Chapter Five
THE GENIUS OF CHIVALRY

IT is of paramount importance for the study of Malory's work to remember one point of his hypothetical biography. He was an active participant in the gallant doings of Richard of Warwick, the 'Father of Courtesy', under whose patronage he served.1 In the early years of his life he was initiated into the art of war and chivalry, and, like Perceval in the Morte Darthur, learned 'to haunte armes and noble dedes'. His book witnesses that none of the elements of medieval romance had a more direct appeal to him than the traditions of knight-errantry. He may have despised the old methods of story- telling, he may have misunderstood the psychology of romantic love, but with the ideals of perfect knighthood he never lacked sympathy. And he was not content to reproduce the French fairy tales about King Arthur's knights. He deliberately set out to extol their 'kynde', to give them greater importance, and to make them a living 'ensample' to his own generation.

His attitude towards the legacy of the Middle Ages was essentially that of a moralist. He had none of the romantic enthusiasm for the marvellous. He did not take his theme because 'the savage pomp and the capricious heroism of the baronial manners were replete with incident, adventure, and enterprise and framed rich material to the minstrel muse'.2 Visions, miracles, and legends did not appeal to him by reason of their distinct poetic quality, but because they helped him to express his own moral doctrine. He used his 'French books' to show his readers how virtuous knights had come 'to honour, and how they that were vycious were punysshed and ofte put to shame and rebuke'. And he wished 'al noble lordes and ladyes . . . that shal see and rede in this sayd book and werke' to

____________________
1
Cf. supra, pp. 2-4.
2
Warton, History of English Poetry, vol. iv, p. 21.

-55-

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