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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Idealized world of Malory's "Morte Darthur" : a study of the elements of myth, allegory, and symbolism in the secular and religious milieux of Arthurian Romance Whitaker, Muriel A. I.


Towards the end of the Middle Ages, Sir Thomas Malory synthesized the diverse elements of British chronicle history, Celtic myth, French courtoisie, and Catholic theology which over a period of six hundred years or more had gathered about the legendary figure of King Arthur. Furthermore, Malory presented in definitive form the kind of idealized milieu that later writers in English came to regard as romantic. Malory's Morte Darthur presents dramatically the activities of a mythic aristocratic society living in a golden age. It preserves the "history" of a British king who defeats the Emperor of Rome and establishes an empire stretching from Ireland and Scandinavia to the Eastern Mediterranean. It portrays the adventures of heroic knights whose prowess is inspired by idealized ladies and whose achievements are helped or hindered by such supernatural agents as fays, magicians, giants, dwarfs, angels and devils. The actions of the knights conform to a ritualistic pattern of quest and combat determined by stereotyped chivalric conventions and performed in a symbol-studded environment. Colours, numbers, costumes, metals, arms, armour, and horses have symbolic significances which may be hierarchic, emotive or moral. Castles and perilous forests represent the antithetical values of security and danger, peace and combat, civilization and primitivism, love and hate. In this antipodal environment occur encounters which often adumbrate a struggle between forces of good and forces of evil. In the religious milieu of the Grail quest, elements of the secular milieu are adopted for the purpose of expressing truths of Catholic faith and morality. The Grail Knight's search for Corbenic is an allegory of the soul's search for God. Arms and armour, dress and colours, animals and plants have symbolic significances drawn from Biblical exegesis and Christian art. The unifying element in the historical, romantic and religious milieux is the quest motif; it is the means by which the ideals of the Malorian world are revealed. The historical quest for the crown of Rome shows Malory's view of sovereignty and the ideal of the good king. The romantic quest for fame and fair ladies shows his view of chivalry and the ideal of the good knight. The spiritual quest for the Holy Grail shows his view of religion and the ideal of the good Christian. It is a measure of Malory's art that the wishfulfilling dream world of romance projects an illusion of reality.

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