Love, Sex and Conflict in the Grail Narratives of Chretien De Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Thomas Malory

Amey, Michael Darin (2001) Love, Sex and Conflict in the Grail Narratives of Chretien De Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Thomas Malory. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis argues that chivalry and its attendant values of love, sex and conflict were a source of serious debate during the Middle Ages, and that this debate featured prominently in the various versions of the Grail legend. There are quite a few variations on the Grail legend, but for the purpose of this study three have been selected: Chretien de Troyes, Le Conte du Graal, Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival and Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur. These three texts have been selected because they are arguably the most influential medieval Grail narratives. The problematic nature of chivalry is dramatically testified to by the wide variety of mediums used in attempting to shape and control knighthood, including papal bulls, royal edicts, chivalric histories, handbooks of chivalry and war, and, of course, romances. All of the romances, by the very nature of the genre, deal with the themes of love, sex and conflict, but the Grail legends, in particular, provide us with a glimpse into the inner- workings of that debate, and certainly suggest the dilemma faced by the knights who found themselves pulled between the frequently conflicting values of Christianity, secular society and chivalry. Repeated attempts were made to find an answer which, to paraphrase Wolfram von Eschenbach, would permit knights to gain honour on Earth while not robbing God of their souls. Obviously honour, and the very existence of this warrior caste, required knights to prove their masculinity through military prowess and through their virility, but in doing so they ran the risk of losing their souls. This perplexing dilemma created a great deal of discussion and compromise between the Church, courtly society and the knights as they attempted to define socially acceptable behaviour. Some conduct was approved of by Church and state, while other actions were beyond the pale, and were roundly condemned. Much behaviour, however, remained morally ambiguous. Each of the Grail authors dealt with this problem and offered their own unique vision of knighthood. Not surprisingly, none of these visions harmonize exactly. Chretien's vision of knighthood is sharp and cynical. He sets forth the problems of chivalry without providing solutions to the problems. Wolfram's view is more optimistic in that, while he acknowledges problems with knighthood, he believes that knighthood can be reformed and he sets forth a realistic programme for implementing the necessary changes. His ideal knights, in essence, must separate themselves from the superfluous elements that had accumulated around chivalry and weighed it down. Knights might love, but in moderation, as God directs, and preferably under the sanction of the Church through the rite of matrimony. Combat should be practiced, but again, in moderation, and for the glory of God instead of personal glory. The final vision of knighthood provided by Malory is, of the three perspectives, the most tragic. Ordinary knights, for the most part, cannot achieve the Grail. Only by renouncing the very virtues that make them knights of the Round Table may a select few approach the mystical vision of the Grail, and then most of these disappear forever from the world of Arthur. Wolfram's vision of an enlightened knighthood existing in the world is lost in Malory's account, and instead Arthur's knights are faced with the parting roads to Sarras and Avalon. They may either follow the Grail and leave the world behind or return to Arthur's court for the final destruction of the golden age of chivalry.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: Graham Caie
Keywords: Medieval literature
Date of Award: 2001
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2001-76028
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 17:06
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 17:06
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/76028

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