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The beasts beneath the round table : the role of animals in Malory's Morte D'Arthur Dagg, Melvin Harold

Abstract

This thesis explores the role of animal imagery in Malory's Morte Darthur. Each chapter of the thesis attempts to achieve this aim by examining the animals from different, though related perspectives. Firstly, wherever possible, Malory's animal imagery is compared to the traditional mythological context of the animal under discussion, and to the appearance of that animal in other relevant Arthurian literature. This approach has proved most useful in Chapter Four, devoted to the dragon, where Malory's use of the dragon is initially antithetical to the traditional connotations associated with it, whereas as the Morte progresses the dragon reverts to its traditional meaning of evil and terror. Similarly, the subject of Chapter Three, the Questing Beast, has entailed a study of the French sources not used by Malory, simply because Malory did not include the complete story of the Questing Beast in the Morte. Without examining those sources, therefore, we would know neither the complete meaning, nor the complete story of this fascinating creature. Secondly, the thesis examines the relationship of the animals in the Morte to Malory's characters. In Chapter One it is shown that Torre and Tristram, unlike Gawain and Pellinor, are worthy of love because of their association with the symbol and token of love, the brachet. In Chapter Two the black bulls envisioned by Gawain are associated with Arthur's entire court, with the exception of the three Grail questers, Percival, Galahad, and Bors, who are represented as white bulls. Chapter Three attempts to show that the flawed characters of Pellinor and Palomides are mirrored in the ugly, elusive, meaningless object of their quest, the Questing Beast. Most significant of all, however, is the simultaneous association of the dragon with Arthur, his Kingdom, and his Knights in the final chapter of the thesis. Thirdly, the thesis examines the thematic function of Malory's animal imagery. Both Gawain's vision of the black and white bulls, and the changing meaning of the dragon symbol, foreshadow and comment on the cause of the tragedy with which the Morte ends. In both Chapter Two, treating the image of the bulls, and Chapter Four, dealing with the dragon, I have strongly suggested that the image of both the bulls and the dragon implies that Arthur's entire court, Arthur included, is responsible for the ruin of the Round Tabie and the fellowship it represented. - ' Thus the thesis concludes that the animals within Malory's Morte Darthur are of extreme importance, not merely as separate entities, but as symbols of varying social and ethical significance, and as thematic devices contributing to the unity of the whole work.

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