Senior Honors Theses

Publication Date

Spring 2009

School

School of Communication

Major

English--Teacher Certification

Primary Subject Area

Literature, Romance

Keywords

Thomas Malory, Arthurian legend, King Arthur, Le Morte d'Arthur, Lancelot, Gareth, Tristram, chivalry, courtly love

Disciplines

English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles | Other English Language and Literature

Abstract

Chivalry and its counterpart, courtly love, are indispensible to Sir Thomas Malory’s fifteenth century work on Arthurian legend, Le Morte d’Arthur. The three great examples of chivalry in this work are the knights Lancelot, Gareth, and Tristram, each of whom has a book dedicated to his story. Within these knights’ portrayals of chivalry, however, develop certain inconsistencies which seem out of place against their chivalrous backdrop. The purpose of this thesis is to propose that the reason for these contradictions of character and of chivalry is the close yet destructive relationship between chivalry and courtly love. What leads Lancelot, Gareth, and Tristram to their individual failures in chivalry is their inability to reconcile their loyalty to their king and their knightly oath with their loyalty to their respective ladies. Whereas Gareth abandons courtly love for a more traditional from of chivalry, Tristram exhibits a perversion of courtly love that consequently produces a flawed chivalry. Lancelot’s failure ultimately represents the impossibility of upholding both chivalry and courtly love as a unified code. As a whole, Malory’s account of these knights’ stories portrays the gradual yet inescapable downfall of chivalry when it is aligned with courtly love.

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