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The Alliterative Morte Arthure

The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem

Edited by Karl Heinz Göller
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 3060
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  • Book Info
    The Alliterative Morte Arthure
    Book Description:

    The present volume grew from a nucleus of four papers given at the Twelfth International Arthurian Conference at Regensburg in 1971 on the alliterative Morte Arthure, increasingly recognised as one of the great masterpieces of medieval English literature. These lectures sought to reappraise the poem and its somewhat enigmatic historical and cultural context, and are presented here in a much revised and expanded form. Unlike most volumes of theis kind, the contributions form an integrated whole, the result of lengthy discussions among the collaborating scholars over the past year. The topics range from the poem's place among chronicles and Arthurian romances to the date, audience and attitude to contempary problems, notably that of war. pecific fields such as heraldry and laments for the dead are examined in detail, while the linguistic structure of the poem is the subject of two essays.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-216-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[v])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vi]-[vi])
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. The Dream of the Wheel of Fortune
    (pp. 1-6)
  5. A Summary of Research
    (pp. 7-14)

    The text of theAlliterative Morte Arthure¹ (henceforthAMA) is now available in several adequate editions. D. S. Brewer and A. E. B. Owen have published a facsimile edition of the Thornton manuscript together with a useful analysis of its characteristic features.²

    In 1865 G. G. Perry edited the text for the Early English Text Society, as did Edmund Brock in 1871. both under the number 0.S.8.³ In 1900 Mary M. Banks supervised a new edition of the poem, which Erik Björkman used in 191 5 in his edition of theAMAin the series Alt- und Mittelenglische Texte.⁴


  6. Reality versus Romance: A Reassessment of the Alliterative Morte Arthure
    (pp. 15-29)
    KARL HEINZ GÖLLER, R. Gleißner and M. Mennicken

    TheAMAhas been classified by literary critics as a romance, an epic, and achanson de geste, as well as a tragedy, anexemplumof the virtue of fortitude, and aFürstenspiegel. There are sound arguments for each of these categories, and this alone is proof of the fact that it is impossible to ascribe the poem to a single literary genre. Like many other masterpieces of world literature, theAMAdefies neat pigeon-holing. It was almost inevitable that a new, detailed study of theAMAand its relation to contemporary chronicles, history, and literature would lead to a...

  7. The Poem in the Tradition of Arthurian Literature
    (pp. 30-43)

    Conventionally, Arthurian literature has been divided into two main streams, which are usually called the chronicle and romance traditions. But even the earliest chronicle was preceded by much traditional material — myth and folklore — not confined, as R. S. Loomis thought, to Celtic sources alone but international in provenance.¹ This early oral conception of Arthur survives, unfortunately, only in written records which are considerably later than the earliest chronicles.² Scholars, for example, date the important Welsh poet Aneirin’s battle poem,The Gododdin, from the late sixth century, but it survives only in a much later manuscript, of the thirteenth...

  8. The Audience
    (pp. 44-56)

    Until well into the twentieth century, the author of the Middle English romances was seen in the romantic image created by antiquaries and writers of a century earlier, such as Bishop Percy and Sir Walter Scott. He was envisaged as a minstrel who recited his works at the festivals held at provincial courts, in market places and at country fairs.¹ In the meantime, however, it has become clear that, in the late Middle Ages at any rate. the terms ‘minstrels’ and ‘minstrelsy’ were applied almost exclusively to musicians and musical performances, and that in many cases the authors of the...

  9. The Language and Style: The Paradox of Heroic Poetry
    (pp. 57-69)

    There are probably many reasons for the Alliterative Revival as a whole. National, northern, heroic, traditional, religious, and, above all, anti-French impulses certainly exist in the movement. But, as even these partly contradictory catchwords reveal, the common denominator is difficult to find and there are always exceptions:Pearlisnotheroic,Piers Plowmanisnotnorthern, etc. It seems, therefore, that what most alliterative works in Middle English have in common is their very sense of heterogeneity, to be found in the clash between the old and the new, between the heroic and the Christian ideals, between the French and...

