Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Self-Determination in the Post-Vulgate Suite Du Merlin and Malory's le Morte Darthur

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Self-Determination in the Post-Vulgate Suite Du Merlin and Malory's le Morte Darthur

Article excerpt

Eugène Vinaver's three-volume edition of the Winchester manuscript version of Malory's Le Morte Darthur includes much valuable comparison of Malory's text with its sources.1 The subject has been taken further, for example in the series of essays edited by R. M. Lumiansky under the title Malory's Originality, and in the work of Terence McCarthy.2 These studies have tended to interpret discontinuities between Malory's writing and the works on which it drew as reflective of varying interests in the content of the narrative, or varying ways of structuring this content. But it is possible, I shall contend, to relate many of the deviations between the Morte and its sources to a revision of philosophical issues implicit in the material that Malory adapted. That Malory was interested in abstruse concepts has been discounted by critics, one of whom has written that 'Malory's style suggests that his mind was strikingly unacademic', and that Malory shows no apparent interest in the 'fashionable intellectual issues' that occupied other late-medieval authors of English literature.3 This essay will argue that the stylistic simplicity of the Morte is not matched by an intellectual simplicity on the part of its author, and, contrary to many interpretations of Malory's writing, that a continuity with foregoing English writers is discernible not only in the issues raised by the Morte but in Malory's stance towards those issues as well.

Malory's principal source for the first 'tale' of the Winchester manuscript Morte, the section entitled 'The tale of King Arthur' by Vinaver, was the PostVulgate Suite du Merlin, a continuation of the Roman de Merlin that post-dates the Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian narratives of which the Roman de Merlin is itself a component.4 The version of the Suite that Malory knew seems to have been incorporated into a composite text that also included the Roman de Merlin and a continuation of the Roman de Merlin that is part of the Vulgate Cycle - the other sections of the first tale of the Morte are based on material corresponding to the contents of these originally separate works, and it appears that Malory did not connate the French texts himself because a similar amalgam of them survives in Cambridge University Library, MS Additional 7071.5 The episode involving Balin 'le Saveage', the knight with the two swords, has been the focus of critical discussion of Malory's tale. It has been noted that the Morte recasts the relationship of Balin's adventures to the narrative enfolding them, dissociating them from their connection with the story of the Grail that is established in the Suite.6 Here, it is the 'Dolereus Cop' struck by Balaain that calls down the adventures that will come to an end only when Galahad comes to the kingdom of Logres, an event that will be a prelude to the demise of Arthur and his knights. The Morte, by contrast, emphasizes the pattern that links what Balin does with what Malory's key protagonist, Lancelot, will do later. As Balin slays the man he loves best - his brother Balan - so, Merlin says, Lancelot, in the final disintegration of the Round Table, '"shall sle the man in the worlde that he lovith beste: that shall be sir Gawayne"'.7 I shall return to the issue of the orderliness of events in the Morte, of which the narrative patterning pointed to by Malory is one aspect. First, however, the presentation of Balaain in the Suite needs to be considered in detail.

Balaain's role in the narrative in which he is involved is not the only way in which he differs from Malory's Balin. He does so also in the nature of his responses to what happens to him.8 Balaain perceives himself as persecuted by Fortune, and he reacts to the sequence of disasters that befall him with a crescendo of self-pity. When a knight who has been accompanying him on his journey is killed by the lance of an invisible knight afterwards identified as Garlon, Balaain remarks that he is 'li plus chetis et li plus mescheans chevaliers de tous cheus qui onques portaissent armes, car ore voit il apertement que Fortune li est plus contraire et plus anemie que a nul autre houme'. …

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