Курс лекцій для студентів денної, заочної та екстернатної форм навчання Інституту іноземної філології Частина І херсон icon

Курс лекцій для студентів денної, заочної та екстернатної форм навчання Інституту іноземної філології Частина І херсон

НазваКурс лекцій для студентів денної, заочної та екстернатної форм навчання Інституту іноземної філології Частина І херсон
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The heroic epic Beowulf is the highest achievement of Old English literature. The only existing manuscript of the poem was written down in the classical West Saxon of the Kingdom of Wessex by an unknown scribe at the beginning of the 10th century and was not discovered until 1705. The Song of Beowulf was composed much earlier and reflects events which took place at the beginning of the 6th century when the forefathers of the Jutes lived in the southern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula and maintained close relations with kindred tribes (e.g. Danes). The poem is believed to be composed between 700 and 750. Although originally untitled it was later named after Beowulf, the Scandinavian hero, whose exploits and character provide its connecting theme. There is no evidence of a historical Beowulf, but some characters, sites, and events can be historically verified, e.g. a raid of the Franks, made by Hygelac, the king of the Jutes in 520.

The poem consists of two parts with an interpolation between them. The epic is essentially pagan in spirit, while the interpolation is obviously an addition made by the Christian scribe who copied it.

Story overview: Part I opens with a description of the reign of the Danish king Hrothgar who, after he had won many victories in battles and gathered vast treasures, decided to build a large feast-hall, Heorot, where he could give feasts and distribute rewards among his kinsmen and warriors. However, soon Heorot was deserted. Attracted by the noise of the feasts Grendel, the Man-Eater, a large sea monster who lived in the neighbouring swamps, regularly appeared at Heorot at night-time, devoured some of Hrothgar’s warriors and then returned to his lair. Grendel looked like a man but was twice as tall and covered with such thick hair that no sword could kill him.

The disaster in Hrothgar’s kingdom had lasted 12 years when the news reached the ears of Beowulf, a young and mighty warrior of the Jutes. Although a nephew of the king of the Jutes, Beowulf did not seek power or riches, his only desire was to serve the people and win the fame. He immediately sailed to Denmark with a small band of warriors. Hrothgar had heard of Beowulf’s deeds and his strength that equalled the strength of 30 warriors, and he gladly welcomed Beowulf and his people. During the banquet given in Beowulf’s honour one of the Danes, jealous of his fame, tried to belittle him, speaking of an episode from Beowulf’s boyhood. Beowulf responded by a brilliant description of the facts, showing that he commanded not only the might of a warrior, but the talent of a poet as well.

After the feast Beowulf remained in Heorot with his men to wait for Grendel. As the monster always came unarmed Beowulf decided to fight him on fair terms and to meet him unarmed. When the monster broke through the bolted door Beowulf caught him in such a mighty grip that could strangle the life out of him. Grendel lost his courage and tried to escape. The walls of the hall shook from their furious struggle. Finally Grendel wrenched himself from Beowulf’s grip but left his arm, torn off at the shoulder socket, in Beowulf’s hands. Grendel crawled to his lair and died.

Beowulf left Heorot to have a rest. Meanwhile Grendel’s mother, the Water Witch, came to Heorot to avenge her son, killing many people there. Beowulf found her in her cave at the bottom of the mere (lake) and killed her by cutting off her head. At Heorot Hrothgar made a farewell speech about the character of the true hero and Beowulf, enriched with honours and princely gifts, returned to King Hygelac of Jutes.

Part II passes rapidly over King Hygelac’s death in a battle, the death of his son, Beowulf’s succession to the kingship, and his peaceful rule of 50 years. Now a fire-breathing Dragon began to ravage his land because of people’s interference into an ancient treasure he had been guarding for over three countries. The aging Beowulf decided to fight the Dragon. The fight is long and terrible and a painful contrast to the battles of his youth. Painful is also the desertion of his retainers except one of them, Wiglaf. Beowulf wins the victory but is mortally wounded. The poem ends with his funeral rites and lament and prediction of disasters, which are to happen.

Beowulf belongs metrically, stylistically and thematically to the inherited Germanic heroic tradition. Many incidents (e.g. tearing off the monster’s arm, cutting off the monster’s head, descent into the lake, three fights of the hero, delivery of a magic weapon) are familiar motifs from folklore.

