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5 - Arthurian Transformations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 May 2023

Roberta L. Krueger
Affiliation:
Hamilton College, New York
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Summary

This chapter discusses ways in which the Arthurian legend was transformed between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries by French and English romance writers, focusing on the introduction of new characters, changes to the roles of traditionally central characters, and conflicting loyalties and values. Arthur is often displaced from the central role in the plot and can seem passive and ineffective. Gawain is the Top Knight in the English tradition, but Lancelot (a French addition) becomes increasingly important, not least because of his long affair with the queen, which is a contributing factor to the final collapse of Camelot. Family matters increasingly lead to conflicts of loyalties: Morgan le Fay is hostile to her brother, Arthur, and his Orkney nephews grow in number, some loyal but some treacherous. Mordred is not only Arthur’s nephew but sometimes also his son by incest, destined to kill his father. The Grail quest features first Perceval and then Galahad (Lancelot’s illegitimate son); its spiritual values challenge the ethos of secular chivalry and ennobling love. Does this quest bring glory to Arthur’s Round Table, or is it a critique of a fatally flawed society? Important variations in medieval approaches to the legend appear through this period.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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References

Suggestions for Further Reading

Archibald, Elizabeth, “Questioning Arthurian Ideals,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend, ed. Archibald, Elizabeth and Putter, Ad. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 139–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Archibald, Elizabeth, and Edwards, A. S. G., eds., A Companion to Malory, Arthurian Studies 37, Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1996.Google Scholar
Barber, Richard, The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief, London: Allen Lane, 2004.Google Scholar
Barron, W. R. J., ed., The Arthur of the English, Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages 2, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1999.Google Scholar
Besamusca, Bart, ed., Cyclification: The Development of Narrative Cycles in the Chansons de Geste and the Arthurian Romances, Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1994.Google Scholar
Burgess, Glyn S., and Pratt, Karen, eds., The Arthur of the French, Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages 4, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2006.Google Scholar
Fulton, Helen, ed., A Companion to Arthurian Literature, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gilbert, Jane, “Arthurian Ethics,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend, ed. Archibald, Elizabeth and Putter, Ad. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 154–70.Google Scholar
Grimbert, Joan Tasker, ed., Tristan and Isolde: A Casebook, Arthurian Characters and Themes 2, New York: Garland, 1995.Google Scholar
Leitch, Megan G., and Rushton, Cory James, eds., A New Companion to Malory, Arthurian Studies 87, Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mahoney, Dhira B, ed., The Grail: A Casebook, Arthurian Characters and Themes 5, New York: Garland, 2000.Google Scholar
Schmolke-Hasselman, Beate, The Evolution of Arthurian Romance: The Verse Tradition from Chrétien to Froissart, trans. Margaret and Roger Middleton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.Google Scholar

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