Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-hfldf Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-12T16:32:43.246Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

7 - The Evolution of Cooperation in The Avowyng of Arthur

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 May 2015

Elliot Kendall
Affiliation:
University of Exeter
Nicholas Perkins
Affiliation:
University Lecturer and Tutor in medieval English, University of Oxford
Get access

Summary

The Avowyng of Arthur is a materially and economically minded poem. Its monstrous boar of Carlisle, for instance, is a very material creature. ‘Masly made’ and exuding overpowering ‘smelle other smekis’, the boar is almost too much matter for Arthur to manage. Tusks ‘of thre fote’ (191) and armour-like hide break apart flesh, vegetation and spearshaft until the king matches matter with matter. He drives his sword ‘inne atte the throte’ (249) and butchers the boar into more manageable body parts. Later and less violently, we see ‘mete’ and feeding help Baldwin to win contests at home and abroad. The materiality and economic potential of human bodies is foregrounded. A man puts himself in a barrel like a comestible and has his head blown off by artillery (1021–32) and women murder one another prosaically and trade sex for survival. Yet the economics of the Avowyng refuse to be dominated by materiality. Sir Kay might think instinctively of naked competition for material profit and loss, as when he taunts Sir Menealfe about the loss of his prisoner (‘If thou have oghte on hur coste [spent], / I telle it for tente [count it lost]’ (431–2)), but Sir Gawain and Sir Baldwin exhibit a much more supple economic mentality. By the time Arthur has come to admire Baldwin's seemingly reckless vows as ‘profetabull’ (1130), the poem has unpacked numerous complex exchange situations, in which the potential of material capital is only fully realized in combination with symbolic capital.

As the Avowyng thinks economically, what it thinks about is cooperation. It can be read as a discussion of exchanges, reflecting on situations and strategies that promote conflict or cooperation. An economic imagination which addresses the problem of cooperation (understood at the level of the particular exchange, as giving a benefit to another at a cost to oneself) is one of the poem's chief, and most fascinating, sources of coherence.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×