Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Tennyson’

Arthurian literature fell out of favor in the eighteenth century and it would not be until Victorian poets like Alfred, Lord Tennyson and William Morris and Pre-Raphaelite artists would again make the legend popular, but one work from this time when Arthur was rarely featured in literature was Sir Walter Scott’s “The Bridal of Triermain.” The poem was first published in 1813 and its use of the names of Triermain and Sir Roland De Vaux bear resemblance to Coleridge’s equally famous poem “Christabel” which was written in 1797-1800 but not published until 1816, yet it seems that Scott, who was friends with Coleridge, may have seen the manuscript and been influenced by it. Nevertheless, the two works bear little resemble in plot or character.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

For Arthurian scholars and enthusiasts, “The Bridal of Triermain” holds interest because it creates an illegitimate daughter for King Arthur. Unlike other works where Arthur has illegitimate children before his marriage to Guinevere, Arthur is married to Guinevere already at the time of this poem, and she is already involved with Sir Lancelot.

The poem is told in the present day (early 1800s) by a narrator named Arthur who is trying to court a female named Lucy. Arthur tells Lucy the tale of Roland De Vaux, who sought to wed King Arthur’s daughter Gyneth. Within this story is Lyulph’s Tale, in which Roland’s bard Lyulph tells Roland the story of Gyneth, who has been asleep for five hundred years, and whom Roland wishes to win as his bride.

Gyneth became King Arthur’s daughter after he met and fell in love with a maiden named Guendolen. Scott describes this woman who seduces Arthur as follows:

But Guendolen’s might far outshine
Each maid of merely mortal line.
Her mother was of human birth,
Her sire a Genie of the earth,
In days of old deem’d to preside
O’er lovers’ wiles and beauty’s pride,
By youths and virgins worshipp’d long
With festive dance and choral song,
Till, when the cross to Britain came,
On heathen alters died the flame.
Now, deep in Wastdale solitude,
The downfall of his rights he rued,
And, born of his resentment heir,
He train’d to guile that lady fair,
To sink in slothful sin and shame
The champions of the Christian name.

In other words, Guendolen is the weapon of her father, the genie, against good Christian knights. She seduces Arthur, and while it is unclear whether she loves Arthur or not, she clearly wants him to stay with her and wastes his time in making love to her so he forgets his kingly duties for three months. Finally, Arthur comes to his senses and decides to leave her. When she begs him not to go, he tells her if she’s worried he has gotten her pregnant, he will do right by their child:

I swear by sceptre and by sword,
As belted knight and Britain’s lord,
That if a boy shall claim my care,
That boy is born a kingdom’s heir;
But if a maiden Fate allows,
To choose that maid a fitting spouse,
A summer-day in lists shall strive
My knights, the bravest knights alive,
And he, the best and bravest tried,
Shall Arthur’s daughter claim for bride.

Nevertheless, Guendolen does not want Arthur to leave, and in her anger, she tries to poison him by giving him a cup to drink from, but Arthur spills a drop on his horse and it burns the horse so Arthur flings the cup from him and rides away.

Years later, Arthur’s daughter Gyneth shows up at court on Pentecost, saying her mother has died and asking her father to keep his promise. Guinevere is notably not upset to learn of Arthur’s human weakness that led to an illegitimate child, bur rather, she just smiles on Lancelot, acknowledging her own weakness.

Arthur keeps his promise by holding a tournament for all the knights to compete for Gyneth’s hand, but before long, he realizes what a bad idea it was because all his knights are being slain. He tries to talk Gyneth out of the tournament, telling her he’ll pick the best knight for her, but she refuses and the tournament continues. The narrator then comments:

‘Seem’d in this dismal hour, that Fate
Would Camlan’s ruin antedate,
And spare dark Mordred’s crime;
Already gasping on the ground
Lie twenty of the Table Round,
Of chivalry the prime.

However, when Merlin’s own son Vanoc dies, Merlin suddenly appears, ending the tournament and punishing Gyneth to sleep for centuries:

Sleep, until a knight shall awake thee,
For feats of arms as far renown’d
As warrior of the Table Round.

Lyulph now completes his tale of how Gyneth sleeps by stating:

‘Still she bears her weird alone,
In the Valley of Saint John;
And her semblance oft will seem,
Mingling in a champion’s dream,
Of her weary lot to ’plain,
And crave his aid to burst her chain.

 

Few have braved the yawning door,
And those few return’d no more.

