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7 - Loyalty and Worshyp in Conflict in Malory’s Lancelot

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

Chivalric values as represented in Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur are essential for establishing the raison d’être for Arthurian knights to perform knightly deeds. Of particular importance are honour, loyalty, love and fellowship, among which values honour, or more specifically, in Malory's own terms, ‘worshyp’, plays a crucial role as ‘the strongest single motivating force in the society Malory creates’. Most noteworthy is the knightly prowess achieved by Lancelot, ‘the floure of all knyghthode of the world’, which enhances the reputation of the Round Table and, by extension, the glory of King Arthur and his realm. Seeking ‘worshyp’ is also significant in contributing to the collapse of Arthur's kingdom. D. S. Brewer contends that the ‘worshyp’ that forms the ideal Arthurian society forces Arthur to sentence Guenevere to be burnt at the stake when Guenevere's rendezvous with Lancelot in her bedchamber is disclosed as supposed adultery by Agravain and Mordred, who have ‘a prevy hate’ for them (870.13). ‘Worshyp’, therefore, impels Lancelot to rescue her from the fire, creating a serious conflict with Arthur.

Loyalty in the Morte has attracted much scholarly attention. Terence McCarthy states that what Malory aims at is ‘the notion of perfect fidelity and service’. Conflict of loyalties in particular plays a decisive role in the ruin of the realm. Eugène Vinaver highlights ‘a tragic conflict’ between ‘heroic loyalty of man to man’ and ‘the blind devotion of the knight-lover to his lady’ among Arthur and Lancelot, Lancelot and Guenevere, and Lancelot and Gawain. K. S. Whetter develops Vinaver's concept of conflicting loyalties; in relation to the tragic elements prevalent throughout the Morte Darthur, Whetter offers detailed analyses of the principals, whose behaviours are bound by the conflicting demands of their values. In addition to the divided loyalties among the protagonists, clan loyalties deal fatal blows to the already faltering fellowship of the Round Table. Lancelot's unwitting killing of Gareth and Gaheris (885.4–11) incites a blood feud with the Orkney clan and inflames Gawain's unquenchable thirst for vengeance, making it impossible to bring about a reconciliation between the two knights.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2023

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