Adventure in Arthurian Romance

Adventure in Arthurian Romance is a classical literature based on the experiences of King Arthur. King Arthur is an outstanding figure in English literature. Many artists, including musicians and poets, meticulously described his great exploits in various forms. Great literary works have appropriated King Arthur’s brave adventures either in the form of story-tales or poems and it was through such intriguing works that Arthurian Romance was discovered.  It comprises of a blend of adventure, love, tragedy and enchantment. Arthurian Romance gained popularity in the 12th century. Its popularity was mostly spread over the regions of Western Europe. Arthurian Romance appealed to Victorians such as Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Alfred Tennyson.  It can be subdivided into three branches including the tales that contain moral challenges of a youthful knight known as sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This paper does not intent to narrate about the development and spread of the Arthurian Romance. Instead,  it mainly focuses on the meaning of adventure in  this type of literature. Furthermore, the paper endeavors to analyze the meaning of Arthurian Romance and explain the meaning of the figures of knights in the adventure experience.

Arthurian Romances mostly comprised of stories with religious undertones that depict the struggles, great men and sophisticated woman to appease God. Most texts in the Arthurian Romance relate to some extend to the original definition of Romance. There is an element of adventure and knightly prowess purposely intended for entertainment. In the medieval literature, the Arthurian Romance and the concept of King Arthur who is sitting at a round table is quite common.  These aspects have been changing over time to keep pace with the transformative nature of the audience. Currently, Arthurian Romance is being applied in various forms. Moreover, adventure in the Arthurian Romance and in the Medieval Literature generally had various meanings. In the Middle Ages of Europe, Arthurian Romance was regulated by a system called feudalism. According to the main principles of this system, people manifested a culture of community and did everything together as one family. Arthurian Romance seemed interesting to many people and it augured well with their culture. In the medieval period, abstract references of King Arthur and his adventures symbolized an epitome of love and care for others. People had established social ranks that included lords, knights, and queens among others (Morris 49).

It must be acknowledged that although various writers have reflected on these issues differently, while altering the plot, the meaning of Arthurian Romance remained the same across generations. Early versions of Arthurian Romance had a semblance of violence and magic.  Later, there emerged a critical turning point in its meaning. The aspects of power and love were incorporate into the theme. They were exemplified through several characters like knights and other adventure experiences. There is no doubt that King Arthur played a significant role in English literature. Most legends in the Arthurian Romance portrayed King Arthur as a courteous king with many triumphs, baring little resemblance with his historical figure. During theses times, heroism and good deeds were highly valued in the society. The real existence of King Arthur is still doubted.  Most analysts allege that King Arthur did not actually exist, being simply a mythical figure. To decide whether he was a mythical figure of not is not the main concern of the paper As outlined in the thesis statement, it  is primarily concerned with the meaning of adventure in the Arthurian Romance.

Arthurian Romance existed at the time when the access to information was not free which was typical of the ancient times. However, this desire has always been represented in the human psyche and has overridden the human desire for independence. To illustrate this simply consider the preference of the Israelites for a king, instead of a series of judges in the Old Testament; the ease with which Rome transitioned from Republic to Empire; the general apathy which has accompanied the growth of the restrictions on personal freedoms in the United States since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The ideal of the court of King Arthur is particularly seductive in modern times, but it has been a source of wonder for over a thousand of years.

The stories that emerged around the personalities of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table began appearing in the late 1100’s and generally fall into three groups: moral tests for novice knights, tales about the struggle between duty and passion, and tales about the quest for the Holy Grail. No matter which group the adventure falls in, though, these tales tend to define adventure as a quest that corresponds with the desire to faithfully follow God, usually involving supernatural enemies and events. The true adventure, ultimately, is a moral and personal one.

It is worth looking at the historical background that led to the cult of King Arthur before moving to a discussion of what an Arthurian adventure actually comprised. While the Roman Empire tended to be highly protective of its lands, in the case of Britain, the Empire allowed the island to revert to its own freedom during the fifth century CE. The emperor Honorius ruled in a time when the western half of the empire was constantly under siege by Barbarian invasions that had moved into northern Europe as well as from the attempts of the self-styled Constantine III to usurp the imperial throne. Britain switched its allegiance from the usurper back to Honorius, sending soldiers and funding to provide a defense for the borders on request of Romans (Morris 29). However, Honorius sent a letter that Britain would have to provide its own defense and sent none of his own governors to take over administration, leaving the leadership uncontrolled. The time when Arthur was said to be alive would have been about a century after Rome’s abdication of administration over Britain.

The primary text from which the legend of Arthur has arisen was written in 1136: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, or A History of the Kings of Britain. Later such tales as Chretien de Troyes’ Erec et Enide, Lancelot, Yvain, and Perceval, all of which came between 1160 and 1190 became a provenance of information about King Arthur. This tradition continued until 1470 till the time Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was written (Tatlock 545). While T.H. White’s The Once and Future King is just one work that shows a prolonged interest in the legend, the cycle of romances is considered to come to an official end with Malory’s definitive work.

