King Arthur (2004) Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis Supervisor: doc. Mgr. Milada Franková, csc., M



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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Katarína Mináriková



Legend versus History in the Film

King Arthur (2004)

Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis


Supervisor: doc. Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A.


2008


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.

……………………………………………..

Author’s signature

Acknowledgement

I would like to thank my supervisor doc. Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A. for her patient guidance,

valuable advice and especially for her support with consultations at a distance.

Table of Contents
Introduction …………………………………………………………………………….. 5


  1. King Arthur in Literature ………………..……………………………………..... 7

1.1. Beginnings of Arthurian Legend ………………………………………… 8

1.2. From history to romance ……...………………………………………... 10

1.3. Malory’s King Arthur ……..……………………………………………. 11

2. Historical Arthur ……...………………………………………………………... 15

2.1. Name of Arthur in historical documents …………………………........... 15

2.2. Arthurian traces in archaeology ……...…………………………………. 19

2.3. Popular historical theories …………...……………………….………… 20

2.4. Innovatory approach in the publication From Scythia to Camelot …….…….25

3. Legend versus History in Contemporary Film Adaptation ………………………29

3.1. Film King Arthur (2004) ………………………………………………… 29

3.2. Interpretation of the legend in the film King Arthur ……….……....…….. 32

3.3. Historical inspirations ………………………………………………….. 38

3.4. Different attitudes to the film ………………………………………....... 43

Conclusion ………………………………………………………………………… 45

Bibliography ………...……………………………………………………………... 46

Introduction

The Arthurian romance is one of the best-known stories of the medieval literature of Great Britain. At the same time it is one of the major enigmas of British history. Literary historians may, although not without some obscurities, trace the evolution of the legend, which was changing and developing through the ages, but they still have not managed to answer the question of the historicity of Arthur. They have not discovered what exactly inspired the story of the noble king, his knights and their brave deeds. This problem is a subject of study of many scholars, whose opinions over the existence of real Arthur vary and thus give birth to numerous theories.

The mysterious background of the Arthurian story and various versions of the legend itself have always been very attractive not only for the British artists, but many works of art with this theme have been created worldwide. This story is a rich source of inspiration also for contemporary authors. Among the most popular motifs we can find the quest for the Holy Grail or a love story of Tristan and Isolt, but the other themes do not stay behind. Authors also sometimes concentrate on introducing some “true” theories about Arthur’s existence and they modify the legend considerably. This is the case of the latest Arthurian film called King Arthur (2004) that was directed by Antoine Fuqua and according to its subtitle it brings "the untold true story that inspired the legend".

The film King Arthur is an unusual mixture which combines components of the legend with historical observations and discoveries, and this melange is spiced with a dose of fantasy, producing inaccuracies of all kinds. The story does stick neither to the original literary content nor to historical theories and it makes its own way through the myth and its obscure points. It concentrates on one particular quest of Arthur and his “knights”, so the plot is quite simple and does not make use of many of the notoriously known elements associated with Arthurian tradition. At the same time it tries to preserve the motif of knighthood, honour and affection for the land and introduces some of the popular Arthurian characters, symbols and features - however, the result is often quite awkward. Which are thus the major faults and missteps that the film is denounced for and does it have any benefits at all? To answer these questions it is necessary to analyse the adaptation from the point of view of the legend as well as history, what is exactly the objective of my thesis.

The first chapter of the thesis deals with the Arthurian legend and its development in literature, from the first emergence of the name “Arthur” in written records to the era when the king and his companions gained worldwide popularity. The chapter focuses mainly on the work Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, which is the most elaborate and detailed chronicle of King Arthur’s court. The following section is devoted to history and its treatment of the legend, with various theories and approaches that have appeared, trying to explain the origins of the myth. Finally, the last chapter focuses on the film – it analyses it from the perspective of the points considered in the previous sections and refers to its peculiarities and imperfections. It seeks to reveal the main problems of this adaptation and to bring out its merits.

1. King Arthur in Literature

Literature has a mighty power in history. For some historical periods it is one of the main sources of information about the life, people and events of those times. This case especially applies to the Early Middle Ages - the period when Arthur was supposed to live. The information about those times is so insufficient and so unclear that they earned the name the Dark Ages. Unfortunately, literature is also one of the least credible sources. As there is not much other evidence, reading any written records from those times, it can never be said with certitude to what degree they are true and to what degree they were modified and enhanced by the imagination of their author. And this is exactly the stumbling block to the research about King Arthur and his existence.

To follow an evolution of the character of Arthur in literature is a demanding and complex mission. Starting with some vague references, his name gradually gains importance and more and more stories about him appear - about his life and deeds, his companions and their quests. But as Arthur's story develops, we can notice also an increasing exaggeration and addition of some unrealistic and mythological elements. This causes that a warrior scarcely mentioned in the literature of his own times evolves step by step into what can be perceived as one of the most important national symbols of Great Britain.

The old Arthurian literature could be classified into two categories: a literature with a historical background and a mere fiction. Yet, it is sometimes difficult to draw a clear line between these two groups as it is not always possible to decide where the history ends and the fiction starts. What can be said with certainty is that reliable works of the first category are quite rare and this makes Arthur more a fictional hero than a historically credible personality. But before getting deeper involved into all the speculations about Arthur's authenticity and sources that offer some proofs about his existence, I would like to devote a few pages to that second category of literature, the content of which is definitely richer and which has brought to Arthur his fame – the Arthurian legend.



    1. Beginnings of Arthurian legend

Following the path back to the roots of the Arthurian legend, the very first milestones are not easy to trace. Besides the early historical works by Gildas, Bede and Nennius, where only the last one mentions Arthur's name directly, several references to this person appear in literary texts, predominantly of Welsh background. However, they are just some tiny fragments of what seems to be a more complex story and thus do not shed much light on Arthur's identity. Finally the person, who can be in these terms considered the father of the Arthurian tradition, is a cleric called Geoffrey of Monmouth. It is only when his work Historia regum Britanniae was completed in 1138 that Arthur’s story got its first consistent form, which would have a significant impact on the future of the legend.



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