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Why misfortune happens in Le Morte Darthur Over the past twenty years respect for Malory's narrative skill has steadily grown. The reconsideration of romance - in which M.W. Bloomfield's work has been important - and the Malory criticism of Stephen Knight, Mark Lambert, L.D. Benson and (most recently) Jill Mannl - to name some - have helped us to understand the power of episodic form and the coherence of "thematic" (or "vertical") structures.2 Critics have stopped accusing Malory of clumsiness, and they have also largely stopped praising him for "horizontal" connections of narrative events, in which the action is seen to be generated principally by the psychological motivation of characters. I wish to argue that whilst psychological motivation is of little importance in Malory, there may still be an important connection between individual identity and individual fate in his works - a connection that is expressed in the narrative by the occurrence of apparent misfortune.3 1 M.W. Bloomfield, Episodic Motivation and Marvels in Epic and Romance, in Essays and Explorations, Cambridge, Mass., 1970, 97-128; Stephen Knight, The Structure of Sir Thomas Malory's Arthuriad, Australian Humanities Research Council, Monograph No.14, Sydney, 1969; L.D. Benson, Malory's Morte Darthur, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1976; Mark Lambert, Malory: style and vision in Le morte Darthur, New Haven, 1975; Jill Mann, "Taking the Adventure": Malory and the Suite du Merlin, in Aspects of Malory, Arthurian Studies 1, ed. T. Takamiya and D. Brewer, Cambridge, 1981, 71-91. 2 See Benson, op.cit., 73: "By 'thematic' I mean what is sometimes loosely called 'mythic', the conformance of a narrative to some external, preexisting pattern". 3 This study does not primarily consider the many instances in Malory which bear out Bloomfield's statement (op.cit., 106) that "The matter-of-fact attitude of typical epic never entirely died out; there is indeed much of it particularly in the later medieval romance". I concern myself with important episodes which seem "unmotivated or weakly motivated within the story" (ibid.). Similarly, I do not deal with slight misfortunes, or those without implications for the tales in which they occur. Malroy has a pragmatic attitude to those: see The Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, 296, lines 32-35: "Here men may undirstonde that bene men of worshyp that man was never fourmed that all tymes myght attayne, but somtyme he was put to the worse by malefortune and at som tyme the wayker knyght put the byggar knyght to a rebuke." The major "unhappy" events of Le Morte Darthur receive a very different response. 66 A. Lynch L.D. Benson, borrowing from Bloomfield, puts his view of Malory's narrative form like this: "... in most of Malory's tales, and consequently in the Morte Darthur as a whole, the dominant mode is thematic, and thematic necessity rather than the requirements of the 'plot' characteristically shapes the narrative structures".4 And Jill Mann echoes Benson: there is "not a logical sequence of cause and effect in the facts themselves, but in the perception of a kind of pattern in them on the part of the beholder".5 So, in the Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot, which I use as a norm,6 the story is structured from widely collected episodes around its wish to demonstrate Launcelot's perfection in knighthood, and the episodes occur in sequence as a result of this "thematic necessity". And in The Tale of Sir Gareth, also apparently a Malory original, if the hero fights fourteen knights on his outward journey (killing six of them), this is because such episodes are the currency of his valuation in the story, not because he is personally bloodthirsty. Analyses of thematic structure, by giving little importance to character motivation in this way, broaden our sense of individual character into more general categories ("worship", "prowess") in which the knight's adventures prove his degree of attainment, and his relative perfection or imperfection. For instance, Launcelot's motivation, at the start of the Sir Launcelot, is merely that "he thought hymself to preve in straunge adventures".7 At the end of the tale he has "the grettyste name of ony knyght of the worlde, and...


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