Erec et Enide features several of the essential elements of adventure as far as it appears in Arthurian Romance. Not only does the story feature a quest and the pursuit of love, but it also features the desire to live out Christian ethics. Many researchers believe this story to become the first to establish the Arthurian Romance as a genre. Other writers of the genre, including the unnamed author of Hunbaut, pointed back to Chretienas their source of inspiration (Lacy 2).

Erec takes on many characteristics that would turn out to be prototypical of the Arthurian hero. Initially, Erec, a knight in Arthur’s court, falls in love with Enide, a poor noble girl in Lalut. Erec is accompanying Guinevere during a stag hunt, where the other knights are all competing and an unknown knight abuses Guinever’s servant. Erec pursues the knight, defeats him, and marries Enide, whom he has happened to meet and fall in love with while pursuing the knight. Later, he develops his reputation as a knight that is known for his forceless character, because of the span of the time he spends with Enide. Later he takes Enide with him on a journey in order to prove his prowess. He defeats a bunch of different knights as well as two counts and Guivret the Small. At the end, he and Enide set free a couple of prisoners and are ultimately crowned the King and Queen of Nantes (De Troyes).

One of the central characteristics of the Arthurian hero is the quest and the test of character. Not only is Erec tested when his fellow knights question his valor, but Enide is tested as well.She begins to cry incessantly the second she hears that Erec’s valor is under question.,. Irritated by this, Erec orders her to remain quiet. Fortunately for him, Enide screams or provides some other sort of warning every moment his life is in danger. By so doing, she protects him from some of the ruthless attempts presented by miscreants on his journey who want to kill him and take Enide for their own needs. Had she not warned him, he would not have it through the gauntlet of would-be murderers.

Another way that Erec et Enide suits the definition of the Arthurian Romance is its devotion to Christianity. In many examples Arthurian Romance the centrality of Christianity takes the form of different ethical precepts. In this story, though, it is the fact that the plot centers around the Christian liturgical calendar. When Erec is with Guinevere, in the first part of the story, and she orders him to pursue the boorish knight, it is Easter. Moreover, he married Enide soon after, at Pentecost. When the two of them are given the throne of Nantes, it is Christmas (De Troyes). The only Christian element that resembles the actual events of the plot is the fact that Erec is killed by one of his foes. His bringing back from the dead on Sunday is interpreted as an apparent reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A third element of Erec et Enide that fits the definition of the Arthurian Romance is the idea of courtly love. In many of the stories of this genre the hero is spending time with a heroine who is either not married or is married to someone other than the hero. It may be seen as an explanation forErec’s appearance at the beginning of the story accompanying Queen Guinevere. This is an early instance of what would be known as courtly love, in which the love of a knight to this unapproachable woman took on the form of a desire to provide protection, instead of more erotic form of revelation. Of course, the fact that Lancelot would end up having an affair with Guinevere behind King Arthur’s back would ultimately show the limits of this kind of love. However,  its appearance here is just  another attempt of the writers of the Arthurian Romance to create an ideal world, in which people were motivated by pure and innocent reasons, instead of being driven by the same sludge and filth that has brought forth sin since the days of the briefly inhabited Garden of Eden.

Chretien de Troyes also wrote Lancelot, Knight of the Cart, the story which focuses on his rescueing of Queen Guinevere after Meleagant had abducted her. This story appears throughout many different renditions of the Arthurian legends, and is one of the central stories that have to do with Lancelot's inner conflicts as a knight of King Arthur and a lover who must follow the rules of courtly love. It is a conflict of ethics, the courtly love of which makes the story fit the template for the Arthurian Romance. This is de Troyes' only work that features Guinevere as one of the main characters; in all of his other Arthurian adventures she has a minor role, more fitting the traditional view of woman of the time. With this in mind, the fact that Lancelot does climb upon the cart is an intriguing one. As a knight he knew that riding that cart would make him look like a criminal – that pillory was reserved for convicts who arrived to  undergo a sentence of public shame.  This shame is appropriate as Lancelot is violating the boundaries of courtly love by pursuing a relationship with Queen Guinevere. He has broken the existing contracts that were in force in that society and stepped into the role of the lawbreaker. Even though no one knows this or at least it is not yet public knowledge, he is well aware of it. Moreover, he has set the chain of events that will give him the title of traitor in motion. Not only has he besmirched the reputation of the Knights of the Round Table by his decision, he has made his King look smaller and diminished through this ultimate act of disrespect. The questions of morality and fealty in this story are what make it an Arthurian adventure.

