| Masaryk University
Faculty of Arts
Department of English
And American Studies
English Language and Literature
Knighthood in Le Morte D’Arthur:
Recapitulation of Development of Medieval Chivalric Literature
Master’s Diploma Thesis
Supervisor: prof. Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.
I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Prof. Milada Franková, my supervisor, who assisted me in completion of this paper. Likewise, I am most thankful to my wife for her ceaseless support and torment she committed on my person during my elaboration of this thesis. Without her, this would not be possible.
Thesis Outline 6
1.1Origins of Chivalry 7
1.2High Order of Chivalry 10
Undoubtedly chivalry belongs among the most influential phenomena in medieval Europe. Since its emergence in the eleventh century chivalry with its concept of knighthood is adopted by various European countries in the era as one of the principal codes applied not only in military campaigns but also in the sphere of morality as well as the social stratification of the monarchies. However, long before the institutional merits that chivalry delivered, it had been also firmly embodied in art, especially in literature. And it is by the means of literature that chivalry eventually affects the whole society in a variety of other areas such as fashion and leisure. In addition to that, it is believed that the influence of chivalry in particular consequently overlaps into the political field.
Despite the overall impact that chivalry casts on the then society, it is not the goal of this thesis to inform about the fact. Rather it is hoped that this thesis should concentrate on literary works which were completed in the period of knightly dominance and which deal with chivalry, or at least contemplate the general ideas of chivalric values, and investigate them for any connecting fragments present or absent.
The reason for doing so lies in an assumption that due to a constant progression of the European social environment, the meaning of chivalry in the affected societies underwent a significant development since it was first introduced. And so did chivalric literature. After reading a considerable number of major literary texts dating from the beginning of the eleventh century to the end of the fifteenth century, one may observe that certain symbols of chivalry change or disappear entirely from the texts, whereas other distinctive features remain unimpaired. Apart from these alterations, there also occur many additions to the original aspects of chivalric literature, which fact contributes to even sharpening the difference in the mood of the texts.
For this reason, it is believed that the development of chivalric literature may be clearly identified by following the changing pattern of features characteristic for chivalric literature and as clearly structured by means of grouping the marks bearing correspondence into several general stages. Interestingly, the division, though based on similarities between individual texts, also reflects indirectly the time of the texts being written, for most of the features that have been identified as being similar are present almost exclusively in texts from the same literary period.
There is, however, yet another cause for the above mentioned division, regarding the authors’ motives. It has been argued that interconnectedness between the epic incorporated in stories and the zeitgeist of the era existed in medieval times as well as it does today (Jones 7). Hence it is presumable that this reflection of simultaneous historical situation or elements of a certain culture and its society should be also present in the works selected for this thesis as primary sources, which is partly evidenced in Vinaver’s commentary to Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur, one of the primary sources of this thesis (1971 778). In fact, one may discover that there happen to be many places in the book which bear a resemblance to various actual events from Malory’s age (Kocourek 22–35). Yet, proving such an assumption is not the case of this paper, for it is the literary level on which the main part of the thesis is built and therefore the main focus of the thesis is cast not on disclosing likenesses of literary chivalry and the real historical one, but it is the aim of the paper to analyse thoroughly the primary sources so as to establish a firm theory concerning the development of literary chivalry and provide a simple yet precise classification mapping individual stages of development of chivalric literature from its origins to its very end, proving that chivalry and its decline reflected in the Morte Darthur represent the terminal phase of chivalric literary evolution emerging in the Middle Ages.
The thesis is divided into three individual parts, which, in spite of dealing with different aspects of chivalry, are all interrelated. In the first part, the aim is to cast light on historical chivalry and its formation in Britain as well as other European Great Powers such as were the Holy Roman Empire and France, which is by some scholars (Paterson 34) considered the mother of medieval chivalry and whose influence on chivalry in Britain is unarguable. The formation refers to the establishment of various knightly orders across Europe and their differentiation according to rules and beliefs upheld by their members. Apart from the analysis of knightly societies, the first part also investigates the birth of a knight, the central figure of the phenomenon.
In the middle section of the thesis the attention is turned to literary chivalry and the theme is then searched and analysed in some of the major works of a certain period. For the purposes of this thesis a division into three epochs of medieval literary chivalry has been established, having been based on thematic issue similarities, despite the fact that the time elapsed between completion of some works utilised herein as representatives of one era might be considered too long a time not to comprise more than one period. This actuality is clearly visible in the third and last era of chivalry in medieval literature where Geoffrey Chaucer’s and Thomas Malory’s works stand side by side, regardless of The Canterbury Tales having been written almost a century prior to Malory’s Morte Darthur.
Ensuing from the findings in the second part, the third section then attempts to deliver an organised summary of all the facts concerning literary chivalry and provide a precise and conclusive statement validating all presumptions introduced in this document including the hypothesis claiming that the Morte Darthur contains all types of chivalric literature and thus represents the peak of chivalric literature in the Middle Ages.