The ethnical values are manifestly the Germanic code of loyalty to chief and tribe and vengeance to enemies. Yet the poem is so infused with Christian spirit that it lacks the grim fatality of Iceland sagas. Beowulf seems more altruistic than many Germanic heroes or the heroes of the Iliad. His three battles are not against men, which would entail the retaliation of the blood feud, but against evil monsters, enemies of the whole community and of civilization itself. Many critics have seen the poem as a Christian allegory with Beowulf as the champion of goodness and fighter against the forces of evil and darkness. His sacrificial death is seen as a befitting end of a good hero’s life. There are references to the Old Testament (God is the creator of all things; Grendel is described as a descendent of Cain). Yet there are no references to the New Testament – Jesus Christ and his crucification.

Representatives of the mythological school have interpreted the monsters as the allegorical representation of the storms of the Northern Sea; Beowulf, as a kind god subduing the elements; his peaceful ruling as the graceful summer; his death, as the arrival of winter.

John Gardner’s Grendel (1971) is a retelling of the story from the point of view of the monster.

Another group of Anglo-Saxon poems that has survived are the so-called elegiac poems. They tell of the sadness of exile or separation from one’s lord or community and include ^ The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Deor’s Lament and the unusual lyric Wulf, written by a woman. Anglo-Saxon prose is also a rich source of insights into this culture: laws, charms and riddles have all survived, as well as the very important Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a prose record kept in Old English from 891 until 1154. It is also an invaluable indication of how the language itself changed, particularly after 1066. Finally, although the Vulnerable Bede, a monk from Northumbria, wrote in Latin, his History of the English Church and People is the most important source for the period.


In the history of England the medieval period is divided into the Early Middle Ages (1066-1300) and the Late Middle Ages (1300-1485).

The Middle Ages in England begin with the Norman Conquest. The coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066 marked the start of a new age for England. The new king crushed the remaining Anglo-Saxon resistance and organized the country according to the feudal system. It meant that all land belonged to the king, but he gave it to his nobles in return for duty or service for a certain period each year. The nobles, in turn, gave part of their lands to knights or other freemen, who contributed military service or rent. The last link in the chain were the serfs who worked on the land but were not free to leave it. Thus at the top of the social scale of the medieval English society were the aristocracy who, however, decreased in number through war. Next in line were the knights, who during this period were transformed from warriors into more peaceful landowners. Below these were the urban freemen, often belonging to various town craft guilds. During the Middle Ages, power gradually moved away from the nobility to the middle classes: merchants, lawyers, cloth manufacturers and gentlemen farmers. This class was literate, and often questioned the way in which institutions were run, criticizing both the church and the feudal system. This growing power in Parliament was a sign that the monarchy was increasingly forced to rely on the support of the middle classes to finance wars and other policies.

During the Middle Ages one of the most important factors was the relationship between England and France. By marriage, war or inheritance the kings of England, at one time or another, could also claim possession of vast areas of France. In particular, in the reign of Henry II (1154-1189) this empire extended from the southern border of Scotland to the south of France, the king of England controlling a greater area than the king of France.

The fourteenth century was a difficult period in the English history because of both the Black Death (bubonic plague) and a long series of wars, which had disastrous effects on the country’s economy and led to the formation of armed gangs which terrorized the countryside and destabilized the political situation; kings were often deposed or murdered. In the result of the Hundred Years War against France (1337-1453) England lost all its possessions in France apart from the port of Calais. The plague which broke out in 1348-9 killed about one third of the whole population and it was followed by other minor epidemics. Over the fourteenth century the population fell from 4 million to less than 2 million. This decrease in population, however, favoured the poorer labourers: the shortage of manpower meant that they could sell their services at a higher price. The larger landowners were eventually forced to lease their land for longer and longer terms. The latter was a decisive factor in the breakdown of the feudal system. By the end of the Middle Ages period the great landlords had almost disappeared and a new class, the “yeomen”, or smaller farmers, had become the backbone of English society.

A long struggle for power culminated in the so-called Wars of Roses. The nobility were divided between those who supported the claim to the throne of the Duke of York (their symbol was a white rose) and the supporters of the ruling king Henry VI of the House of Lancaster (their symbol was a red rose). The wars ended in the battle of Bosworth Field when Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor, duke of Richmond, who was immediately crowned King Henry VII. The Wars of the Roses led to the near-destruction of the ruling classes and enabled the Tudors to lay the foundations of a new nation.