  10. Formulaic Microstructure: The Cluster
    (pp. 70-82)

    Today, more than ever, there is general disagreement as to the position of the alliterativeMorte Arthurein the tradition of English literature, and particularly in that of English alliterative poetry. A close study of the treatment of battle in the poem using the methods of formulaic analysis may bring us nearer to a solution. Descriptions of battle dominate the poem to such an extent that some critics have regarded them as monotonous or even superfluous.¹ At the same time they comprise poetry’s most ancient and conventional passages in general. Thus they are the most likely parts of a poem...

  11. Formulaic Macrostructure: The Theme of Battle
    (pp. 83-95)

    One of the weaknesses of oral formulaic research has been its tendency to establish the use of traditional patterning and repetition without going the necessary step further to inquire as to its function within the artistic framework of the poem. In work done thus far on the treatment in theAMAof formulaic elements of content — that is to say, the theme, type-scene and motif — most critics have emphasised poetic convention rather than innovation. Finlayson, for example, characterises the poem’s treatment of the theme of battle as follows:

    What the poet is doing is putting loosely together a...

  12. Armorial Bearings and their Meaning
    (pp. 96-105)

    Throughout the Middle Ages heraldry played a great part in the everyday life of the high nobility and the gentry. It was a reality which gradually made its way into the world of fiction. Historical heraldry deveIoped into an art or science with a set of strict rules, while in literature heraldic emblems were used side by side with other literary symbols. The descriptions of coats of arms were often incomplete or even incorrect, as if the shield were merely an ornament, adding colour to a jousting match or a battle scene.

    In literary heraldic descriptions there are various types...

  13. The Figure of Sir Gawain
    (pp. 106-116)

    One of the more prominent changes in theAMAnoted by recent editors and literary critics alike upon comparing the work with its putative extant sources, theHistoria Regum Britanniaeof Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace’sRoman de Brut, and Layamon’sBrut, is the greatly expanded role of Sir Gawain.¹ Next to Arthur he emerges as the leading figure, being involved not only in the various military campaigns, but also setting out on his own in search of knightly adventure. Needless to say this change in Gawain’s stature has provoked commentary both from within the poem and from without, i.e. Gawain’s...

  14. The Laments for the Dead
    (pp. 117-129)

    Unlike any other secular Middle English work before it, theAMAbears the stamp of laments for the dead. Within its 4346 lines it includes ten such laments, and of its last five hundred verses well over one third is devoted to dramatic lamentations which convey the poem’s complex message, notably its condemnation of war. with impressive finality. For such a function, Iaments for the dead are particularly suited, in spite of being a traditional form, because by virtue of their close association with the existential experience of death they are able to illuminate fundamental human questions such as fate...

  15. The Dream of the Dragon and Bear
    (pp. 130-139)

    The meaning of the prophetic dreams for the understanding of the message of theAMAhas not yet been fully recognised, although there are many critical assessments of the Dream of Fortune, particularly in connection with attempts to determine the genre of the poem. In the only book-length publication on the poem, William Matthews concentrates on the Dream of Fortune alone, while summarily dismissing the Dream of the Dragon and Bear in a single sentence.¹ It is, however, evident that both dreams play an essential role in structuring the poem as an architectonic whole. The Dream of the Dragon and...

  16. The Dream of the Wheel of Fortune
    (pp. 140-152)

    Like the Dream of the Dragon and Bear, the Dream of Fortune follows a philosophical-literary tradition of long standing with which the author was well acquainted. The goddess of Fortune with her wheel, as portrayed in theAMA, goes back to Boece; in the Middle Ages this portrayal was current in literature as well as in visual art: ‘Throughout the Middle Ages the general idea is that Fortune turns the wheel, on which mankind clings; in the line of this development occurs the “formula of four.”’¹ “Höltgen calls the depiction of therota Fortunaewith the four kings — the...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 153-181)
  18. Subject Index
    (pp. 182-183)
  19. Name Index
    (pp. 184-186)