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8 - Emotional Inheritance in Malory’s Morte Darthur: Shame and the Lott–Pellinore Feud

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2024

Kevin S. Whetter
Affiliation:
Acadia University, Nova Scotia
Megan G. Leitch
Affiliation:
Cardiff University
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Summary

Trauma, it has been discovered, may be passed down generationally. This ‘trans-generational adaptation’ is defined as a response to recurring oppression or violence, inherited through behaviours exhibited within the family or the community. The emotions associated with transgenerational trauma are social hostility, mistrust, and shame. These emotions also appear in the generational dynamics that lead to three dishonourable deaths at the center of Malory's Morte Darthur, those of King Pellinore, Queen Morgause, and Sir Lamorak. King Pellinore is Lamorak's father, and Gawain, Gaheris, Aggravain, and Gareth are the sons of King Lot and Queen Morgause. Proceeding in the chronological rather than the narrative order of the murders, Pellinore is killed when Gawain and Gaheris set upon him. Queen Morgause is decapitated by her son, Gaheris, when found in bed with Pellinor's son, Lamorak. Finally, Lamorak is hewn down by Lot and Morgause's sons, except for Gareth. All of the deaths are flagrant violations of chivalric culture and specifically of Malory's Round Table code, and all are motivated by shaming acts involving parents or relatives of the elder generation. Although hostility and mistrust can certainly be attributed to Gawain and his brothers as they engage with Pellinore and Lamorak, it is primarily shame that drives their actions. My argument focuses on shame as an emotional inheritance that affects Lot and Morgause's sons and Arthur's reign. I examine the links between Malory's use of shame language and its medieval philosophical background; the brothers’ double sense of shame, inherited from their father and mother; active and passive shame displayed in Morgause's death; and the Orkney princes’ self-shaming in their murders of Pellinore and Lamorak. The negative repercussions of the Orkneys’ shame trouble Arthur's reign from the beginning to the end of Malory's ‘hoole book’.

From the Classical and Medieval Inheritance to Malory

For current English speakers, shame is an unpleasant emotion, associated with humiliation and guilt, caused by wrongdoing and/or moral transgression, and sometimes experienced vicariously. Although psychologists and historians of emotion note wide cultural differences in understanding shame, the features listed above are shared with past formulations of shame in the west.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2023

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