Despite the unlikeliness of solving the quest and winning Arthur’s daughter for his bride, Sir Roland de Vaux, who is lord of Triermain, is determined to succeed. He rides in quest of the sleeping princess and eventually comes to a castle in the Valley of St. John where he must pass through the Hall of Fear and overcome its snares to succeed:

‘It is his, the first who e’er
Dared the dimal Hall of Fear;
His, who hath the snares defied
Spread by pleasure, wealth and pride.

Of course, he succeeds and manages to kiss and wake Gyneth. And the two live happily ever after, having many descendants for King Arthur:

Our lovers, briefly be it said,
Wedded as lovers wont to wed,
When tale or play is o’er;
Lived long and blest, loved fond and true,
And saw a numerous race renew
The honours that they bore.

I admit that while I admire the music of Scott’s meter and rhyme, I’m not overly impressed with the poem. I don’t understand why Roland would want to wed Gyneth when she’s a type of female Mordred who was intent on destroying Camelot, but I guess the quest itself and that she is King Arthur’s daughter makes her attractive enough to him.

Scott’s poem was well known throughout the nineteenth century, so doubtless many writers of Arthurian poems and novels in the Victorian period were influenced by his work. It should be noted that the narrator named Arthur equally is successful in winning the love of his Lucy.

______________________________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The following article I had published last winter in Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. It is reprinted with permission from the magazine owner, Roslyn McGrath:

Why King Arthur Matters Today

As the winter solstice approaches, I always think of King Arthur. Arthur was a light in the darkness of his times, and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King equates Arthur with the rising of a new sun. Arthur is aligned with the light, with creating the “brief, shining moment” as the musical Camelot proclaims.

My love for King Arthur stems back to age fourteen when I first read Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur with N.C. Wyeth’s fabulous illustrations. The story of Arthur’s building a great society like Camelot and the tragedy of how it was brought down by Lancelot and Guinevere’s adultery and Mordred’s treachery was a pivotal moment in my love of great literature. Years later, I discovered Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which told the tale from the women’s point of view and made me realize how rich the legend was, how full of possibilities, and how it was ever adaptable to today’s concerns.

I soon decided to write my own King Arthur novel. In the process, I did a great deal of research that resulted in my recently published nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition—my novel is still in the works.

I became interested in King Arthur’s children because I was surprised by many obscure references to Arthur having children other than the well-known Mordred, son of incest, who slew his father. Welsh legends referred to other sons, and modern novelists were creating new children for the storyline. Who were these forgotten children, and why this recent trend to create new children for Arthur?

I came to the conclusion that the legend eventually deleted earlier references to Arthur’s children to enhance the tragic ending. However, modern readers wanted a more hopeful conclusion so novelists were creating new children for Arthur to connect the legendary king to our own times. For example, Arthur might have had a daughter, ignored by history because she was female, whose descendants live today.

My fascination with genealogy and DNA reinforced for me the significance of this possibility. Scientists have shown through mathematical calculations that everyone alive today of European descent would be descended from anyone in Europe born before 1200 A.D. who had children. Since King Arthur lived about 500 A.D., if he had children, then most likely all Europeans—as well as a good number of Africans and Asians—are his descendants. Arthur may physically be in our genes.

Scholars will debate for centuries to come whether Arthur ever lived, but either way, Arthur is in our genes—if not in our actual DNA, then in our human nature to dream of a better world. Arthur is remembered because he strove to create an idyllic world, a Round Table—an early form of democracy where justice prevailed—and for a short time, he succeeded. In the end, we might fail like he ultimately did, but we cannot aspire to anything grander ourselves, and so we carry on Arthur’s legacy of hope.

At the holidays, it’s good to be reminded of King Arthur’s final request in Camelot: “each evening from December to December…ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell it strong and clear if he has not, that once there was a fleeting wisp of glory called Camelot.”

Tyler Tichelaar is the author of King Arthur’s Children and My Marquette. Visit him at www.MarquetteFiction.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

Read Full Post »

Since I don’t have Starz, I’ve been anxiously awaiting a chance to watch Camelot and finally found it online at http://www.watchseriesonlinehere.com/camelot-s01e01-episode-1/ thanks to a member of the Facebook King Arthur group. It’s an annoying website full of pop-ups, so if you’d rather wait to watch the show on TV, it will be airing on CBC this fall.

Camelot StarzThere is a lot to say about Camelot, so I’ll only discuss the first three episodes here. Of course, I’m eager to watch any program about the Arthurian legend, but I think this program has more marks against it than positive points, and I’m not surprised that it was announced recently that it would be cancelled, based not just on the cost to make a historical production piece but also for the flaws in the story and characters and that the episodes drag a bit. I’m not saying I dislike the show. I don’t think there’s much on TV worth watching anymore so it’s one of the better shows out there, but for lovers of the Arthurian legend, there’s much to complain about it. It’s too bad because nothing would make my TV viewing more pleasurable than a long-running Arthurian series.

