Before Malory

Before Malory: Reading Arthur in Later Medieval England

RICHARD J. MOLL
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 400
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442671225
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  • Book Info
    Before Malory
    Book Description:

    Although most modern scholars doubt the historicity of King Arthur, parts of the legend were accepted as fact throughout the Middle Ages. Medieval accounts of the historical Arthur, however, present a very different king from the romances that are widely studied today. Richard Moll examines a wide variety of historical texts including Thomas Gray'sScalacronicaand John Hardyng'sChronicleto explore the relationship between the Arthurian chronicles and the romances. He demonstrates how competing and conflicting traditions interacted with one another, and how writers and readers of Arthurian texts negotiated a complex textual tradition.

    Moll asserts that the enormous variety and number of existing chronicles demonstrates the immense popularity of the historical Arthur in medieval England. Since these chronicles were the dominant source of Arthurian information for the late medieval reader, they provide an invaluable, and neglected, interpretive context for modern readers of Malory and other later medieval romances. The first monograph to look at the impact of these historical texts on Arthurian literature,Before Maloryis also the first to show how canonical vernacular romances interacted with chronicle texts that have since dropped out of the canon.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7122-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: Facts and Fictions
    (pp. 3-10)

    The modern reader must overcome an inherent disadvantage when attempting to analyse Arthurian literature from medieval England. Having been exposed to films such as Boorman’sExcalibur, and modern literature, such as Tennyson’sIdylls of the Kingor White’sOnce and Future King, the contemporary reader approaches the medieval tradition with a firm picture of who Arthur is and what he did. The modern image of Arthur is constantly reinforced by the steady stream of new Arthurian material; works by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stephen Lawhead, and Mary Stewart are only some of the best-known items on a bibliography that seems to...

  5. Chapter 1: The Years of Romance
    (pp. 11-30)

    The late medieval Brut tradition relies on Geoffrey of Monmouth’sHistoria regum Britanniae forits form, structure, and the vast majority of its content. But even before Geoffrey wrote his influential work there was some doubt about what was true concerning King Arthur. In an oftquoted passage, William of Malmesbury (c. 1125) complained that, even as he wrote, the history of Arthur was obscured in a cloud of fable. During his account of Ambrosius, William mentioned the bellicose Arthur and added ‘Hic est Artur de quo Britonum nugae hodieque delirant; dignus plane quern non fallaces somniarent fabulae, sed veraces prædicarent...

  6. Chapter 2: The Scalacronica of Sir Thomas Gray of Heton
    (pp. 31-63)

    Even though Robert Mannyng rejects Arthurian romances, he provides some evidence for the popularity of these works in England. The romances of Arthur that ‘France men wrote in prose’ are works that Mannyng says ‘we of him here alle rede.’² But if Mannyng’s ‘we’ does not include his imagined audience of monolingual Englishmen, who does it include? Mannyng, who as a member of a religious order was presumably not part of the primary audience for romance material, acts as a bridge between French and Latin learning and his audience. But Mannyng does not reveal all, and he chooses which of...

  7. Chapter 3: Defending Arthur
    (pp. 64-80)

    The Brut tradition faced two hazards in the fourteenth century. As we have seen, one of those hazards came from romance literature, which threatened to dilute Geoffrey’s narrative with unauthorized fictions. The second hazard came from within the genre of history itself as doubt about the story that Geoffrey told resurfaced. Thomas Gray recognized both threats, and after holding romance to the margins of his historical narrative, he defended that narrative against those who would diminish it.

    For most modern readers, John Leland’sAssertio inclytissimi Arturiiis the quintessential defence of the Brut tradition. First published in 1544, Leland’sAssertio...

  8. Chapter 4: History curiously dytit
    (pp. 81-122)

    As Spenser’s Red Cross Knight stares at the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, Contemplation directs him to return to earthly exploits and fame, even though participation in his quest involves sin. The Knight, later identified as Saint George, is assured that he will have time for repentance, and that his place in the heavenly city is prepared. The alliterativeMorte Arthure, one of the great works of the fourteenth-century alliterative revival, also addresses the relationship between sin and worldly achievement. As it does so, theMorteengages in a complex negotiation between the chronicle narrative it retells, and the romance...

  9. Chapter 5: Adventures in History
    (pp. 123-156)

    A closer look at some of the lesser-known chronicles of medieval England has shown that romances did influence historical texts, but that influence was not random or haphazard. We have seen that discussions of alternate stories, often little more than allusions to narrative forms and styles, were consistently placed within the two periods of peace, while specific romance episodes, such as the adventure of Caradoc’s mantle or the encounter between Gawain and Priamus, could be employed to direct the audience’s interpretation of the Arthurian past. Influence, however, was exerted in both directions, and the chronicle narrative affected the representation of...

  10. Chapter 6: Making History: John Hardyng’s Metrical Chronicle
    (pp. 157-197)

    The two adventures discussed in the previous chapter display a complex interplay between the romance and chronicle traditions of Arthurian narrative. The subtleties of this relationship were not lost in either Sir Thomas Gray’sScalacronicaor the alliterativeMorte Arthure, but in the mid-fifteenth century a chronicler approached the Arthurian story with a far less sophisticated pen. The two versions of John Hardyng’sChroniclecombine the chronicle and romance traditions of Arthurian narrative with a zeal rarely found in medieval historiography. Hardyng sees in the reign of Arthur a historical precedent for his pressing political concern: the need for England...

  11. Chapter 7: Fifteenth-Century Scribes
    (pp. 198-216)

    The chroniclers we have examined so far construct their narratives of British history from a wide variety of sources. The originality of any given text lies less in the story itself than in the careful compilation and arrangement of existing material. Although we generally think of medieval Brut chronicles as translations of earlier texts, it is obvious that these writers are not merely translators, even given the wide-ranging freedom which is typical of medieval translation. It may also seem obvious that authors like Thomas Gray or John Hardyng are very different from simple scribes who slavishly copied an authoritative text....

  12. Conclusion: Reading about Arthur
    (pp. 217-232)

    The authors and scribes we have looked at shared a received narrative of Arthurian history which existed beside, and was informed by, material which was ostensibly fictive. These Arthurian writers share not only a narrative, but also several important characteristics of interpretation, among them a tendency to view Arthurian history as anexemplumof mutability. At the same time, all of these authors also stress the central position that Arthur holds in the depiction of Britain’s chivalric past. From Sir Thomas Gray toThe Awntyrs off Arthure, Arthur’s court is a model for contemporary knights and the pinnacle of chivalric...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 233-324)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-350)
  15. Index
    (pp. 351-368)