The Politics Of Violence In Malorys Essay

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The Politics Of Violence In Malorys Essay, Research Paper The Politics of Violence in Malory’s Treatment of the Arthurian Legend By focusing, ostensibly, on sex and violence, Malory’s rendering of the Arthurian legend becomes something quite distinct from the French originals. Roger Ascham’s complaint that only “bold baudrie and open manslaughter,” may be found in the Works, seems to be well grounded, but such a reading tends to neglect the author’s most essential themes. Why is violence such a fundamental aspect of these tales? Malory’s interest in the Arthurian legend is reflected in his dramatic and violent reworking of the original sources. What appears to be a prominent interest in sex and violence is hardly gratuitous. In fact, Malory infuses the legend

with a sense of political reality. Arthur’s new order or system of government may represent a golden era, but it must function in a practical, pragmatic world, burgeoning with sin. How might an exalted political ideal survive a less than exalted world? Quite simply, it can not. Obviously concerned with worldly government and human behaviour, Malory unveils a complex cast of characters, from Arthur, who is both Christ-like and Herod-like by turns, to Lancelot who struggles in vain to renounce sin. Sex and violence, while certainly sensational, lends a poignant, yet gritty realism to the Arthurian legend. It is through this violent, jarring realism that Malory unveils a distinctly political and worldly agenda. Malory focuses on Camelot as a worldly ideal. Arthur’s rise to rule

is rife with Christ imagery, but it is also contradicted by markedly Herodic overtones. His reign is linked to the coming of the Christian church. Sanctioned by God, the sword test is the means by which Arthur is able to rise from obscurity and eventually rule England. Arthur, as the chosen one, is anticipated and proclaimed at the onset of the Works and a new form of political society may be expected. From its inception, however, his order is shown to be steeped in sin and violence. He is marred, personally, by the sins of lechery, incest and pride, while his political tactics invariably involve some form of terror. After committing state wide infanticide, Arthur escapes public derision because his subjects, “for drede and for love… helde their pece,” (Malory, 37). Fear is

placed significantly before love, in this instance. When Mordred usurps the throne, Britons readily take up his cause because he promises peace. In Book XXI, we learn that “with kynge Arthur was never othir lyff but warre and stryff, and with sir Mordrede was grete joy and blysse,” (Malory, 708). Clearly, Arthur’s conception of order involves a strong and violent hand and Malory’s rendering of Arthur reveals a worldly sinner and political saviour. Corruption, alongside purity, continues to complicate the Arthurian landscape. Early in the tales, Arthur’s court is shown to be a glorious, yet diseased place. Proud knights bicker incessantly over Arthur’s favour. Gawain reacts strongly to every perceived slight and Balyn is accused of witchcraft by some envious peers.

Secret plots and intrigues are flourishing as early as the second tale, when two knights are found plotting to poison the King. The realm is constantly struggling to maintain a sense of order amidst the creeping contamination of the world. To further complicate our understanding of good and evil, Mordred, the obvious villain, is briefly rendered in Christ-like terms. He is the only survivor of Arthur’s murderous sweep. He is, in one sense, a chosen one, but his destiny is one of destruction. The murder of the Lady of the Lake at Balyn’s hands is another interesting blend of purity with corruption. In the midst of Arthur’s court, the Lady, who has materially assisted Arthur, is abruptly decapitated. This is an obvious image of death, placed at the young king’s feet, yet