Malory 2: the Lancelot and Gareth Segments; Galahad, Launcelot and the Grail

Malory’s Sources—what he kept and what he left out:

        Keeping in mind that both Caxton’s and the Winchester manuscript’s order of Malory’s text do not vary.  We can infer that he probably intended his readers to encounter the section Vinaver called "The Tale of King Arthur" before the "Roman War," the "Lancelot," and the "Gareth" narratives. These sequences allow the reader to assume the following three "historial" events precede Lancelot’s and Gareth’s adventures: Arthur’s earliest days, including Gawain’s earliest battles and his kin-hatred for Pellynore's sons based on the killing of Gawain's father, King Lott; Balyn’s series of testing combats which culminate in disasters he brought upon himself by "taking the adventure God sends" but failing to moderate his response to challenges until too late in the combat; and Arthurís conquest of Rome, mainly by the aid of Gawain, who has become the most powerful of Arthurís knights, though the young Launcelot and Tristan have arrived at court, and Launcelot already has done important deeds (invented by Malory) in the war against Rome (113).  

        The Launcelot episodes are selected from widely separated episodes in the enormous C13 French Prose Lancelot.  Malory apparently has chosen the episodes because their juxtaposition with each other enable him to create a "Launcelot" quite different from the love-besotted knight in the French romance.  This strategy seems far more "authorial" than his loyal translation of the Suite du Merlin for the earlier "Arthur's early kingdom" episodes.  What values do the episodes turn upon, often announced by the protagonist, himself?

        The Gareth episodes occur in no known source, but "analogue" tales very like this one occur in two popular English romance types, the "Fair Unknown" and the Gawain-romances like "Weddyng of Gawain and Dame Ragnelle" and "Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle."  If Malory achieves "authority" by selection and juxtaposition of the Launcelot episodes, while changing some of their core statements of value about "courtly love," the Gareth episodes appear to be a free recombination of elements of both tale types.  Chaucer uses the same technique when he braids together three unrelated fabliaux to create "Miller's Tale" (the "second Noah's flood," the "misdirected kiss," and the "branding").  Similarly, once the "Fair Unknown" plot's encounter with the outrageous opponent has satisfied the Chiding Damsel's demands in the "Red Knight of the Red Laundes" combat, audiences expecting "Fair Unknown" ending will be surprised and perhaps confused by decision to spare the outrageous opponent and the tale's refusal to end with a wedding at this point.  Could this tale be read as comedy like "Miller's Tale"?

Serial Combat as Trial of Character:

        Based on Balyn’s serial combats, in which the cause of battle becomes harder to interpret and his reasoning as to his response becomes progressively more sophisticated, we were prepared for the triple-quest of the hart, brachet and lady which put Gawain, Uwayne, and Marhalt through similar patterns of combat to try their characters. These trials also included the choice of allies and enemies, the discrimination of good from bad causes of combat, and the development of principles for halting combat. How does Lancelot's series of combats test his judgment and courage?  What "double binds" does each test place on his ability to act in an obviously noble fashion, and do you see any thematic patterns in the sequence of combats?  Does the whole sequence add up to an independent "work" or is this somehow part of the narrative which began on page one with "Hit befil in the days of Uther Pendragon..."? 

          Gareth's narrative also appears structured upon serial combat sequences, but a complicatoin ensues when he has conquered the seeming nemesis of his initial quest (the Rede Knyght of the Rede Laundes) only to be denied access to Lyonesse, the woman he fought for and the woman he says he loves.  A second episodic sequence begins, involving combat and tests of a more political or erotic nature.  Again, do you see any thematic patterns in the sequence of combats or other tests?  Does the whole sequence add up to an independent "work" or is this best read as part of the narrative which began on page one with "Hit befil in the days of Uther Pendragon..."? 

        Lancelot’s segment was extracted from the enormous mass of the Prose Lancelot with the clear intention of placing him in a similar series of combat tests (see Albert Hartung, "Narrative Technique, Character, and the Sources in Malory’s ‘Tale of Sir Lancelot," Studies in Philology 70:3 (1973) 252-68). Gareth’s serial tests occur in no known previous manuscript, though Vinaver posits the existence of one to avoid admitting Malory could have invented rather than translated such a large and coherent passage.  Vinaver's reading of Malory tends to treat him as an inspired translator/editor, as much as an author, but the inconsistencies in Vinaver's view of his subject often cause him to undertake such assumptions without arguing their likelihood.  Compare and contrast these two knights’ responses to their various challenges, and attempt to decide what Malory is trying to tell you about his Lancelot and Gareth. What questions does he raise in each of their tales, and how does he appear to answer them?  When you have a better idea what Gareth means in Malory's value system, especially after the "Morte" proper (the conclusion of the manuscript), you might have some better idea of what it might mean to ask whether Malory created a version of the "Fair Unknown" romance especially to highlight Gareth's character, in juxtaposition with Launcelot's, just before the events of the Trystram-Grail segment in which Gareth's brothers become openly murderous.

          P.J.C. Field and his student, Ralph Norris, believe that Malory had a source, now lost, for the Gareth narrative segment (summarized in Ralph Norris, Malory's Library [Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2008] 81-94).  Field also has argued that Malory is the author of "The Weddyng of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle."  Some might find the first claim weak and the second incredible ("Ragnelle" is written entirely in rhyming couplets--where does the Morte rhyme, even by accident?).  But Field also has succeeded Eugene Vinaver as editor of the third edition of Malory's Works, so we should not reasonably dismiss even his most far-fetched hypotheses.  Can you see any evidence to support either thesis about the "Gareth"?