Friday, June 27, 2014

Le Morte D'Arthur

Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur is possibly one of the most well known works of Arthurian Lit. It was the work that my Arthurian Lit class chose to end the semester with. (My final is on Saturday - wish me luck!) And here is my final essay for the course on the dissolution of the fellowship of the Round Table. Page numbers are from the Winchester Manuscript published by Oxford World Classics.

From the moment that the Knights of the Round Table set out on the quest for the Sangreal, King Arthur knew that the dissolution of the order was at hand. “I am sure,” he says, “At this quest of the Sangrail shall all ye of the Table round depart, and never shall I see you again whole together” (p. 316). This is really the beginning of the end, and from this point there are numerous causes that can be seen that bring about the end of the fellowship.
                The quest for the Holy Grail becomes the epitome of all the adventures that the Knights have had so far. The recluse’s chastisement and warning to Lancelot is a foreshadowing of problems to come – “Now have I warned thee of thy vainglory and of thy pride, that thou hast many times erred against thy Maker. Beware of everlasting pain…” (p. 350). Lancelot’s faults are emphasized when he is not permitted to see the Sangreal. Futhermore, when Galahad heals the Maimed King, he fulfills the prophesy from the time of Joseph of Arimathea. Once that has been completed, the Knights of the Round Table have not much left to aspire to or to fight for. Without a unifying purpose, it is only a question of time before the fellowship falls apart.
                 The downfall is jointly caused by Lancelot’s and Guinevere’s affair, and Mordred’s revelation of that affair.  Mordred, a recreant knight, only does this this because of his own selfish motives, and desire to obtain the throne. Ironically, despite his malevolent motivations, he is still exposing sin and what could potentially be considered Lancelot’s treason. Lancelot, on the other hand, is conflicted in his struggle to remain true to the laws of chivalry and courtly love. Chivalry demands that he remain loyal to his king, but courtly love insists that he protect and defend his lady – who just happens to be the king’s wife.
Lancelot prepares to fight his King for his Lady.
                Gawain, though not originally involved, becomes a major player in the downfall of the fellowship. When he first hears of Mordred’s and Agravain’s plan, he foresees that “the noble fellowship of the Round Table shall be disparbled” (p. 469). He persists in supporting Lancelot and the queen, until Lancelot accidentally kills Gareth, Gawain’s brother. Then, his wrath is so great that he convinces King Arthur to launch into full-out battle against Lancelot. Arthur, like Lancelot, is torn between his love for Lancelot and for Gawain.
                Another, less physical cause of the downfall of the fellowship of the Round Table is Fortune. Arthur has a dream about the Wheel of Fortune, where he, attached to the wheel, rises up to the top, and then is spun back down into the “hideous black water” of bad fortune (p. 510). By bad luck, a serpent stings a soldier who unthinkingly pulls out a sword to kill it, breaking the peace between Arthur and Mordred. And Lancelot laments what everyone is thinking when he says, “Alas, who may trust this world?” (p. 521).

                There are numerous causes that brought about the dissolution of the Knights of the Round Table, and all are equally to blame – Lancelot’s affair with Guinevere, Mordred’s involvement, Gawain’s blind wrath, and the maneuverings of Lady Fortune and her Wheel. There is also fault within the systems of chivalry and courtly love, which caused Lancelot’s turmoil and played a part in the fellowship’s downfall. Malory illustrates that the ultimate failings were these systems, as well as the lack of honor at the core of mankind – shown in Mordred and in the nobles who followed him because they were so tired of war. Was there any one thing that could have been done to prevent the dissolution? I don’t think so. Too many different forces contributed in too many ways that the fall of Arthur and his knights was inevitable.

The death of Arthur and Mordred

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