Here are my issues with Camelot:

  • The actor playing King Arthur, Jamie Campbell Bower, just doesn’t do it for me, and that’s a big problem since he has the lead role. He may be a good actor, and yes, Arthur was young and naive when he became king, but Bower’s Arthur looks more like a rock star wannabe bad boy than a young man capable of becoming king. Nor is he in any way an imposing or kingly figure–his bio on IMDB says he’s six feet tall, but Guinevere looks taller. And seriously, how can we believe Guinevere would pick this Arthur over Leontes, a trained warrior, better looking, better built. I don’t mean to be offensive to Bower, but King Arthur he just is not. As I watch the show, I keep wishing Peter Mooney, who is playing Kay, were playing Arthur; he much more looks the part.
  • Arthur’s sword – why is the Sword of Mars or Sword of the Gods, or whatever they are calling it being called anything but Excalibur? I suspect because in legend, there are two sword stories–the sword pulled out of the stone which Arthur loses, and then the sword the Lady of the Lake gives him. In the second episode of Camelot, Arthur manages to release the sword, but since it’s sticking out of the middle of a waterfall, when he pulls it out he loses his balance, and consequently loses the sword when he falls and goes underwater. The whole waterfall scene is rather stupid in my opinion, but I do like that the show makes a point that Merlin planted the sword there and planned out the entire thing, much like in Malory. But a smarter Merlin wouldn’t have put the sword where Arthur was likely to lose it.
  • King Lot – he dies in episode 2. That’s a big difference from the legends since he gives Morgan le Fay (or more commonly Morgause her sister; they are often confused and one or two people depending on the version) four children, namely Gawain, Gareth, Agrivaine, and Gaheris. Not to mention being a pseudo-father for Mordred once Morgause/Morgan gets pregnant by Arthur.
  • Gawaine – obviously, he’s not Lot and Morgan’s son in this version.
  • Vivian – why is she black? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not prejudiced, and in the Merlin series, while I was surprised that Guinevere was black, at least that series is far more like fantasy. Vivian is traditionally the Lady of the Lake; instead, here she’s acting like a servant to Morgan. What’s the reason? Perhaps there will later be a Nimue as Lady of the Lake since Nimue was the original Lady of the Lake while Tennyson renamed her Viviane.
  • Merlin – I know Joseph Fiennes is a fine actor, but I like my Merlin’s to have at least a little bit of beard–just a little gray to make me believe he’s old and wise–pretty please? Never mind, obviously this Merlin isn’t very smart. As if putting the sword where Arthur will lose it isn’t enough, he makes a totally idiotic decision when he and Arthur go to visit Morgan at her castle without bringing along any guards, or even that they go at all. And of course, Morgan uses her spells on them–they couldn’t see that coming? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Did what happened at the castle make good television viewing–sure, but not at the expense of logic and characters with common sense. If this Merlin were in a slasher film, he’d play the dumb blonde girl who goes back into the house with the ax murderer.
  • The Nudity – right off we have a nude scene in the first episode – Arthur fooling around with a girl whom Kay is apparently interested in. And what’s the point? Gratuitous nudity from the start. Merlin shows up to say Arthur is the true king of Britain, and Arthur rides off, taking Kay along–poor girl got naked for no reason. She’s not spoken of again. Taking your clothes off just isn’t enough for a long-term role in Camelot apparently. Later we get a wild sex scene between Morgan and Lot, and of course, sex between Arthur and Guinevere. I’m not going to complain though when Eva Green as Morgan drops her clothes to have sex with a wolf. She’s stunning–but seriously, a wolf–I know a metaphor for some dark spirit, but still–bestiality?
  • Leontes – the number one thing people have been Googling to lead them to my blog is Leontes. Everyone wants to know who he is–is he from the legend. NO. He’s completely fictional. Why is he in the story? I don’t know. He seems to be some sort of juxtaposed Lancelot figure. Traditionally in the legend, Arthur and Guinevere are married but Guinevere is in love with Lancelot. Camelot‘s creators apparently decided to twist the storyline and have Guinevere engaged to the made-up Leontes, and then have her in love with Arthur. By episode three, Guinevere and Leontes are married, after Guinevere had sex with Arthur. I can’t wait to see how this triangle is going to work out. I’ll bet Leontes ends up dead–or worse, it won’t be resolved because the program’s already been cancelled and it was planned to be on for five seasons. I will say that Philip Winchester, who plays Leontes, is a great actor and I used to enjoy watching him in the cancelled TV series Robinson Crusoe (2008-2009) on NBC. I hope a series picks him up that will make him a success.

