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

former, Iseult of Ireland of the latter. Tristram has been destroyed by the worst possible combination of the two.

Arnold used the power of artifice in an ancient tale to yield new meanings by enhancing our understanding of contemporary life. The slow destructive power of the world is just as debilitating as the consumptive force of passion. The poem's balanced opposition, shown in the contrast between two kinds of women and two kinds of love, is disturbing. Arnold revealed that this dichotomy can be neutralized through imaginative power combined with the serenity that this power can create. The poet's message seems to have been that moderation and an understanding of the larger issues treated in the universal themes of art are the essential aspects of a fulfilling life. Love should not be a debilitating obsession or a force that gradually burns away all spirit, leaving only melancholy.


NOTES
1.
A. Dwight Culler in Imaginative Reason: The Poetry of Matthew Arnold ( 1966) argues that these varied poetic forms are intended to comment upon the contents of each part. Further, he finds the first part to be written like Coleridge Christabel, the second like many of Byron's lyrics, and the third like the more polished works by Keats or by Cowper (144-45).
2.
The name Tristram is derived from the Latin word tristitia meaning "sorrow" ( Buckley and Woods43n).
3.
Arnold does not include Iseult's treachery to her maid Brangion, who, in earlier legends, was forced to take Iseult's place in King Mark's bed and was then given by Iseult to two murderers to ensure her silence. This incident is omitted by Malory and La Villemarqué, so Arnold may not have known about it.
4.
The episode of the sails as a signal of success or failure seems to have been derived from the Theseus legend of classical Greek mythology. Also involved in early Tristram legends is a half-bestial adversary who demands tribute every seven years and is very similar to the Minotaur slain by Theseus ( Barber 74).
5.
Critics have not previously noted that the description of the tale of Merlin and Vivien as an "old-world Breton history" is anachronistic. Merlin is always associated with the court of King Arthur, as are Tristram and his two Iseults. (Tristram is known as a fine competitor in Arthur's jousts and as a close friend of Lancelot.) Therefore, it is odd that Iseult tells a story "she gleaned from

-68-

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

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of World Literature ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Chapter 1 Arthurian Legends: Origins to the Nineteenth Century 1
  • Notes 11
  • Chapter 2 Alfred Tennyson 13
  • Notes 47
  • Chapter 3 Matthew Arnold 51
  • Notes 68
  • Chapter 4 William Morris 71
  • Notes 103
  • Chapter 5 Algernon Swinburne 107
  • Notes 139
  • Chapter 6 Final Remarks 143
  • Selected Bibliography 147
  • Index 155
  • About the Authors *
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