Camelot in the Nineteenth Century: Arthurian Characters in the Poems of Tennyson, Arnold, Morris, and Swinburne

By Laura Cooner Lambdin; Robert Thomas Lambdin | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Final Remarks

Arthurian legends will never be irrelevant because in any historical period the universal themes of guilty love, idealism, and fated doom are pertinent to the human condition. Victorian poets, like their predecessors, often employed these legends as a veneer for social criticism. They did not attempt to reflect accurately historical reality so much as to produce religious, aesthetic, and political systems of representation capable of shaping readers' ideas of how life should be experienced. By reworking already ideological discourses, they hoped through literature to expose societal conflicts and to promote human change. Thus the story of Camelot does not survive as a curio of medieval civilization, but as a vehicle for a broad spectrum of timeless issues. Certainly the exotic atmosphere is particularly entertaining, but Arthurian legends, even in the medieval period, have been consistently used to inspire rather than simply to amuse.

A moral emphasis upon orthodox Christianity is especially evident in Tennyson Idylls a work that condemns the passion of Lancelot and Guinevere. This poetry about Victorian figures in medieval costumes reflects a depressing view of animalistic human beings incapable of redemption or acceptance of their ideal monarchs dutiful code. Tennyson's reworking of Malory is clearly an attempt to discourage wicked conduct among audience members. The Idylls is a series of moral lessons about a civilization that steadily progresses toward failure because of the

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