Religion in Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur
Armstrong, Dorsey. Gender and the Chivalric Community in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.
“Chivalric Performance, Malory’s Sir Lancelot.” Gainesville: University Press of
Florida, 2003. 68-109. University of Oklahoma. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.
The main focus of Armstrong’s article seems to be centered around the masculinity of knighthood, analyzed through the theoretical lens of Judith Butler’s theory of performativity. Identity develops through gendered interactions. While Arthur functions primarily as a facilitator who enables the activities of the quests, knights exhibit “hyper-masculinity” in order to maintain legitimacy in terms of the heteronormative. Armstrong writes, “It is active knights who are engaged in the day-to-day work of both defining and defending the Arthurian community, and such activity usually coalesces around the feminine” (“Chivalric Performance,” 69). The source material from which Malory is working focuses more on the moral issues concerning Lancelot’s affair with Gwenyvere, but Malory shifts away from that, forcing us to question social order. Armstrong suggests that this concern is with gender, more so than the source material. Armstrong ultimately is suggesting that gender normativity, and the chivalric tendency to position proper knighthood in a manner that provides service to helpless women, is a major concern in Malory’s text. I think this article is useful for my argument concerning a theological debate of free will and predeterminism that conflicts with codes of moral responsibility and “chivalric” behavior. Although Armstrong writes that spiritual devotion is largely absent in Malory’s text, compared to his contemporaries, I wish to argue that this “devotion to women” is part of the problem. I would like to take Armstrong’s argument a step further to suggest that this hyper-masculinity exhibited by the knights is precisely the point of conflict with spiritual (theological) matters concerning moral responsibility. The chivalric behaviors/goals contradict devotion to God.
Blenkinsopp, Joseph. A History of Prophecy in Israel. Second ed. Louisville:
Westminster John Knox Press, 1996. 1-29. Print.
This book discusses the history of prophecy and in particular, the biblical prophets. There is a particular focus on the prophetic tradition that is more complex than one may think. According to Blenkinsopp, prophets “could play either a supportive role or a destabilizing role, and they could operate either within recognized and approved institutions or outside of them” (3). The book talks about varying components of the prophetic tradition, including geographical lines and other cultural influences. Blenkinsopp illustrates the complexity of prophecy and suggests that as an institution, it will reflect “cultural conditions characteristic of different regions.” Blenkinsopp emphasizes the critical prophetic tradition in which the prophet serves to identify a lack of justice and righteousness. He says that even a society in which the practice of religion flourishes must possess these two features, or else does not deserve to survive. I wonder how this factors into the rise and fall of Camelot in Malory, and the ways that Malory translates the role of Merlin as prophet. Understanding the prophetic tradition is important when considering the role of prophecy in the middle ages. Although we know that Malory deviates from the source material for his primary prophet, Merlin, it is important to understand the tradition within which he works. Perhaps biblical prophecy, and the tradition thereof, can offer some insight into the concept that Malory and his contemporaries would have been influenced by, or at minimum, aware of. I studied this text in a Prophecy course, and I feel like there are a lot of useful, relevant connections to later understandings of the role of the prophet.
Boyle, Louis J. “Ruled by Merlin: Mirrors for Princes, Counseling Patterns, and
Malory’s ‘Tale of King Arthur”.” Arthuriana 23.2 (2013): 53-65. Print.
Boyle’s article focuses on the idea of who should counsel the King. Obviously there is a great deal of focus on the role of Merlin as counselor/prophet. Boyle suggests that this was a real issue of the period. Who is equipped to counsel the king? He writes about the inherent paradoxes and contradictory nature of counseling patterns advocated by advice texts (speculum principis or mirrors for princes). This is illustrated through Malory’s emphasis on Merlin as “an infallible advisor.” Boyle suggests that Merlin, whom Malory recreates, is a perfect counselor for a king given the definition of counsel as stated in the advice texts. However, the reader can easily identify problem with the character, and we see there are times that Arthur cannot follow any other trope, creating a whirlwind of issues in the tale. I think this article is useful because Merlin’s prophecies play such an interesting role for the sake of conversations concerning theology. There are times when Merlin informs Arthur of what is going to happen, without any means of changing it. At other times, Arthur is told explicitly that he may choose a different path and change the outcome. If we see Merlin as the perfect counselor, according to Boyle, then are we to see him as a speaker that addresses theological concerns of free will and predeterminism? Is this larger debate the reason we need counsel, to begin with? Perhaps Merlin illustrates that while we have the free choice to make decisions, some things are out of our control, understanding, etc. and counsel from God is the only way to navigate. Boyles writes, “By the time Arthur becomes king, it is well established that Merlin is not only primary counselor but, for all practical purposes, is in fact ruling” (54).
