Malory 4: Discovery of the Queen’s Affair and Lancelot’s Defense of the Queen, Gawain vs. Lancelot, Mordred vs. Arthur, and the Deaths of Arthur (?), Gwenyvere, and Lancelot.

The Discovery of the Queen’s Affair and Lancelot’s Defense:

        The passage from 673-684 would repay careful reading. In it, Aggravayne, Gawain’s brother (never much in a fight on a fair field but a partisan in the murders of Lamerok and Pellynore) insists upon exposing Lancelot’s affair with Gwenyvere by surprising them in her chambers. Gawain opts out—those who go are defeated, and many are killed, but the groundwork has been laid for the destruction of the fragile understanding upon which Arthur’s court has existed (see Merlin’s warning to Arthur about all of this, p. 59). With what values does Lancelot, unarmed, face the armed knights outside their chamber door (676-77)? Especially how does this event turn upon Lancelot’s reaction to "noyse" (not just a loud racket—more like "slander" or "gossip" or "public opinion")?

        On 670-80, Lancelot gathers together his "menie" or warband, composed mainly of blood kin and those who owe him homage. How does Bors analyze their situation (680)? Most importantly, how does Lancelot describe his delicate strategy, rather like a "peace-keeping operation" in hostile territory, or a "surgical strike" when total war is being avoided (680-81)? Keep in mind you are reading the words of a real knight experienced in party politics of Warwickshire and the realities of actual combat.

        On 682-3, in a speech which surprises some readers, Gawayne attempts to forestall the execution of Gwenyvere by providing Arthur with a version of events which would explain Lancelot’s presence in her chamber, a story which apparently means he is willing to accept the death of his brother, Aggravayne, and the wounding of Mordred. How does Gawayne understand the legal culpability for the deaths which occurred? How does this affect your sense of his character?

        Arthur, apparently furious to avenge the injury Lancelot has done, insists that Gawayne and his brothers arm themselves and escort Gwenyvere to be burned. Gawayne refuses, but warns Arthur that Gaherys and Gareth are "yonge and full unable to say you nay" (683). What happens as a result (684)?

Gawayne vs. Lancelot:

        When Gawayne learns of the terrible outcome of Lancelot’s decimation of the execution squad, he requires Arthur on three grounds to give him charge of a war against Lancelot—what are these grounds of war, and how do they relate to what we might consider the causes (686)?

        The hatred between Gawayne and Lancelot culminates in the exchange on pp. 696-97 in which Gawayne lays out his grievance and Lancelot replies with a defense. Upon what grounds to they base their cases? How does this set up Malory’s value system in a legal framework? Especially, for Lancelot, how do "langayge" and "noyse" enter into it and what do these concepts mean that he would take part in the destruction of the Round Table because of them?

        On 704 and 706, Gawain finally meets Lancelot in open combat to settle the issue, and Lancelot deals him two blows to the head. What event in Balyn’s life does this relate to, and what is Gawayne’s response?

Mordred vs. Arthur

        Mordred’s treason is one of the oldest and possibly most vital parts of the Arthurian "storyscape." What kinds of power does this narrative gain from a betrayal by a characer who is simultaneously a kinsman, an illegitimate and incestuously begotten son, and a marshal charged with ruling the realm in the king's absence?

        Malory is so moved by the events he describes that, as in the "moneth May" passage, he bursts into spontaneous address of his audience (708). How can a man writing from a medieval point of view in 1469-70, five years before the first mass-market book was printed in English, decide to declaim (in a unique manuscript written in prison) "Lo ye all Englysshemen, se ye nat what a myschyff her was?" In what sense does he understand his readership, and what is his understanding of the author’s role? How would you compare it with Chaucer’s narrators’ address to their audiences in the dream visions? What does this mean for politics, for literature, and for England? What do you make of the coincidence that the work containing this speech was printed for that mass audience by Caxton’s press in 1485, in the same month in which Henry Tudor’s army invaded and took the throne from Richard III?  English kings used claims of descent from Arthur to legitimize their claims to the throne as late as Edward IV and Henry VI, both of whom imprisoned Malory.  Click here to see the Edward IV geneological roll which traces his descent from Adam and Eve, through Arthur and Cadwallader, to the Throne of England (Free Library of Philadelphia MS Lewis E201, c. 1461-64)  Richard III was not a particularly enthusiastic follower of Arthuriana, but Henry Tudor's son, Henry VIII, was.  For the most comprehensive study of these prophecies, see Leslie A. Coote, Prophecy and Public Affairs in Later Medieval England (Rochester, NY: York Medieval P / Boydell, 2000) [820.9 C779p ]. 

        Arthur dreams two dreams while camped on the fields of Salisbury Plain (where Stonehenge already was so ancient that none knew its builders). The first is a typical "wheel of fortune" dream—how is it constructed and how would you interpret it if you were the king’s soothsayer (711)? The second is a visio in which a tutelary figure comes to the sleeper and gives him wisdom about events past, present and future. Who is the speaker and what does this imply about him?

The Deaths of Arthur, Gwenyvere, and Lancelot:

        What is the role played by the "addir" which crawls out of "a lytyll hethe-busshe" in the events on that final day (712)? What does this kind of motive mechanism do for your sense of the cause of battle, and the meaning of its outcome?  (Note that this detail comes to Malory from the Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthure (ll. 3320-59), which he uses to enrich the main line of the narrative which he is translating from the French La Morte le Roi Artu.

        How, exactly, does Arthur kill Mordred and how does Mordred kill Arthur? What do you make of this symmetry? (714)

        When Bedyvere is charged to throw Arthur’s sword into the water, how does he react and how many times does he do so (716-7)? What does the sword’s final appearance seem to mean to you? (See Virginia Woolf's  for a reappearance.)

        The departure (it would be inaccurate to say "death") of Arthur contains numerous elements we know from the lais and other parts of this text: what can you identify and what might their presence here mean (716-7)? Malory issues his judgment on these obscure events (717:29-35). What is he trying to say with that symbolic material, and why would he say the writing on the "tumbe" says (I translate), "Here lies Arthur, King Once, King to Come"? [or the more familiar and economical "Once and Future King"]

        Lancelot’s final interview with Gwenyvere seems designed to set their relationship on a just footing. What values does Malory appeal to (720-721)? Could you compare this with Marie’s "Eliduc" in which the knight and his wife both take the veil to bring order to lives torn asunder by love?

        Lancelot’s death resembles the deaths of saints, perhaps none more so than Galahad’s. What elements does it have that mark it out as other than a typical chivalric death such as Malory records by the hundreds? How does Lancelot’s death affect his comrades? How do they finally decide to die, and would you say this was Christian or pagan behavior?

Malory’s Last Explicit:

        There is something terrible, dignified, and pathetic about this author’s last words, both because of what he had attempted and achieved in his isolation, and because of the socio-historical circumstances in which he had attempted it. How might he have understood the relationship between his Arthurian project and his imprisonment? How would he understand the world his text’s version of the Arthurian story, with its fixed beginning and middle and end, helped to make? What parts of our world would he still find intelligible and what parts would be alien? Were he to meet modern authors, which would he understand and respect, and which would he reject? Which authors of our era do you think have secretly or openly embraced his model for textual production, mores, relationship to their characters’ historicity and culpability, etc.?