Distinctive features if Medieval literature. Little has been preserved of literature in English from the first century after the Norman Conquest. It is certain that there was great interaction between English, French (the language of the Norman ruling classes) and Latin (the universal language of education and the Church), and a wide range of classical literature and literary theory became available to the English. Another emerging genre was that of the metrical romance. The romance used classical or Arthurian sources in a poetic narrative that replaced the heroic epics of feudal society with a chivalrous tale of knightly valour. In the romance, complex themes of love, loyalty, and personal integrity were united with a quest for spiritual truth. An example is Layamon’s Brut, which deals with the legendary story of King Arthur, believed to be descended from Brutus (who was also supposed to have founded Britain). These romances, forerunners of the novel, show a shift in values from the Old English epics, such as Beowulf. Such romances appeared under the influence of the code of chivalry. Chivalry was a set of values which the perfect knight was supposed to respect. It included such ideas as: the knight would defend any “damsel in distress” (any woman in a difficult situation), he would avenge any insults to his good name and honour, and would serve God and the king. The cult of “courtly love”, chaste and near-fanatical service to one’s lady, was also an important influence

The code of chivalry meant that there was less emphasis on mere bravery in battle. Writers and philosophers began to explore the nature of love, religious and profane. Poetic forms from France, such as the “carole” (a dance-song), the fabliau and the allegorical poem, such as the Romance of the Rose, which Chaucer translated, made their appearance.

Like the romance, the courtly love lyric, also combined elements from popular oral traditions with those of more scholarly or refined literature. The idealized lady and languishing suitor of the love lyric of the poets of southern and northern France were imitated and reinterpreted.

Another important development was the rise of mystery and morality plays. They originated as didactic spectacles designed to instruct the illiterate in religious matters, and their content encompassed the whole of the Bible, from Genesis to the Day of Judgment. However, they soon assumed an independent existence, and became a source of drama in the Renaissance period.

^ JEOFFREY CHAUCER (1342 – 1400)

Chaucer is considered to be the first founder of the English language. He brought together the Old English and French influences and forged from them a powerful and individual language. Chaucer greatly increased the prestige of English as a literary language and extended the range of its poetic vocabulary and meters. He was the first English poet to use iambic pentameter, the seven-line stanza called rhyme royal, and the couplet later called heroic. His system of versification, which depends on sounding many e's in final syllables that are silent (or absent) in modern English, ceased to be understood by the 15th century. Nevertheless, Chaucer dominated the works of his 15th-century English followers and the so-called Scottish Chaucerians. For the Renaissance, he was the English Homer. Edmund Spenser paid tribute to him as his master; many of the plays of William Shakespeare show assimilation of Chaucer’s comic spirit. John Dryden, who modernized several of the Canterbury Tales, called Chaucer the father of English poetry. Since the founding of the Chaucer Society in England in 1868, which led to the first reliable editions of his works, Chaucer's reputation has been securely established as the English poet best loved after Shakespeare for his wisdom, humour, and humanity.

Chaucer’s forefathers were middle-class people whose connections with the court had steadily increased. There is no information about his early education though he doubtlessly was as fluent in French as in the Middle English of the period. His writings show his familiarity with many important books of his time as of earlier times. In the second half of the 14th century Chaucer contributed importantly to the management of public affairs as courtier, diplomat and civil servant. In that career he was trusted by three successive kings. But now he is remembered as a poet.

The chief characteristics of Chaucer’s works are their variety in subject matter, tone, style and the complexities presented concerning man’s pursuit of a sensible existence. His writings combined humour with serious and tolerant consideration of important philosophical questions. Chaucer is a poet of love, earthly and divine, whose presentations range from lustful cuckoldry to spiritual union with God. They lead the reader to speculation about man’s relation both to his fellows and to his Maker, while providing delightfully entertaining views of the frailties and follies, as well as the nobility, of mankind.

Chaucer’s first important poem is The Book of the Duchess (1369), an elegy for Blanche, duchess of Lancaster, his friend’s (John of Gaunt’s) wife. Chaucer used the dream-vision form, a genre made popular by the influential poem of courtly love, the Roman de la rose. The Duchess foreshadows Chaucer’s skill at presenting the rhythms of natural conversation within the confines of Middle English verse and at creating realistic characters within courtly poetic conventions.