Clairvaux, Bernard of. On Grace and Free Choice. Trans. Daniel O’Donovan. Ed. Bernard
McGinn. N.p.: Cistercian Publications, 1977. N. pag. Print.
This treatise focuses on the tension between God’s grace and human free will throughout history and into the twelfth century, believed to have been penned around 1128. According to the introduction, written by Bernard McGinn, “While making use of a wide range of Paul’s writings, especially the Epistles to the Corinthians and to the Galatians, it is certainly the Epistle to the Romans which is the major Scriptural basis for the Grace and Free Choice” (5). According to this treatise, medieval evolution into this question involved two related, but distinguishable concerns. First, there is a sort of abstract complex that deals with the reconciliation of divine foreknowledge and predestination with the contingency of human action. In other words, “either God truly foreknows and infallibly causes all things and hence everything happens necessarily, or at least some human actions happen contingently as the products of free choice and therefore God’s knowledge and will are limited” (7). Essentially this second question asked that, “given the fallen state of man, what freedom, if any, does he still retain to choose good or evil?” (7). The author of the treatise is undoubtedly influenced by the theology of Augustine, whose primary intent was “not so much to seek to understand (insofar as human capability can) the mystery of the divine will and human freedom, but to display the faith of the church as based upon Scriptures” (9). Bernard, in an attempt to reconcile these two seemingly contradicting notions of grace and free choice, he distinguishes, “life, sense-perception, natural appetite, and consent,” disregarding the three classic definitions offered by Boethius, “the free judgment concerning the will;” Augustine, “the power of doing good or evil;” and Anselm, “the faculty of preserving uprightness for its own sake.” There is a focus on consent, and he seems to suggest that reason must accompany any act of the will. Bernard draws on the Pauline tradition, as well as popular theology before him to attempt to define new (or rather different) ways of thinking of the term freedom. His work influence those that followed, such as Lombard and Aquinas, and contributed heavily to later Medieval discussions concerning this theological debate. This treatise, and its introduction, is useful to my paper because of the history of the free will and predeterminism debate I wish to explore.
Corrie, Marilyn. “”God may well for do destiny”: Dealing with Fate, Destiny, and Fortune in
Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur and Other Late Medieval Writing.” Studies in
Philology 110.4 (2013): 690-713. MLAIB. Web. 17 Sept. 2014.
Corrie suggests in this article that Malory’s text participates in more a pagan tradition, adopted by the Patristics, following that events have been predetermined. She writes, “Malory’s text invokes the claim made by other late medieval writers that God can overrule something that has been predetermined, but it simultaneously suggests that what is to happen has been determined by the individuals to whom it is to happen, not predetermined at all” (690). Corrie begins by considering Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseydye, suggesting that Chaucer’s characters repeatedly claim that what is happening to them, or will happen, has been predetermined. This follows the abstract theological complex that Bernard of Clairvaux encounters, which allows that God’s foreknowledge of everything that happens means that everything that happens is predetermined. In Malory, Arthur knows what will happen if he marries Gwenyvere, yet he marries her anyway. Is there nothing that Arthur can do to prevent it? Nothing Lancelot or Gwenyvere can do? Corrie goes on in the article to talk about concepts of judicial astrology, and the belief that some men’s fates were simply misfortunate. Corrie writes, “the idea that what people did and what happened to them were determined by natural forces external to themselves contradicted Christian doctrine as formulated by Augustine in the patristic era. In his mission to define the Christian faith against the beliefs adhered to by the pagans, Augustine had affirmed that, through their free will, individuals made choices, which God either punished or rewarded, in his justice and his mercy” (693). Ultimately there is a suggestion that for the middle ages, this question was one that people were interested in. By the time we get to Malory, or the time period in which he wrote, ideas of judicial astrology, unfortunate fate, etc. were rendered mostly invalid. Divine providence first and man’s free will second seems to be the way that theologians reconciled this issue. People determine their own fate, through freedom of choice, and fate is the agent that dispenses justice and/or mercy. This is a really interesting article for the sake of my paper. Analyzing Malory, and the Grail quest in particular, through this lens offered by Corrie presents many interesting finds/challenges. Is Arthur’s achievement of the grail more important than his successful marriage, successful realm, relationship with Lancelot? If Lancelot does not join the round table, there is no pining for Gwenyvere, deceived conception of Galahad, achievement of Grail (arguably). It is difficult to remove any concepts of predeterminism from Malory.
