The concept of magic has been an important cultural phenomenon for thousands of years. The mystery inherent in the element of magic has aroused curiosity and interest in people for its possible power to heal, curse, satisfy desire or carry out revenge of previously unimagined proportions.
In the medieval society its existence was rationalized and its laws compiled into charms, manuals, superstitions and beliefs deeply rooted in the folk tradition. The function and role of magic was described and discussed in many non-fiction books, primarily clerical treaties devoted to demonization of magic. However the concept also influenced the authors of fiction who employed the supernatural elements in their stories. The role of magic as a literary device seems to be constant in the romantic literature; it is an instrument enabling the author and the audience to probe the area of the impossible, irrational or morally damnable. It allows the characters to behave immorally and still keep their appearance as good Christians, because there is a non-rational concept rendering the situations publishable.
The border between magic and divine miracle blurs in the medieval romance. It reflects the actual situation in the medieval society where authorities tried to create clear boundaries between magical illusions and God’s divine power and where, despite the fear of the possible demonic origins of magic, the folk tradition, practice and experience disabled any such attempts to be entirely successful.
The literary landscape allow the characters of magicians to be perceived in the terms of their actual actions and to base the judgement of their character upon their intentions rather than in the reflection of cultural prejudice which automatically considered any practitioner of magic dangerous and in imminent cooperation with demons. Despite the attempt of Christian authorities to classify all magic as utterly demonic, in the Morte their workings are allowed to be perceived as helpful. In the world of romance, a magician can be king’s personal adviser and protector as well as an enchantress can be a beloved wife.
People were usually aware of the existence of multiple theories concerning magic; and with that also of the possibility of the multiplicity of its origin and its essence. Natural magic enjoyed a different position in the minds of medieval people than its demonic variation for its beneficent results connected with medicine. In romances the power of natural magic belongs among the basic attributes of almost all magical practitioners and marvellous healings are often described. This application of magic is part of a larger positive ‘campaign’ of the supernatural and shows the significance of the intention.
The narrative of the Morte is pregnant with prophecies and destined futures. The characters create a link between magic and destiny. Merlin enables Uther to conceive Arthur with Igraine and Brisen helps facilitates the birth of Galahad. The concepts are interwoven and dependent upon each other. The cultural taboo of divination is here belittled and used as a power invested in the characters by God. Even though the methods of enacting God’s will are facilitated by magic, the final result is positive. The narrative shows examples of enacting of free will but also the overriding power of destiny which eventually proves to be unalterable.
The most common purpose of magic in the narrative is to test the chivalric virtues of the knights. By the characters of female enchantresses, the Christian values and the good name of Arthur’s knights are tested. Their motivation is often malevolent and their actions threaten the very existence of the heroes, but in the end the scene usually proves the virtues of the knight. The most obvious example of such character is Morgan le Fay. But also positive characters appear. Nimue is a bit ambivalent in her actions but benevolent in the core. She represents the positive side of magic and her good intentions override the stereotype of evil temptress.
The part of the narrative dedicated to the Grail Quest introduces a supernatural world of Christian doctrine, occupied by angels and demons. The test of chastity becomes more important than any other. The physical accomplishments of the knights are no longer so opulent and most of them fail the quest for their earthly shortcomings. The characters of human enchantresses are replaced by demonic embodiments of the devil. Symbolism and allegory replaces the romantic realities of the previous parts and renders any magical acts the working of the devil. This part pits the whole concept of magic against the divine power leaving no place for ambivalence.
Nevertheless the use of magic as a narrative concept gives writers space for experiments with the imagination as well as with the boundaries of morality.
The characters of the Morte represent the possible good that magic can bring. The practitioners are allowed in the narrative to prove that it is only their intention that decides whether they employ magic in a harmful or helpful way, and characters of the knights are shown to recognize the possible positive value of magic.
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Williams, Edith Whitehurst. “Morgan La Fee as Trickster in Sir Gawain and the
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Účelem této práce je analýza charakteru a významu konceptu magie ve středověkých artušovských romancích. Práce se soustředí na dílo Thomase Maloryho Smrt krále Artuše, na němž ilustruje jednotlivé příklady vyobrazení magie. Hlavní část této práce se věnuje analýze konceptů osudu a proroctvím diskutovaných primárně v souvislosti s postavou Merlina. Dále se pak věnuje konceptu čarodějnictví, ilustrovaném především na ženských postavách čarodějek artušovských příběhů. Nakonec se také věnuje příběhu svatého grálu. Analýzou jednotlivých nadpřirozených praktik zobrazených ve zdrojovém textu se tato práce snaží obhájit klíčový význam a rozlišující podstatu záměru provozovatelů magie pro vyhodnocení charakteru daných praktik.
The aim of the thesis is to analyze the character and the significance of the concept of magic in the medieval Arthurian romances. The thesis focuses on Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, upon which the various depictions of magic are exemplified. The main part of the work in dedicated to the analysis of the concepts of destiny and prophecy, discussed mainly in the connection with the character of Merlin; to the concept of sorcery and enchantment exemplified especially upon the various characters of female enchantresses of the Arthurian romance; and to the story of the Grail Quest. By the analysis of various supernatural practices depicted in the source text the thesis tries to argue the crucial importance and differentiating quality of the intention of the practitioners upon the evaluation of the character of the practice.