Welcome back, readers!
I started this blog because my academic life is so often reflected by my suburban one. Coincidences happen as often as you look for them, as it turns out.
Yesterday I finished prepping for Malory’s Le Morte Dartur. Once I wrote it up on my wall of triumph, I took my congratulatory wine glass up to bed and looked for a TiVo’d movie. And what did I find? The 2004 not-even-near-blockbuster, “King Arthur.”
This was clearly an act of fate. And I’m an Anglo-Saxonist, so I know allllll about fate.
Starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightley, the movie boasts some pretty sexy characters.
Behold, the ever-furrowed brow of the tormented but resilient hero:
And the rescued, single-parent, sex maven/ liaison to Merlin:
I was surprised– tickled, even– that the director had stuck to the “original” (ahem) 5th century setting, around time of the sack of Rome.
Most people associate Arthur with the later Middle Ages because writers like Malory were 14th or 15th century authors of chivalric romance. Though writing of better days long past, they imported their own cultural necessities into the stories, bringing tales of long ago into contemporary frameworks.
But still, how did this transition happen?
Here’s a brief run-down of the Arthurian tradition, derived from Shepherd’s critical edition of Malory:
For a more in-depth look at some of these sources (as well as some sources I’ve left out), check out the inimitably awesome blog of Medieval Bex:http://medievalbex.wordpress.com/
So now, back to the movie, appropriately set at the autumn of the ancient ages (Huizinga wink).
We’re off to a good start with the handsome cast and the approximate historical time period. But it all kind of crumbles from there.
I worried that watching this after reading so much of the Arthurian tradition would confuse me, but it turned out to be a great test of my knowledge. Consider, for instance, Lancelot, depicted with two swords:
I saw this and proudly told Drew, “No! The knight with the two swords is Balyn!” Yay me.
But Arthurian legends–in any of their countless iterations– are not ever really about accuracy, anyway. The earliest stories were tales of bravery in the face of slaughtering invaders; the later authors replaced episodes martial valor with those of marital fidelity as the concerns of the works became increasingly interested in courtly affairs.
Taking its cue from Braveheart, our 2004 rendition takes freedom as its primary lesson/ theme.
And this anachronistic emphasis on personal (yet also national?) freedom isn’t all these two movies share. They share something else: face paint.
We all know that Braveheart is about a 13th century Scotsman who rides around trying to act like Mel Gibson. Nevertheless, there is some measure of authenticity in the iconic face paint the warriors wear. This tradition came from the Picts– the pre-Scotland Scots, if you will– who were so named for being “painted.”
And guess what? GUINEVERE IS ONE OF THEM. Yep. Guinevere sheds her already ill-fitting clothes for a battle bikini, paints her whole body blue, and goes crazy on some blonde-haired viking invaders.
Well, there’s much more to be said about the Arthurian tradition, and hopefully I’ll be able to share more thoughts on Malory, Launfal, the Lady of Shallot, Havelok, and Horn.
But for now, I must return to the reading list.
Until next time,
wishing one everyone a surprisingly relevant TiVo experience.