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1 - ‘Open manslaughter and bold bawdry’: Male Sexuality as a Cause of Disruption in Malory's Morte Darthur

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2014

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Summary

As Roger Ascham famously observed, Malory's Morte Darthur is primarily concerned with ‘open manslaughter, and bold bawdry’. I would not disagree; in fact, I would say that these themes are not only dominant but are inextricably interwoven. Male sexuality, in Malory, is consistently portrayed as potentially violent and disruptive, dangerous not only to individuals but to the whole structure of society, and therefore in need of controlling measures. The medieval world did not, of course, often portray any form of sexuality positively. Sexual desire leads both men and women to sin: both directly in committing fornication, incest and adultery, and indirectly in committing treason or disregarding their duties. It could easily be assumed that this is a divide between the clergy on the one side, themselves compelled to live in celibacy and thus suspicious of sexual desire, and the more relaxed nobility and commons on the other, cheerfully ignoring the rules when it suited them. However, this is too simple a dichotomy. Malory himself, despite the bold bawdry, shares in the suspicion of unregulated desire, in his nostalgia for a chaster time,

nowadayes men can nat love sevennyght but they muste have all their desyres … But the olde love was nat so. for men and women coulde love togydirs seven yerys, and no lycoures lustis was betwyxte them, and than was love trouthe and faythefulnes.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2014

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