The Parliament of Foules (1381) is the best of Chaucer’s early works. It presents a dream vision for St. Valentine’s Day: each year on that day birds (fowls) gather before the goddess nature to choose their mates. Beneath its playfully humorous tone the poem is an examination of the value of different kinds of love.

The House of Fame is also a dream vision which takes the poet in the talons of a huge eagle to the celestial palace of the goddess Fame.

In The Legends of Good Women Chaucer presents “legends” (saints’ lives) of Cupid’s martyrs: women who were betrayed by false men and died for love. It represents his first use of decasyllabic couplets, the standard poetic form used in much of The Canterbury Tales.

Troilus and Criseyde is considered by some critics Chaucer’s finest work. Against the background of the Trojan legendary wars the love story of Troilus, son of the Trojan king Priam, and Criseyde, widowed daughter of priest Calkas, is described. Criseyde and Troilus are united in love but then she leaves to join her father and gives her love to Diomede. Troilus, left in despair, is killed in the war. When his soul rises into the heaven, the folly of complete immersion into sexual love is disclosed to him in relation to the eternal love of God. The poem ends with the narrator’s solemn advice to young people to flee vain loves and turn their hearts to Christ. The poem moves in leisure fashion with much introspection. Chaucer’s characters are psychologically so complex that the poem has also been called the first modern novel.

Chaucer’s masterpiece is Canterbury Tales, a collection of tales most in verse and most written soon after 1387. As compared to other collections of tales (e.g. Boccaccio’s Decameron) Chaucer’s work differs in the variety of the tellers of tales, in the vividness with which the tellers are described, and in the developing relationships between tales and tellers.

The characters had long inhabited literature as well as life: the ideal Knight who has taken part in all the expeditions, battles and crusades during the last half-century; his fashionably dressed son, the Squire, the lady Prioress, the flattering Friar, the prosperous Franklin, the fraudulent Doctor, the austere Parson, etc. Chaucer’s art gives the types a reality through accumulation of details.

At first Chaucer planned a huge scheme of about 30 pilgrims (including the poet himself) described on a pilgrimage from the Tabard Inn in Southwark (then a suburb of London) to the famous shrine of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral and back again. Each pilgrim was to tell two stories going and two returning.

Chaucer didn’t complete the full plan for his book. There are only 24 tales, some of them being unfinished; the return journey from Canterbury is not included; some of the pilgrims do not tell stories; there is some doubt as to Chaucer’s intent for arranging the material.

The work, nevertheless, is sufficiently complete to be considered a unified book. The use of a pilgrimage as a framing device for the collection of tales enabled Chaucer to bring together people from many walks of life: knight, prioress, monk, merchant, man of law, franklin, scholarly clerk, reeve, pardoner, wife of Bath and others. The pilgrims engage in a story-telling contest. Harry Bailly, host of the Tabard Inn, serves as a master of ceremonies. The contest allowed Chaucer to present various literary genres of the time: courtly romance, racy fabliau, saint’s life, allegorical tale, medieval sermon, alchemical account, or their mixtures. Each genre befits a certain storyteller and illuminates his or her particular world-outlook, with insights into the social divisions and popular beliefs of the time. Chaucer even includes a rather ironic self-portrait: a rather hesitating pilgrim who tells a clichéd tale in verse and another, even more boring, in prose before he is interrupted by the Host. Chaucer’s deep humanity and acute observation of the social milieu of the time are striking. He is particularly critical of the church figures among the pilgrims, who, apart from the Poor Parson, are not at all what they should be, and likewise he is critical of the emerging middle classes (the Wife of Bath, the Merchant, the Man of Law).

The pilgrims are introduced in the “^ General Prologue” by vivid brief sketches. Further characterization of the pilgrims is given through links, short dramatic scenes between the tales, usually involving the host and one or more of the pilgrims. The sketches, the links, and the tales present remarkable examples of short stories in verse and two expositions in prose. Chaucer keeps the whole poem alive by interspersing the tales themselves with the talk, the quarrels, and the opinions of the pilgrims, and here the Wife of Bath with her detailed comments on marriage and the treatment of the male sex is a supreme example.

The pilgrimage, combining a fundamentally religious purpose with its secular aspect of vacation in the spring, made possible consideration of the relationship between the pleasures and vices of this world and the spiritual aspirations for the next. Chaucer sees both the humour and the tragedy in the human condition, tries to discover the right way for existence on the Earth. At the end, in the “Retraction”, with which the Tales closes, he as poet and pilgrim states his conclusion that the concern for this world fades in significance before the prospect for the next. However, Chaucer’s tolerance to man’s foibles makes him a forerunner of the English Renaissance.

