Academic journal article Arthuriana

Malory, Hardyng, and the Winchester Manuscript: Some Preliminary Conclusions

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Malory, Hardyng, and the Winchester Manuscript: Some Preliminary Conclusions

Article excerpt

Don Kennedy has done much to elucidate connections between Hardyng's Chronicle and Le Morte Darthur. In this essay I hope to honor Don by revealing possible authorial roles in manuscript formatting. I discuss manuscript layout in a range of Arthurian, romance, and Brut and Chronicle manuscripts to suggest that the rubrication of names in the Winchester manuscript is Malory's idea, but that Malory was inspired by ways in which Chronicle manuscripts (not the Cambridge Suite) emphasize Hardyng's positive portrait of earthly Arthurian chivalry. (KSW)

As the eminent John Scattergood observes, medieval manuscripts are the physical ghosts behind the lexical texts and thematic narratives which we read and take for granted.1 These ghosts are unseen by most modern readers, but their presence determines the modern edition, and their presence can often fruitfully be felt in and applied to the text as represented in such user-friendly editions. For some time now I have-to continue Scattergood's metaphor-been attempting to flesh out the ghost of the Winchester manuscript-text of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur by studying the significance of Winchester's physical layout and rubrication and comparing those features against the same features in several comparable medieval manuscripts. My choice of comparison manuscripts is dictated by the kinds of texts that comprise Malory's sources-the kinds of manuscripts he read and used in creating his own version of the Arthur story. By comparing Winchester against cognate manuscripts I hope to ascertain more fully the significance of its rubrication, its possible connections with Malory himself, and the correlations between Winchester's layout and the principal themes of the Morte Darthur.2

On several occasions throughout Le Morte Darthur Malory invokes the authority of the French book that-he says or implies-comprises his source. In doing so, he ostensibly privileges French romance over his other sources. But often such invocations of authority are disingenuous, and source-study has consistently revealed how sometimes Malory uses the 'French book' to disguise his originality or his substitution of English for French sources. As P.J.C. Field observes, Malory '[o]n seventy occasions, sometimes with a French source, sometimes with an English one, and sometimes with no source at all...cites the "French books" as authorities for his story.'3 This is not to deny the legitimacy of many of Malory's French books: his major sources are dominated by the texts comprising the core of the French Vulgate or Lancelot-Grail Cycle (circa 1215-35, comprising the Lancelot proper, La Queste del Saint Graal, and La Mort le roi Artu); the Post-Vulgate Suite or Roman du Graal (circa 1235-40, with particular use of the Suite du Merlin); and the Prose Tristan (circa 1230-35). His list of minor sources is likewise dominated by French romance, including the Perlesvaus and some of the works of Chrétien de Troyes.

As Edward Donald Kennedy observes, Malory's own seeming focus on French sources long obscured his debt to the English tradition.4 Increasingly, however, scholars have revealed the extent to which Malory not only used English Arthuriana and chronicle, but the ways in which these English sources profoundly impacted Malory's artistry and vision. Prominent amongst these English sources are the Alliterative Morte Arthure (traditionally dated circa 1400 but probably originally composed 1375-78) and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur (circa 1400), both of which are used for substantial portions of Malory's Morte, and both of which considerably influenced Malory's thematic vision.5 John Hardyng's English metrical Chronicle (first version 1440-57; second version circa 1464) is an important minor source, one which helps reveal Malory's knowledge of chronicle texts as well as Arthurian romance.

Related to the question of sources is the issue of genre. The genre of Malory's Morte has been long and frequently debated, with many critics considering the Arthuriad to be at least in part a history. …

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