Okay. That’s enough of ripping on the show. There are a few things I like about it. Here they are:

  • Camelot itself – the set of the castle is stunning. I love that it’s an old ruin that Arthur will revitalize. It’s beautiful. In fact, all the scenery and sets are very well done. It’s filmed on the Guinness estate outside Dublin according to an interview with Joseph Fiennes.
  • Eva Green as Morgan – as far as I’m concerned Eva Green is the reason to watch this show. Ever since I saw her in Kingdom of Heaven (2005), one of my all time favorite movies, I’ve thought she was one of the most distinctively beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She’s incredibly sensual–who doesn’t want to watch her suck food off her fingers like Orlando Bloom enjoys doing in the film? She’s equally beautiful, if not quite as exotic, in Camelot. She’s a wonderful actress but I feel like the script may be holding her back. Her character is a bit cliched, but still it’s an interesting role, and Morgan le Fay is perhaps my favorite Arthurian character anyway.
  • It’s a TV series about King Arthur – yes, there are some bad King Arthur films, but for the most part, Camelot is a good show. It’s entertaining. The episodes may drag a little. It’s not perfect, but similarly, I now really like the Merlin series, but it took half-a-dozen episodes to win me over and go from disgust actually to appreciate the talking dragon. Will Camelot have the power to win me over as I watch the rest of the episodes? I’m a bit more skeptical if it’s been cancelled already, but I’ll keep watching. I’m sure I’ll watch it several times over.

As I watch the rest of the episodes, I’ll be posting more of my impressions and where Camelot coincides or strays from the various versions of Arthurian legend. I don’t suppose I’ll be lucky enough to see the program create a child for Arthur, so I can add another chapter to King Arthur’s Children.

________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

Read Full Post »

The Marriage of Arthur and Guinevere

On Friday, Prince William, descendant of King Arthur, will marry. In the newlyweds’ honor, I am posting the marriage of Arthur and Guinevere as written in Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. May Prince William and his future bride have a wonderful life together and a far happier end than Arthur and Guinevere.

Then Arthur charged his warrior whom he loved
And honoured most, Sir Lancelot, to ride forth
And bring the Queen;–and watched him from the gates:
And Lancelot past away among the flowers,
(For then was latter April) and returned
Among the flowers, in May, with Guinevere.
To whom arrived, by Dubric the high saint,
Chief of the church in Britain, and before
The stateliest of her altar-shrines, the King
That morn was married, while in stainless white,
The fair beginners of a nobler time,
And glorying in their vows and him, his knights
Stood around him, and rejoicing in his joy.
Far shone the fields of May through open door,
The sacred altar blossomed white with May,
The Sun of May descended on their King,
They gazed on all earth’s beauty in their Queen,
Rolled incense, and there past along the hymns
A voice as of the waters, while the two
Sware at the shrine of Christ a deathless love:
And Arthur said, `Behold, thy doom is mine.
Let chance what will, I love thee to the death!’
To whom the Queen replied with drooping eyes,
`King and my lord, I love thee to the death!’
And holy Dubric spread his hands and spake,
`Reign ye, and live and love, and make the world
Other, and may thy Queen be one with thee,
And all this Order of thy Table Round
Fulfil the boundless purpose of their King!’

So Dubric said; but when they left the shrine
Great Lords from Rome before the portal stood,
In scornful stillness gazing as they past;
Then while they paced a city all on fire
With sun and cloth of gold, the trumpets blew,
And Arthur’s knighthood sang before the King:–

`Blow, trumpet, for the world is white with May;
Blow trumpet, the long night hath rolled away!
Blow through the living world–“Let the King reign.”

`Shall Rome or Heathen rule in Arthur’s realm?
Flash brand and lance, fall battleaxe upon helm,
Fall battleaxe, and flash brand! Let the King reign.

`Strike for the King and live! his knights have heard
That God hath told the King a secret word.
Fall battleaxe, and flash brand! Let the King reign.

`Blow trumpet! he will lift us from the dust.
Blow trumpet! live the strength and die the lust!
Clang battleaxe, and clash brand! Let the King reign.

`Strike for the King and die! and if thou diest,
The King is King, and ever wills the highest.
Clang battleaxe, and clash brand! Let the King reign.

`Blow, for our Sun is mighty in his May!
Blow, for our Sun is mightier day by day!
Clang battleaxe, and clash brand! Let the King reign.

`The King will follow Christ, and we the King
In whom high God hath breathed a secret thing.
Fall battleaxe, and flash brand! Let the King reign.’

________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

Read Full Post »