Story overview: In the beauty of April, the Narrator and 29 oddly assorted travellers happen to meet at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, London. This becomes the launching point for their 60-mile, four-day religious journey to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at the Cathedral in Canterbury. Great blessing and forgiveness were to be heaped upon those who made the pilgrimage; relics of the saint were enshrined there, and miracles had been reported by those who prayed before the shrine. Chaucer's pilgrims, however, are not all travelling for religious reasons. Many of them simply enjoy social contact or the adventure of travel.

As the travellers are becoming acquainted, their ^ Host, the innkeeper Harry Bailley, decides to join them. He suggests that they should pass the time along the way by telling stories. Each pilgrim is to tell four stories - two on the way to Canterbury, and two on the return trip - a total of 120 stories. He will furnish dinner at the end of the trip to the one who tells the best tale. The framework is thus laid out for the organization of The Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer, the Narrator, observes all of the characters as they are arriving and getting acquainted. He describes in detail most of the travellers which represent a cross-section of fourteenth-century English society. All levels are represented, beginning with the Knight who is the highest-ranking character socially. Several levels of the clergy are among the pilgrims while the majority of the characters are drawn from the middle class. A small number of the peasant class are servants to other pilgrims.

As the travellers begin their journey the next morning, they draw straws to see who will tell the first tale. The Knight draws the shortest straw. He begins the storytelling with a long romantic epic about two brave young knights who both fall in love with the same woman and who spend years attempting to win her love.

Everyone enjoys the tale and they agree that the trip has an excellent start. When the Host invites the Monk to tell a story to match the Knight's, the Miller, who is drunk, so insists on going next that the Host allows it. The Miller's tale is indeed very funny, involving several tricks and dirty prank as a young wife conspires with her lover to make love to him right under her husband's nose.

The Miller's fabliau upsets the Reeve because it involves an aging carpenter being cuckolded by his young wife, and the Reeve himself is aging and was formerly a carpenter. Insulted by the Miller, the Reeve retaliates with a tale about a miller who is made a fool of in very much the same manner as the carpenter in the preceding story.

After the Reeve, the Cook speaks up and begins to tell another humorous adventure about a thieving young apprentice. Chaucer did not finish writing this story; it stops almost at the beginning.

When the dialogue among the travellers’ resumes, the morning is half gone and the Host, Harry Bailley, urges the Man of Law to begin his entry. Being a lawyer, the Man of Law is very long-winded and relates a very long story about the life of a noblewoman named Constance who suffers patiently and virtuously through many terrible trials. In the end she is rewarded for her perseverance.

The Man of Law's recital, though lengthy, has pleased the other pilgrims very much. Harry Bailley then calls upon the Parson to tell a similar tale of goodness; but the Shipman, who wants to hear no more sermonizing, says he will take his turn next and will tell a merry story without a hint of preaching. Indeed, his story involves a lovely wife who cuckolds her husband to get money for a new dress and gets away with the whole affair.

Evidently looking for contrast in subject matter, the Host next invites the Prioress to give them a story. Graciously, she relates a short legend about a little schoolboy who is martyred and through whose death a miracle takes place.

After hearing this miraculous narrative, all of the travellers become very subdued, so the Host calls upon the Narrator (Chaucer) to liven things up. Slyly making fun of the Host's literary pretensions, Chaucer recites a brilliant parody on knighthood composed in low rhyme. The Host hates Chaucer’s poem and interrupts to complain; again in jest, Chaucer tells a long, boring version of an ancient myth. However, the Host is very impressed by the serious moral tone of this inferior talc and is highly complimentary.

Since the myth just told involved a wise and patient wife, Harry Bailley takes this opportunity to criticize his own shrewish wife. He then digresses further with a brief commentary on monks, which leads him to call upon the pilgrim Monk for his contribution to the entertainment.

The Monk belies his fun-loving appearance by giving a disappointing recital about famous figures that are brought low by fate. The Monk’s subject is so dreary that the Knight stops him, and the Host berates him for lowering the morale of the party. When the Monk refuses to change his tone, the Nun’s Priest accepts the Host’s request for a happier tale. The Priest renders the wonderful fable of Chanticleer, a proud rooster taken in by the flattery of a clever fox.