Dougherty, M.V. Moral Dilemmas in Medieval Thought: From Gratian to Aquinas.
New York City: Cambridge University Press, 2011. N. pag. Print.
This book offers an overview of the debates pursued by medieval philosophers, theologians, and lawyers. Dougherty illustrates the views of medieval thinkers and suggests that such thinkers believed that some forms of wrongdoing are inescapable, and their emphasis is on the principle ‘choose the lesser of two evils.’ Dougherty discusses the moral philosophies of Gratian to Acquinas’ discussion on the failures of practical reasoning. A large debate that seems to present itself throughout the text is the lesser of two evils conversations. A large concern with this debate is the idea that one can, in a sense, instruct the will to do a moral evil. Moral evil should never be an end. This book offers several chapters that will be useful to my paper. In order to write about questions of free will and predeterminism, and codes of chivalric behavior and moral responsibility, it is necessary to have some general information from the period, concerning theology, politics, and philosophy. This book helps establish the context within which Malory is writing. Perhaps more importantly, it established the context within which the readers are living and contributing to conversations of right versus wrong.
Gregory, Tobias. “Providence, Irony, and Magic.” From Many Gods to One: Divine Action in
Renaissance Epic. First ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. 102-39.
This book discusses the transition from a polytheistic religious society to a monotheistic Christian society. The focus of this particular chapter is centered around the ways that writing dealt with representations of the divine. Gregory writes, “From its first flowering in twelfth-century France, the chivalric tradition developed modes of representing the supernatural distinct from those of classical epic” (103). We know that in the classical epics Gods intervened in the lives of men. It is explicit and the audience is aware that anything can change at any time in the narrative if the Gods wish it to happen. Nothing seems to be certain or guaranteed, rather. In Romance, as Gregory points out, this is not the case. Intervening deities are rare. He writes that, “in epic, the narrative moves between earth and heaven; in romance, the action unfolds across a varied, marvelous, but recognizably terrestrial landscape.” This makes sense for a society that is plagued by its pagan past. Writers are struggling to properly represent the divine, and to do so in a way that is not reminiscent of the classical past in an overt way. Romance largely did without gods as characters, which we see in Malory’s Le Morte Darthur. Many scholars suggest this absence of God as a main character, or focus point of the text, merely emphasizes Malory’s lack of interest in creating a text with large religious implications. In fact, Malory’s theological concerns are rarely addressed in scholarship. However, I wish to contend that Malory is simply attempting to abstain from the classical tradition, or tendency, to create the divine as an inclusive figure, intervening on a constant basis in man’s life, because of the haunting pagan past for Christianity. Gregory writes, “one reason the chivalric model proved attractive to Renaissance poets as an approach to the problem of replacing the Olympian gods” is this notions of avoiding narrative difficulties that Christian divine action presented. Medieval romance, such as Malory’s, merely illustrates this transition in literary modes that writers of the period, as well as those preceding and following, faced. How does one keep the focus on God, and his divinity, without mimicking the classics? Malory does this with his chivalric characters.
Hodges, Kenneth. “Haunting Pieties: Malory’s Use of Chivalric Christian “Exempla” after
the Grail.” Arthuriana 17.2 (2007): 28-48. Print.