Another Arthurian Romance penned by Chretien de Troyes represented more central aspects of the Arthurian legend, called The Story of the Grail, also known as Perceval. The grail, of course, has been said to be a particular dish, cup or plate out of which Jesus Christ was dranking during the Last Supper. In modern culture presented by such films as The Fisher King, starring Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade this principle have been incorporated.,. The idea that the grail had supernatural powers was one that pervaded Western lore almost since the resurrection of Christ in the middle of the first century CE. According to the Arthurian tales, the grail has powers that mix Christian legend with Celtic mythology, and in the case of Perceval, the focus is on the harrowing quest the aim of which is to find that grail.

Unlike many other Knights of the Round Table, Perceval got his seat because of his courageous actions, not because of his familial lineage. As it happens in many great stories of bravery , Percevalbegins with a request from his mother who asks him to go become a Knight.  Not being aware of  the courtly manners, Perceval is the subject of early ridicule from Sir Kay. However,  killing the knight who took King Arthur’s vermilion armor, Perceval amazes the other Knights and gets to marry Blanchefleur, the daughter of Gornemant, who has been training him.

Later, Perceval encounters the Fisher King, who invites him for a short stay at his castle. It is one of the more inscrutable passages in Arthurian Romance, as Perceval sees several unusual sights. Firstly, it is a young man who is walking around with a bleeding lance, followed by a pair of boys, each of whom is carrying a candelabrum. Lastly, he sees a girl carrying a grail. He follows this procession before each course of his dinner. He says nothing (because his mother told him not to talk too much), but the next morning, when he wakes up, there is no one left in the castle, and when Perceval returns home, his mother has passed away. After he returns to King Arthur’s court, a strange lady appears asking him why he did not inquire about the grail and the lance, since the right question would have kept the Fisher King from dying from his wounds. Later, a hermit reveals that the grail has one wafer from Communion that would have saved the Fisher King. The poem devolves into a series of other quests,  never resolving the questions that Perceval’s strange sights create in the reader.

The quests that ensue in the latter half of Perceval plant this story firmly in the genre of Arthurian Romance and establish adventure as the completion of those quests. The first appearance of the grail in the Arthurian genre happens in this poem as well, and its power is as hazy as it is compelling. The association with Christianity is clear, though, with the sustaining powers associated with the wafer from Communion. Because it is the only item that can keep the Fisher King alive, the Christian faith is read between the lines to be the only means that can provide one’s ultimate sustenance and grace. Also, the fact that Perceval faces several tests throughout the story marks the quest as one of the Arthurian types of adventure. His first quest is to gain knighthood, at his mother’s behest., Thus, his act of rescuing King Arthur’s armor is his first success. The later test, which he apparently fails, happens at the dinner when the procession of the lance, the candelabras, and the grail were noticed by him. The later continuations of the story take all of these threads and give them further development, but the healing power of the grail is the one that had the most lasting impact on most readers (Ramm 112).

As with Erec et Enide and Perceval, Yvain shows several important elements of the adventure, according to the parameters of Arthurian Romance. This story is from the knight-errant group of romances and Yvain is the knight-errant who marries Laudine only to take off on a knightly quest with Gawain shortly afterward. Laudine agrees to let him go, but only for a year. Yvain is having such a fun time on his quest that he forgets to come back after a year, and Laudine refuses to let him return. Yvain experiences grief to the point of insanity, until a noblewoman cures him (no doubt, once again, using the courtly version of love), saving a lion from a snake. This lion becomes Yvain’s helpful companion; the pair of them beats three knights and a powerful giant, before saving Lunete from the fire in the stake. After all of these heroics, Laudine lets Yvain (and his lion) come home.

While this tale does not fit into the metaphysical or symbolic aspects that characterize Perceval and stays away from the ethical aspects of Erec et Enide,  it does include the more swashbuckling aspects of the Arthurian adventure. The idea of ideal love, followed by marriage, appears in the swift nuptials of Yvain and Laudine. The speed with which Yvain then sets out on a series of knightly quests with Gawain indicates the adventuresome spirit that captivates many knights in this genre. Finally, the quest that Yvain finally undertakes is in the service of love, the regaining of his wife (Hindman 27).

The spirit of adventure that pervades the Arthurian Romances had much to do with edifying the public at that time, as most entertainment did (Hindman 12). By inculcating the virtues of courtly love and fidelity, such authors as de Troyes sought to imbue their society with the ideals that matched the ethical precepts of Christianity. In a way that reflects the function of the comic books in the first half of the twentieth century in the United States, these tales pitted larger-than-life heroes with supernatural villains in tales that not only captivated their readers but provided them with heroes in which to believe. By looking at the current list of movies in wide release, it is apparent that our own desire for heroes and leaders has not abated one bit. While the current form of media might have made it virtually impossible for those leaders to pursue grand agendas without the distractions of the constant news cycle, what is clear is that we still long for that type of heroic leadership, carried out by a person who can stand above the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune that, according to the glorious portrait given to us by Sir Thomas Malory, even affected King Arthur himself, at long last.

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