Through all those stories and plays we've read so far I've found that the position of women at medieval times were belittled, including in Morte Arthur. Quinevere was the cause of the whole disaster. It's somewhat like Helen in the Trojan War--a beautiful woman caused the destruction of a great city. Nevertheless, the prevalent courtly love had a little bit change in this story. Mostly courtly love will idealize women and make them into objects of worship--the lady is wooed, usually at a distance, by a knight who fights in her honor, calls himself her as a servant. However, in Morte Arthur, there's no idealization of love or of women, but women become the cause of the disaster. Quinevere, like Helen, was the cause of the destruction of round table. On the other hand, I think Malory thinks that Lancelot loved and saved Quinevere out of his loyalty more than his love. In other words, Malory approved of Lancelot's loyalty to his lady. "for love that time wasn't as love is nowadays." Lancelot admired her also because his honor demands it. Even Sir Bors had warned Lancelot not going to see Quinevere in advance; Lance lot still had to go because "the Queen has sent for me.
Besides women, dream is also an important element in this story. It seems that medieval people made use of dreams very often as some kind of prediction. But even for those forewarning of bad luck, there's no way to change the destiny. You can't escape from your destiny. In the "Nuns Priests Tale of Canterbury Tales", the cock had dreams of his misfortune but couldn't escape from it. Likewise, King Arthur couldn't escape from his faith even he had dreamed of his misfortune. And suddenly the King thought that the wheel turned upside down, and he fell among the serpents, and every beast took him by a limb. The turning of the wheel here also tells us King Arthur's destiny had been turned upside down. The glorious time that belongs to King Arthur is going to pass away. We can call it the wheel of fortune. It's about time, destiny is inevitable.
The ending of this story is legendary and deistic. Arthur's sister Queen Morgan la Fee came to pick him up and Arthur was carried away in a barge. This gives us the hint that he might come back some day. Queen Morgan la Fee had no special meaning of feminism. It's just a device, like a traditional ending, conventional. Among the noble spirits of round table knights, we can still find many human weaknesses--the fall of men in this story. Even though the knights of noble virtues, they still make mistakes like the betrayals between follower & leader, brother & brother, husband & wife, and father & son. To sum up, Malorys great work shows the realism of human's nature.
Courtly love is a common theme in medieval literature. Compared withThe Miller's Tale and Sir Gawain's story, the affair of Lancelot and Quinevere can be viewed as the only serious one in medieval section. Instead of treating courtly love tong-in-cheek or in sarcastic way, the story in Morte Durther shows the genuine love between Lancelot and Quinevere (the last paragraph in p349 and the third complete paragraph in p351.)
Another theme which, in middle age, is often emphasized and appears in literary work, is the importance of chivalry. Knights are asked to obey and practice the Five Virtues, which includes generosity, fellowship, chastity, courtesy and pity. Besides, they have to be worriers, gentlemen and pious Christians at the same time and their obligations are to protect their over-lord, church, and ladies. Here in Morte Durthur, though Lancelot is the most outstanding knight of King Arthur, however, his love towards Quinevere breaks chivalry. Hence, the struggle between loyalty and love arises. From the paragraph (started form the last line in p360 to p361, line 9), we know that Lancelot did not violate chivalry code on purpose since knights are human as well. They have love and also passion in
themselves just like common people.
What results in Arthur's death?
1. Lancelot & Quinevere: one is his favorite knight, who saved his life for several times and the other is his wife, so we can imagine how sad he is.
2. His son, Sir Mordred: he has caste greedy eyes in Arthurs throne and then takes the affair of Lancelot and Quinevere as an advantage. He revolted while King Arthur is out to find Lancelot.
Because of these two betrayals, the internal disorder is caused and the system of the round Table collapses, then King Arthur died. Therefore, his death is originated from BETRYAL.
Although King Arthur might not be a real person in the history, and wassomeone who only existed in the legend. But actually, his historical reality is less important than the legendary role he played as the great figure in which the medieval idea of the chivalry flourished. What King Arthur and his Round Table knights represented were the ideal system and the ideal society. And significance of King Arthur's death was right the collapse of the ideal society and system. Why King Arthur's legend has been wildly spread from old time to new is because people at any age are longing for and idealized past.
In the fight with Sir Mordred, King Arthur was badly wounded and became weak, at meanwhile, the ideal society was passing. On p. 357, after the fight with his son, King Arthur was led by Sir Bedivere and Sir Lucan to a little chapel. And then they heard people cry in the field. When Sir Lucan went out to see what happened, he saw and harkened by the moonlight how that pillers and robbers were come into the field to pill and to rob many a full noble knight of brooches and bees and of many a good ring and many a rich jewel. And who that were not dead all out there they slew them for their harness and their riches. This passage shows that the disorder of the society just happened while King Arthur became weak. The evil things appeared when the ideal system ( the Round Table Knights) were ruined, and the ideal society (King Arthur) was in danger
King Arthur's story was left with an open ending. King Arthur was brought to the Lake. The significance of the Lake is the ideal of rebirth. On p.359, some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place. And men say that he shall come again and win the Holy Cross. And this verse was written upon King Arthur's tomb Here lies Arthur, who was once king and king will be again. For many people, King Arthur's legend is not a memory, but a hope. People expect that one day the ideal system and the ideal society which King Arthur and his knights represented will come back to this world again.
