Sir Thomas Malory's romance of fellowship

Grimm, Kevin T, Department of English, University of Virginia
Duggan, Hoyt, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Kolve, V.A., University of Virginia
Nolan, Barbara, Department of English, University of Virginia

Thomas Malory's Tale of Sir Tristam is generally regarded as his least successful and least original tale. Critics find it too long, too diffuse, and only tenuously related to the history of Arthur and the Round Table. But such responses to the tale arise from the erroneous assumption that it is a biographical narrative such as the tales of Launcelot and Gareth. The Tale of Sir Tristram, however, is structured around the idea of knightly fellowship. Tristram and Launcelot are revealed as the nucleus of a small group of knights who are distinguished less by their prowess than by their willingness to put loyalty to each other before all other claims. In marked contrast to these knights are those who fail to subordinate personal desire to the obligations of true fellowship. The tale depicts the struggle between fellowship and envy which divides the Round Table and leads directly to its ruin. This conflict shapes the Tale of Sir Tristram and accounts for the disposition of its parts. Though seemingly digressive to modern readers, the narrative in fact pursues a single line of thematic development through the adventures and interaction of several knights. Because Malory is particularly interested in the influence knights exert on each other, the narrative requires a series of shifts in focus from character to character. The Tale of Sir Tristram is thus different in kind from Malory's other tales, but exhibits a remarkable originality in his adaptation of the prose romance form.

Malory's entire Morte Darthur is, like the Tale of Sir Tristram, thematically organized. The eight major tales display a variety of internal narrative structures, but all are arranged and connected by Malory's progressive exploration of knighthood. Each tale is, in fact, a different expression of the central thematic conflict of his book, the conflict between knighthood and treachery. The Death of Arthur thus provides not only the climax of Round Table history, but the thematic culmination of the previous seven tales. The great power of Malory's Morte Dartnur, then, arises from his careful thematic organization of the whole.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Malory, Thomas, Sir, active 15th century., Morte d'Arthur, active 15th century, Criticism and interpretation
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