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Malory's Contemporary Audience

Malory's Contemporary Audience: The Social Reading of Romance in Late Medieval England

Thomas H. Crofts
Volume: 66
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 196
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  • Book Info
    Malory's Contemporary Audience
    Book Description:

    This book seeks to place Malory's 'Morte Darthur' more firmly in its cultural and historical context. Its composition, in the mid to late fifteenth century, took place at a time of great upheaval for England, a period beginning with the loss of Bordeaux [and the Hundred Years War] and ending with the rise of Richard III. During this time the 'Morte' was translated from numerous French sources, copied by scribes, and, finally, in July 1485, printed by William Caxton. The author argues that in this unique production history are reflected the ideological crises which loomed so massively over England's ruling class in the fifteenth century; and that the book is in fact inseparable from these crises. THOMAS H. CROFTS is Assistant Professor of English at East Tennessee State University

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-488-1
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book seeks to place the production of Maloryʹs Morte Darthur – in both its manuscript and printed form – in the context of political and literary culture in the second half of the fifteenth century. That historical context will be defined here by especial consideration of the social practice which underwrites all particulars connected to literary production, that is, reading. ʹTexts come before usʹ, Fredric Jameson writes, ʹas the always-already-read; we apprehend them through sedimented layers of previous interpretations, or – if the text is brand-new – through the sedimented reading habits and categories developed by those inherited interpretive...

  7. 1 The Text at Hand
    (pp. 11-30)

    All Malory criticism must, even if provisionally, deal with the question of the authorʹs identity. Even in studies which do not confront the question directly, and even in those which (perhaps rightly) profess indifference to the question of which Thomas Malory wrote the Morte Darthur – even in these a position is taken. Its readers, not excluding the present one, refer habitually to ʹMaloryʹs textʹ or ʹMaloryʹs bookʹ in the singular as if it were possible to consider the Winchester manuscript and Caxtonʹs 1485 edition one ʹbookʹ. Malory criticism since 1934 is really a narrative of at least two texts...

  8. 2 Caxtonʹs preface: Historia and Argumentum
    (pp. 31-60)

    Anachronistic characterizations of the Morte Darthurʹs historiographical content have been made in passing by many a distinguished medievalist. One critic writes: ʹIt is well known that from the late twelfth to the early seventeenth centuries practically all Englishmen thought that Arthur was a genuinely historical figure; and it is clear from the general situation and from his own remarks (e.g. Works, 1229) that Malory shared this view.ʹ² Another: ʹ. . . for history (and the Arthurian romances were considered as such) the fifteenth-century was an age of proseʹ.³ Neither critic claims to have proved the argument, being busy enough with...

  9. 3 Maloryʹs Moral Scribes: ʹBalynʹ in the Winchester Manuscript
    (pp. 61-93)

    Since Maloryʹs translation served not only a linguistic but a cultural demand, the Morte must be read not only in the context of its French sources, but as continuous with the Winchester manuscript itself. This chapter will analyze the extent to which the manuscriptʹs ʹexteriorʹ tokens of literary value can help us historicize the emergence of Maloryʹs book. As we shall see, such an analysis must also expose aspects of Maloryʹs text that are little suited to the uses urged by those exterior tokens.

    That ‘unsuitability’ has a history of its own. For example, the struggle of a knight to...

  10. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  11. 4 Usurpation, Right and Redress in Maloryʹs Roman War
    (pp. 94-120)

    The production history of the Brut, as Professor Radulescu has shown, gave the late medieval gentry a point of focus for self-fashioning and political debate: it gave them books to own and annotate, leaves on which to inscribe their names and arms.¹ Within just this context of book-ownership and book-use, the chronicle tradition of Arthurʹs Roman War gave both Malory and Caxton a particular place to express anxieties about Englandʹs political continuity, the civil costs of war (and peace), and the logic of monarchical succession – anxieties, in short, about Englandʹs constitution.² It is important to remember, however, that the...

  12. 5 No Hint of the Future
    (pp. 121-151)

    Because Maloryʹs book is a composite of different texts and traditions, consistency in the Morte Darthur is frequently at odds with local necessity. In Chapter 3 I argued that the making exemplary of Maloryʹs whole book, a task carried on at many levels and at different times in the bookʹs production history, was attended by the application of certain external features such as marginalia and rubrication. Despite pains taken to shore up the bookʹs morality and strengthen its exemplarity, however, the discursive and the unpredictable, and the forgetful, show through. Balynʹs exemplarity, then, that about him which is worthy of...

  13. Epilogue: Two Gestures of Closure
    (pp. 152-158)

    And what a nightmare that would be! Thus the possibility of adventures is the element most carefully tended by authors of romance. The technique of interlace provided that no one adventure in the Vulgate Cycle would end without another remaining in the balance. Maloryʹs de-interlaced version keeps the possibility alive by means of architectural innovation and strategically oblique prophecy. In either method, theoretically, the necessary conditions for adventure can be maintained world without end. Even so, whether in Malory or in the Vulgate, there is a structural point at which Arthurian adventure must disappear, and that point is the conclusion...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 159-168)
  15. Index
    (pp. 169-172)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 173-177)