The dream writing style was popular at the medieval period of time. There are four dreams in the Morte Darthur. The first two dreams are King Arthurs dreams, which could be regarded as the bad omen. On p. 354, King Arthur saw himself sat in a chair was fast to a wheel, wearing the richest cloth with gold. Suddently, the wheel turned upside down, and King Arthur fell among the serpents, then he cried out for help and was awakened by others. The second dream, on p.355, King Arthur saw Sir Gawain was send by Gods special grace to warn him his death. In those two dreams, King Arthur foresaw his death. On p.360, Sir Lancelot dreamed about the death of Queen Guinevere thrice in one night. And this dream later was proved to be related to the reality. And the fourth dream was after the death of Lancelot the Bishop saw in the dream that the angles lift up Sir Lancelot unto heaven, and the gates of heaven opened against him.
In fact, people the Middle Age was rather superstitious. They believed that the truth might be revealed in the disguised dream form. Also in the Nuns priests Prologue and Piers Plowman, people regarded the dreams as the natural allegories which relate to the truth and reality. The dream form is a feather of the writing in the medieval period of time.
The Fall of Knights
In the prose, it is obviously that the love cases many people die, and it is the key to make the knights betray each other. In fact, there are different levels of betrayals in the prose, such as follower and follower, brother and brother, husband and wife and father and son as well.
The betrayal is between follower and leader. Here, the follower is Sir Lancelot and leader is Arthur. In the prose we can find that Lancelot has to make a decision between loyalty and love; and these two elements show his paradox in his mind. Eventually, he chooses love. But, he never thinks that he betrays his lord, Arthur; he just loves a woman, Queen Guinevere, he can not love. In another way, we can say Lancelot betray his lord. Because he loves his lord's wife; this love is not allowed at that time, so we can say Lancelot betray Arthur. As to Arthur, when he is informed that his queen has the affair with his first knight, he still stays calm. He wants his knights to investigate this matter. Latter, he finally loses his control because Lancelot kills her knights; Arthur doesn't trust Lancelot
The second betrayal is brother and brother. Or we can say knights to knights. When Arthur's knights know the adultery between Lancelot and Guinevere, they try to set a trap to fetch Lancelot and queen to Arthur. For this case, we can find that the knights don't trust Lancelot; and Lancelot kills his brothers. The fellowship of knights is diminished. The third one is husband and wife. Guinevere loves Lancelot, rather than his husband, Arthur, it suggests that she betrays Arthur's affection. Yet, at the time when Arthur decides to put Guinevere to death, it means that Arthur is not willing to possess this love. He betrays his wife as well.
The last one is father and son, Arthur and Sir Modred. In the beginning, Modred tries to uncover the affair to Arthur. Actually, it doesn't mean that he is loyal to his father. It is just one of his conspiracy because he tries to overthrow his dad. On the other hand, Arthur doesn't his son as well. He understands that Modred wants to kills him, so he must kills his son. They don't trust each other.
In the beginning, only one knight doesn't involve in those betrayals. That is Sir Gawain. He realizes that if the truth is known to Arthur, the whole chivalric society and Round Table will be destroyed. But, latter, he can not escape from those betrayals when he gets the news that his brothers are slew by Lancelot. And it somehow suggests that chivalric spirit is corrupted thoroughly.
At last, I want to discuss more about Arthur's first dream and bishops dream. There are two possibilities in Arthur's dream, I think. The first one is just an omen. The dream wants to remind that he will encounter the difficulties or his throne will be replaced by someone. For the archetype of the wheel is the fate of wheel, and the serpent is evil. Another possibility could be refereed to Arthur's unconsciousness. The serpent could be his evil part of unconsciousness (the element of evil could be found when he decides to put her queen to death, and tries to kill Lancelot and his son.). his is fallen in the serpent in his dream, maybe it suggests that his evil side of unconsciousness would conquer his superego (superego could be generosity, fellowship, chastity, courtesy, and pity). He will be destroyed by his own weakness.As to bishop's dream, it just conveys that through confession, man can be redeemed.
>From the whole story, the ideal chivalric spirit is challenged by courtly love; eventually, the ideal model, Arthur is killed by his own fall. The ideal chivalric society is collapsed. It all shows that how difficult it is for those chatters in the prose be a ideal chivalry knight; no one is perfect.