Harry Bailley is wildly enthusiastic about the Priest’s tale, turning very bawdy in his praise. The earthy Wife of Bath is chosen as the next participant, probably because the Host suspects that she will continue in the same bawdy vein. However, the Wife turns out to be quite a philosopher, prefacing her tale with a long discourse on marriage. Her tale is about the marriage of a young and virile knight to an ancient hag.

When the Wife has concluded, the Friar announces that he will tell a worthy tale about a summoner. He adds that everyone knows there is nothing good to say about summoners and tells a story which proves his point.

Infuriated by the Friar's insulting tale, the Summoner first tells a terrible joke about friars and then a story, which condemns them, too. His rendering is quite coarse and dirty. Hoping for something more uplifting next, the Host gives the Cleric his chance, reminding the young scholar not to be too scholarly and to put in some adventure. Obligingly, the Cleric entertains with his tale of the cruel Walter of Saluzzo who tested his poor wife unmercifully.

The Cleric’s tale reminds the Merchant of his own unhappy marriage and his story reflects his state. It is yet another tale of a bold, unfaithful wife in a marriage with a much older man.

When the Merchant has finished, Harry Bailley interjects complaints about his own domineering wife, but then requests a love story of the Squire. The young man begins an exotic tale that promises to be a fine romance, but this story is left unfinished.

The dialogue resumes with the Franklin complimenting the Squire and trying to imitate his eloquence with an ancient lyric of romance. There is no conversation among the pilgrims before the Physician’s tale. His story is set in ancient Rome and concerns a young virgin who prefers death to dishonour.

The Host has really taken the Physician’s sad story to heart and begs the Pardoner to lift his spirits with a happier tale. However, the other pilgrims want something more instructive, so the Pardoner obliges. After revealing himself to be a very wicked man, the Pardoner instructs the company with an allegory about vice leading three young men to their deaths. When he is finished, the Pardoner tries to sell his fake relics to his fellow travellers, but the Host prevents him, insulting and angering him in the process. The Knight has to intervene to restore peace.

The Second Nun then tells the moral and inspiring life of St. Cecelia. About five miles later, a Canon and his Yeoman join the party, having ridden madly to catch up. Conversation reveals these men to be outlaws, but they are made welcome and invited to participate in the storytelling all the same.

When the Canon's Yeoman reveals their underhanded business, the Canon rides off in a fit of anger, and the ^ Canon’s Yeoman relates a tale about a cheating alchemist, really a disclosure about the Canon.

It is late afternoon by the time the Yeoman finishes and the Cook has become so drunk that he falls off his horse. There is an angry interchange between the Cook and the Manciple, and the Cook has to be placated with more wine. The Manciple then tells his story, which is based on an ancient myth and explains why the crow is black.

At sundown the Manciple ends his story. The Host suggests that the Parson conclude the day of taletelling with a fable. However, the Parson preaches a two-hour sermon on penitence instead. The Canterbury Tales end here.


It is believed that Arthur was a great chief of tribes in Britain, sometimes after AD 500. He may have been part-Roman and part-British, for the Romans had ruled England and Wales for nearly 400 years. Arthur seems to have led a large army against the Saxon invaders. The first writer to mention him was Nennius, an early Welsh historian who lived about the 8th century.

The Saxons against whom Arthur fought came mostly from the Scandinavian countries and Germany. They sailed across the North Sea to England and attacked the native Britons and looted the countryside.

In Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany, Arthur was remembered and admired. Stories about him passed on from one generation to another. Each story was more wonderful than the last. Finally, Arthur became one of the greatest heroes who ever lived. He killed horrible monsters; had great magical powers and became a great and good king, looked up to by many brave knights who rode out of his castle to do good deeds. The place where Arthur’s castle is supposed to have stood remains a mystery. There are about six different sites that claim to be location of Camelot, his home.

Tales of King Arthur is an abridged version of Morte D’Arthur that was written around 1469 by Sir Thomas Malory and presents England in the Middle Ages. It is the first great prose work in the English language. The true identity of the writer is unknown, and no less than five historical identities have been proposed. As Malory himself wrote, his Morte D’Arthur is based on a “French book”, which contained the massive story of Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Malory eliminated much of the religious and magical side of the story. Malory is the last authentic voice of English feudalism just before the rise of the powerful central state under the Tudors.

