King arthur Term Paper

This essay has a total of 1865 words and 8 pages.


King arthur





If the name of King Arthur is mentioned, I suppose what comes to mind is not so much one
person as a whole array of characters and themes, a montage so to speak. Of course we do
think first of the King, the magnificent monarch of a glorified or idealized medieval
realm. But we think also of his Queen, of the fair and wayward Guinevere, we think of his
enchanter, Merlin, who presided over his birth, who set him on the throne, who established
him there in the early and traveled days of his reign. There were the knights of the Round
Table, vowed to the highest ideals of chivalry, and the greatest of them, Sir Lancelot,
who, of course, has a tragic love affair with the Queen. There is another great love
story, that of Tristan and Isolde, the theme of Wagner's Opera.

We think of the place where these people assembled, Camelot, Arthur's magnificent,
personal castle and capital and then, there are stranger things; the story of the quest
for the Holy Grail, giving a spiritual dimension to the whole story and there is magic.
Not only the magic of Merlin but the magic also of his strange, ambiguous student, the
women, the enchantress, Morgan LaFay. And at the end is the tragedy of Arthur's downfall,
his passing away at the isle of Avalon and another mystery that we do not know what really
happened to him that he was said to be immortal, that one day he would return and restore
the golden age in his country.


I suppose, the version we know best is the one that was composed in the 15th century. This
is the great English version of the story, compiled out of earlier versions by the
creative genius of a rather mysterious and cryptic figure, the knight, Sir Thomas Malory.
But the story doesn't end there. The whole thing revives in the time of Queen Victoria,
with Tennyson's "Idylls of the King." As a result of this great work on the Arthurian
Cycle by England's Poet Laureate, the story became known to everybody.

Other poems, novels and plays in our own time, and almost a rebirth of it yet again in T.
H. White's novels, "The Sword and the Stone" and "The Once and Future King" and other
plays and musicals and films based on these works. There are Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary
Stewart, Marian Bradley, Pat Godwin and others, who have gone off on another line and
tried to imagine the Britain of King Arthur as it might really have been.

What I have personally been most concerned with is the background of all this, and the
question, "where did it come from originally?" It's a very obvious thing to ask the
straight question, "did King Arthur exist?" And in fact you cannot give a straight answer
to that question; yes and no are both wrong. There were other great historical figures who
became the heros of medieval legends, such as Alexander the Great and Charlemagne. We know
that they existed and if somebody asks whether they did, we can say "yes" directly because
we have reliable, historical records of them. But with Arthur, it is rather more difficult
because the emphasis really is all on the legend, the romance.

If we say "yes," that would imply that this magnificent medieval monarch existed and
reigned, at some time or other, in his glorified medieval court as described as by Malory,
Tennyson and the romances. Of course, he didn't. There is no such person as King Arthur,
in that sense; it's quite an impossible idea. So we cannot say "yes," directly, but to say
"no" is also misleading because that implies that he is completely fictitious, that he was
all made up in the middle ages when these stories were first told, and that there is no
sort of background or original person behind the stories, at all. That, too, is
misleading. This is a puzzle, a very difficult question.

The main reason is that writers of fiction in the middle ages, when they were dealing with
something handed down to them from a distant past, didn't approach it as a modern
historical novelist does. Historical novelists, nowadays, will aim at authenticity. They
will try to get things right and will do research to discover how people dressed in the
time they are writing of, what houses they lived in, what food they took, what interests
they had, what kind of business or work they engaged in. . .they will try to get the
period right. Medieval authors did not do this. When they were dealing with a story that
had been handed down from some distant time, they updated everything. If you look at
medieval paintings of scenes from the Bible, for example, they don't look as they really
would have looked; you'll see little castles in the background and things of that kind.

The authors who wrote about King Arthur were aiming at a particular kind of audience, very
largely an upper class, aristocratic audience or the wealthier middle classes who could
read, but certainly not the people generally. They considered what their audiences liked
and what they were interested in, so they wrote stories about the current interests of the
aristocracy; stories of chivalry, of tournaments, of courtly love and heraldry. They
dressed the knights up in elaborate medieval armor, they had them worship in medieval
cathedrals, and so forth. So the whole story of King Arthur becomes something that is put
into the middle ages even if it doesn't really belong there.

Now these authors and their audiences knew that the story of King Arthur was something
that had been handed down from a much earlier time. We can be sure of that because we can
trace it, to some extent, being handed down. Certainly, the people of the middle ages, on
the one hand, realized that it was an old story, that it was set a long way back, but on
the whole, they didn't really care very much about getting it right.

I would feel that a medieval author or medieval reader of stories of Arthur took rather
the same attitude to his Britain, to his supposed kingdom, as we nowadays take to the Wild
West. On the one hand, we know that for perhaps 30 or 40 years during the latter part of
the 19th century, the American West was wild. There were sheriffs and outlaws and
gunfights. Some of the characters were real people; Billy the Kid existed, Calamity Jane
Continues for 4 more pages >>