In this article, Hodges discusses moral authority by examining exempla texts that follow the Grail quest in Malory’s Le Morte. Hodges suggests that although the Grail quest is the dominant choice for scholarship discussing Christianity and chivalry, the two tales that follow offer insight into the tradition as well. There is a focus on the concept of forgiveness in the tales, rather than the concept of purity that we get in the Grail quest with Galahad. This serves as a reminder, alongside the “poisoned apple” episode of man’s fallen state and the need for forgiveness. Galahad is a reminder of Christ, what it means to be Christ-like, and his piety is rare when we take a look at the other knights. This article serves as a reminder that although seeking to be Christ-like (Galahad in mind) is the Christian ideal, it is slightly unreasonable to expect due to man’s fallen state. If one cannot meet this high expectation, luckily for him, God is forgiving. In the article, Hodges also focuses on the responsibility of moral interpretation and suggests that it is shifted to the reader in these tales that follow. I wonder if this can be said of other parts of Le Morte, as well. Hodges suggests that readers would have likely been less aware of the source materials that Malory uses as they would have been concerning the theological concerns of the period, debate over Eucharist by Lollards for example. He implies that there is a negotiation of sorts that takes place in these final sections of Malory’s text. What does this relationship between text and its readers mean for a fifteenth-century audience? I think this article is useful for my argument because it deals with issues of morality and theological concerns. Hodges writes of Malory, “he consistently shows himself more interested in Christianity’s relations to worldly men and women than in fugitive and cloistered virtue” (29). This supports my reading of Malory and the notion that he is interested in illustrating the conflict that arises when men (knights, kings, etc.) are out in the world, encountering real-life situations. Chivalric codes and Divine codes (Christian values, pursuits) do not jive! This concept of morality as asserted by the author (Malory makes it clear he is retelling the stories, not authoring them) is also interesting for my free will debate…but I have not quite worked that portion out yet.
Hodges, Kenneth. “Making Arthur Protestant: Translating Malory’s Grail Quest into
Spenser’s Book of Holiness.” The Review of English Studies 62.254 (2010): 194-
2011. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.
In this article, Hodges suggests that the first book of Spenser’s Faerie Queene is a response to Malory’s Le Morte Darthur. As the article title suggests, Hodges theorizes that Spenser is making Arthur (and his Grail quest) Protestant and removing it from the Catholic stronghold from which it is founded. Hodges argues that Malory’s grail quest “presents the pursuit of holiness as incompatible with national service.” One could argue that this is a key understanding of the transition from “Many Gods to One” that Tobias Gregory writes his book about. Malory is transitioning from classical to Christian and Spenser from Catholic to Protestant. But what does this mean for the larger theological implications of the periods? Although Malory is situated in Catholic Christianity, Hodges article illuminates theological and political debates that were taking place in the periods. One cannot disregard this notion of incompatibility between holiness and nationality, in Malory. And although Spenser provides a reconciliation of sorts, the questions of incompatibility do not go away. Just as Hodges writes that connections between Galahad and Redcrosse have been overlooked in scholarship, I believe connections between early modern humanist concerns and concerns illustrated in Malory’s Le Morte have also been neglected. Hodges article illustrates the divide between Medieval and Early Modern. He writes, “the assumption has been too often that medieval works were sufficiently distant from early-modern culture that they were dependent on early-modern writers or antiquarians for revivification, no longer having political potency of their own. But Le Morte Darthur was only about a hundred years old, and it was reprinted at least three times in the sixteenth-century” (197). It was a hundred years for Spenser, but much less for early modern (16th century) humanists such as Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin.
Kaeuper, Richard W. Introduction. A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry. Ed. Geoffroi de
Charny. Trans. Elspeth Kennedy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
Kaeuper is an historian who gives a great introduction to this fourteenth-century manual for knighthood. According to Kaeuper, Geoffroi de Charny was considered the “quintessential knight of his age by his contemporaries.” According to Kaeuper, Geoffroi was a famous French warrior and knight, and this book of chivalry can tell us a lot about the standards of knighthood as well as how a French warrior-aristocrat in the mid-fourteenth century could express his thoughts. Geoffroi offers insight into a knight’s relationship with God, the just rule of princes, and many other components of medieval knighthood. The main focus of the text, of course, is chivalry. More specifically, it speaks to young knights who aspire to greatness as well as older knights who serve as models for what to do/not to do. According to historian, Richard Kaeuper, other examples of texts that talk about knighthood written in the Middle Ages, such as those belonging to John of Salisbury and Ramon Lull, are not as close to authentic knighthood authorship. He suggests that if we are trying to understand chivalry as it functioned in the Middle Ages, we must “wipe the slate clean and start with sound medieval evidence, not wishful thinking from any age” (3). Geoffroi was a practicing knight, one of the most renowned of his age. Geoffrio’s work is broken up into multiple small sections where he offers pieces of advice/commentary. For example, “The Good Rulers Contrasted with the Unworthy,” “Those who present themselves Outwardly as Generous and Devout,” “Those Who Act Loyally and Serve God,” and “The True Men of Worth, Brave and of Good Counsel.” These are just a few that exemplify the knightly codes of the period. It is interesting to compare/contrast these codes with the knightly behaviors of Malory’s characters. In particular, I will use the text to talk about Lancelot and the concept of moral responsibility in Malory’s Le Morte.
Kapelle, Rachel. “Merlin’s Prophecies, Malory’s Lacunae.” Arthuriana 19.2 (2009): 58-81.
MLAIB. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.
Kapelle’s article argues that prophecy reveal that “certain rules do govern what happens” (59). She suggests that in Malory’s source materials, characters are constantly thinking about the prophecies. In Malory, this is not the case. Prophecy is happening, but it is not necessarily being acknowledged by characters. Merlin sometimes guides the reader to what will happen if one of two choices is made. Other times, he does this explicitly, giving specific directions. Merlin clearly has access to other-worldly information. During Arthur’s war with the eleven kings, Merlin tells him to withdraw now because God is angry. Arthur listens. Some of Merlin’s predictions seem to describe inevitable events, which speaks to the issue of free will versus predeterminism. If an event will occur, one knows about it, yet he cannot change the outcome…how does free will exist? Kapelle writes, “with the aid of foreknowledge, characters fulfill desires or avert disasters” (61). Is Malory illustrating the situation that God is in? He has foreknowledge but does not necessarily mediate the action that follows? I contend that prophecy serves as a sort of mechanism for exactly this type of parallel. Foreknowledge allows man to see that grace and free will can coexist, speaking to the broader theological concerns of Malory’s time. Perhaps Medieval Romance serves to investigate those larger concerns through its characters, and in particular, through chivalric models of behavior. The round table knights bring too much glory to themselves, as a unit, and this gives others something to imitate. They are recognizable because of their reputations. The attention that the knights receive seems to take something away from the divine. Who should one model himself after?? Obviously, Christ seems like the best (Christian ideal) response, but we see only one character that really fits, Galahad, and that is in the Grail quest. Perhaps this illustrates why Malory’s chivalric code and divine purpose are so incompatible. This seems to resonate perfectly with humanist concerns of whom to imitate.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. “New Heaven: New Earth 1517-24.” The Reformation. First ed.
New York: Penguin Group, 2003. 106-57. Print.
This book chapter in historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s work, begins with Augustine and his dispute over the question of sin and salvation and ends with Luther, and his question of the same nature. Although Augustine was fundamental to Christianity, humanist reformers had problems with his theology concerning man’s free will and God’s foreknowledge. MacCulloch writes of Augustine, “He found an explanation in the leak picture of human worthlessness painted in the letter written by the Apostle Paul to the first Christian community in Rome. In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul finds only one solution to humanity’s helpless slavery to sin: a gracious gift of salvation from God, ‘through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom god put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith’ (Romans 3:24-25)” (107). Although the Pelagians suggested that man could earn salvation by living purely in this life, Augustine struggled to reconcile this concept with the fact that man is so far fallen, because of Adam’s original sin. Everything for Augustine depended on the grace of an all-powerful God. Essentially, the saved must be predestined to salvation and the damned to damnation (although the author contends that Augustine rarely stated the latter, explicitly). The chapter also emphasizes that this debate by Augustine is incomplete, and he does not necessarily address the existence of evil, if the all-good God did not create it. More importantly, potentially, are the other elements of Augustine’s contributions to Christian thought. This section of the book goes on to trace the historical components involved in this period between Augustine and Luther, when theological questions were on the rise. This text is clearly useful to my discussion of free will in Malory for obvious reasons. Along with the theologies of Augustine and Luther, those of Erasmus and Calvin will play an integral part in illustrating the connections between Malory’s Le Morte (late Medieval Romance) and Early Modern Reform.
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