Data Gathering of a Theme in Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur (London: Caxton, 1485)
Malory appears to have begun his writing career as a translator of French and earlier Middle English sources describing high points in the court of King Arthur, namely the Quest of the Holy Grail and the Roman War, which left Arthur an imperial ruler of England and Europe in this mythic history of the Britons. Later, Malory began making stealthy changes in what he translated from his sources, deleting things he found objectionable (especially adulterous sex) and adding things he thought necessary (especially characters' clear statements of intention or responsibility). Because he seems to have begun with no notion of what "fiction" was, and believed in the truthfulness of his French and Middle English sources, his changes must have seemed to him like forgery, an act which may have caused him considerable anxiety. One thematic pattern which closely traces his anxieties as he approaches the forged portions of his narrative are the "Month of May" transitions. In French and Middle English romance, the "re-greening" or "reverdie" transition typically is used to shift from one narrative thread to another, and sometimes (as in the "General Prologue" of The Canterbury Tales) it serves a thematic purpose by invoking seasonal renewal or even salvation which will be echoed in the following narrative. Many times, though, it is merely a rote borrowing of a transitional tag with no apparent thematic meaning, at all. In Malory's case, it appears to be a structural flaw, or even an aesthetic strength because it allows us to witness the narrator's anguished struggle with his dangerous tale and his readers' expectations of truthful narration. The graph above allows us to see the clustering of these unusual transitions, especially as Malory approaches the catastrophe which overtakes the court when a knight named Mellyagaunce captures the Queen and evidence emerges that Lancelot had been in the Queen's bed. The list below provides the passages in context.
|E.V. page||"Month of May" Transition|
|169.00||Gawayne is led by
Ettarde toward her bed: "So it was in the monthe of May that she and sir
Gawayne wente oute of the castell and souped in a pavylyon and there was
made a bedde and there sir Gawayne and Ettarde wente to bedde togedyrs"
|226.00||The Roman Emperor's ambassadors report the defeat of their army by Arthur's forces "For in the moneth of May this myscheff befelle" (88r/226). This closely follows the Alliterative Morte Arthure (l. 2371, "In the kalendes of May this case is befallen").|
|683.00||Trystram, riding armed
to the hunt because he fears Mark's treachery: "So on a day a lytil
afore the moneth o May sir Trystram chaced an harte passynge egirly . .
." He encounters Paolmydes, who does not recognize him, and who
declares "I love La Beall Isode peramoures" (281r/684-5).
ride before her capture by Mellyagaunce and rescue by Launcelot: "And
thus hit passed on frome Candylmas untyll [after] Ester that the moneth
of May was com when every lusty harte burgenyth and florysshyth in May"
|1119.07||"For hit gyvyth unto
all lovers corrayge that lusty moneth of May in somthynge to constrayne
hym to som maner of thynge more in that moneth than in other monethe for
dyverce causys" (434v/435r/1119).
|1119.22||"Therefore lyke as May
moneth flowyth and floryshyth in every mannes garyne so in lyke wyse lat
every man of worshyp florysh hys herte in thys worlde" (435r/1119).
|1120.00||"So hit befelle in the moneth of May quene Gwenyver called unto her ten knyghtes of the Tabel Rounde and she gaff them warnynge that early uppon the morn she wolde ryde on maynge into woodis and fyldis besydes Westemynster" (435v/1120).|
|1120.33||"And so uppon the morne or hit were day in a May mornynge they toke their horsys wyth teh quene and rode on mayinge in wodis an dmedowis as hit pleased hem in grete joy and delytes for the quene had caste to have bene agayne wth kynge Arthur at the furthest by ten of the clok and so was that tyme her purpose" (435v/1120-21).|
|1161.00||"so thys season hit
befelle in the moneth of May a grete angur and unhapp<e> that stynted
nat tylle the floure of chyvalry of [alle] the worlde was destroyed and