^ Tales of King Arthur are tragic chivalric mythology. The setting is the 6th century Britain. The principal characters are: Arthur, King of England and legendary leader of the Knights of the Round Table; Guinevere, Arthur’s queen; Merlin, magician and “devil’s son”; Lancelot, friend of Arthur, and Guinevere’s lover; Galahad, Lancelot’s son and finder of the Holy Grail; Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son.

The story revolves around those who would achieve knighthood and fame – at any cost. Malory depicts a group of honorable knights, dedicated to the chivalric code, who fall prey to corruption, savagery, incest, lust, intrigues, and, in the end, near annihilation. Though there is much good in most of the knights, even Arthur ultimately pays the price of incest by having to kill his own son and then losing his own life. Lancelot, the “noblest” of knights, is responsible for the deaths of those he most loves. In the end, it is abandonment of virtue and honour in favour of more desperate warfare that rescinds the Age of Chivalry.

Story overview: King Uther Pendragon lusted after Igraine, the Duke of Tintagel’s wife. One of Uther’s knights summoned Merlin who gave Uther the appearance of Igraine’s husband, the Duke. Uther laid with Igraine and she conceived. But Merlin had required a payment in return: “When [the child] is born … it shall be delivered to me to nourish”.

Soon the Duke died and Uther married Igraine. When the child, Arthur, was born, Merlin claimed him and gave him to Sir Ector’s wife to nurse. Seven years later, when Uther died, Arthur became next in line to the throne but the young man had yet to prove his worthiness. He was crowned King of England when he pulled out the sword of the anvil that no other knight could lift. One of the defeated kings, Lot, sent his wife Morgawse to spy on Arthur. Arthur, not knowing that she was his sister, seduced her, and she bore him an illegitimate son, Mordred. Merlin prophesied that Mordred one day would murder Arthur.

In a fight with Pellanor, a gallant knight, Arthur lost his sword. He went to a lake and the Lady of the Lake gave him another sword, Excalibur. While Arthur had it upon him he would never be “sore wounded”.

Merlin warned Arthur against marrying the lovely Guinevere, but Arthur ignored his advice. After his marriage, he received as dowry the Round Table. From that time on, Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table devoted themselves to the chivalry Code, defending the right and engaging themselves in many acts of valour and mercy.

On one occasion, King Arthur, having declined to pay Roman tribute, sent an army, led by Sir Lancelot, into the heart of Italy. In hand-to-hand combat Arthur killed the emperor. The Britons routed the Romans, winning glory for the Round Table and a crown for Arthur in Rome.

Lancelot, determined to gain even greater fame for himself, embarked on contests against all challengers. Queen Guinevere began to favour him above all the knights – and soon Lancelot began to love her more than he loved Arthur. But Dame Brisen, an enchantress, gave Lancelot a cup of wine that muddled his senses and made him mistake Elaine, daughter of a king, for Guinevere. Elaine conceived and bore him a son, Galahad, who later became the noblest knight of the land.

In due time, Galahad and the other knights of the Round Table set out on their quest of the Holy Grail. But the vain and worldly knights were unsuccessful; only humble, brave and merciful lieges, who did not seek their own fame but followed the teachings of Christ, deserved the honour. After many adventures, Galahad, Percival and Bors obtained the Grail. Galahad beheld a vision of Christ and prayed to be with him. He immediately died and his soul went to heaven, accompanied by a throng of angels.

Lancelot several times tried to forget Guinevere but then again rekindled his romance with her. When she was falsely accused of poisoning a knight and was sentenced to burn, Lancelot rescued her and carried her off to his castle. When the king besieged Lancelot the latter returned Guinevere but Arthur would not be appeased and began an assault on Lancelot’s domain, leaving England in Mordred’s power.

Mordred usurped his father’s throne and took Guinevere for wife. Arthur met Mordred in battle and impaled his son with a spear. In his last breath, however Mordred mortally wounded him.

Seeing the destruction his sword had caused, Arthur ordered to throw Excalibur back into the lake. Then he asked to be placed on a boat accompanied by three queens dressed in black.

Arthur was never heard from again. Some say he never died. But later somebody found a fresh grave that a hermit had dug for a corpse borne by three ladies dressed in black.

When Lancelot heard that Arthur was dead and that Guinevere had entered a convent as a nun, he became a priest. Both died soon afterwards. The remaining knights led by King Constantine, set off to fight the holy wars. The Round Table was no more.

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