Brewnys (Brehus) as violent knight par excellence in the French romances, see Richard Trachsler, “Brehus sans Pitié: portrait-robot du criminel arthurien,” in La Violence dans le monde medieval, Sénéfiance 36 (1994): 525–42.Google Scholar
  20. 52.
    Georgianna Ziegler, “The Hunt as Structural Device in Malory’s Morte DarthurTristania 5 (1979): 15–22 (18).Google Scholar
  21. 53.
    Arthur Brittan, Masculinity and Power (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), p. 141.Google Scholar
  22. 54.
    On this issue see Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 161–62. For English law on this point, see Batt, “Malory and Rape,” p. 87.Google Scholar
  23. 56.
    Shoshana Felman, Writing and Madness (Philosophy/Psychoanalysis/Literature), trans. Martha Noel Evans and the author, with the assistance of Brian Massumi (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), pp. 14, 254.Google Scholar
  24. 59.
    Claude Roussel, “Le jeu des formes et des couleurs: observations sur ‘la beste glatissant,’” Romania 104 (1983): 49–82, connects this creature’s alterity with that of the later beste glatissant.Google Scholar
  25. 60.
    See the summaries in William A. Nitze, “The Beste Glatissant in Arthurian Romance,” Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 56 (1936): 409–18; Nitze argues, from a comparison of the beasts, for Perlesvaus as a source for the Graal continuation.Google Scholar
  26. 61.
    Janina P. Traxler, “Observations on the Beste Glatissant in the Tristan en proseNeophilologus 74 (1990): 499–509 (501).Google Scholar
  27. 65.
    Batt, “Malory’s Questing Beast and the Implications of Author as Translator,” in The Medieval Translator: The Theory and Practice of Translation in the Middle Ages, ed. Roger Ellis (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1989), pp. 143–66 (p. 152).Google Scholar
  28. 66.
    The Middle English Dictionary, ed. Hans Kurath, S. M. Kuhn, and others (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1954-), definitions 4 and 6.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Catherine Batt 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine Batt

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations