The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem


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On July 6th Nigeria's military attacked Biafra, touching off over two years of a vicious civil war in which over 2 million people died. Ngozi Olivia Osuoha's voice is Tells a tale of romance, full of happy love and an optimistic philosophy of simple goodness. Life in the forest is a perpetual picnic with few outward signs of the winter's wind.

Alliterative Morte Arthure (ca. 1400–1402). Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature

Lovers are reunited, a wronged duke is restored to A generous collection of poetry by celebrated Welsh poet, Steve Griffiths. With detailed notes from the world's leading center for Shakespeare studies --Cover. Search our catalogue of over a million books. Books Music Film. Sign up to receive our emails. Arthur is the lord of the fictional Camelot a place never mentioned in the alliterative poem , and his most important campaign is in Lancelot's legendary kingdom of Benwick rather than at Metz or Milan.

When he goes to the Isle of Avalon, it is not because there are skilled surgeons there who try and fail to cure his wounds, as in the alliterative poem, but because the three strange ladies come to take him away in a magic boat. One can detect the skeleton of the historical tradition embedded in the plot of the Stanzaic Morte Arthur : while Arthur is engaged in a foreign war, Mordred, his steward, usurps his kingdom; Arthur returns, and in a final battle he and the traitor are both killed.

This is the basic plot of both the stanzaic and alliterative poems. What the alliterative poet adds expands but does not essentially change the action. In the stanzaic poem, the tale of the love of Lancelot and Guenevere has been superimposed on the basic plot. The focus is shifted to the clash of loyalties and internal divisions within the Round Table itself; the significant foreign war is now that between Arthur's forces and Lancelot's, and Arthur's death is now due as much to the feud between Lancelot and Gawain as it is to Mordred's rebellion.

Mordred is changed from the principal and largely unmotivated villain to simply one more element in the complex circumstances in which all the characters are trapped. Sir Thomas Malory must have read a good many English romances before he turned to the French prose romances that were his main sources for the Morte Darthur. However, the only two English romances we can be sure he read are the two romances in this volume. Apparently Malory's first attempt to write an Arthurian romance of his own was what is now the second tale in the Morte Darthur , the "Tale of Arthur and the Emperor Lucius.

As Vinaver has shown in the introduction to his edition of Malory , Malory's adaptation of the alliterative poem had a profound influence on his style, and though he next turned to French sources, his experience with the alliterative rhythms of this romance is apparent throughout his later work. When the English and French versions differed, he almost always preferred the English version, and occasionally he carried over into his own work the exact wording of the stanzaic romance. Probably the influence of the stanzaic poem is even deeper than this, since Malory's handling of his other French sources - the way in which he condensed and modified the plots - shows that he seems to have been following the example of the Stanzaic Morte Arthur.

We cannot be sure exactly where or when the two romances in this volume were composed. Probably both were written in the North Midlands area of England in the fourteenth century, the Stanzaic Morte Arthur around the middle of the century, the Alliterative Morte Arthure toward the end, probably around or so see note to line These, however, can be only guesses. All we can say for sure is that the unknown authors produced works of exceptional merit that have a unique importance for English literary history.

The two romances in this volume represent two distinct stylistic traditions. The Alliterative Morte Arthure belongs to the "Alliterative Revival," the literary movement that begins in the middle years of the fourteenth century and that includes such important writers as William Langland and the author of Gawain and the Green Knight.

The Stanzaic Morte Arthur is written in the more common eight-syllable, four-beat line of English romance, a line that derives ultimately from French models. Despite its foreign source, this is a simpler, more popular style than that of the alliterative romance, and the author of the Stanzaic Morte Arthur probably intended his work for a somewhat wider and less sophisticated audience than the alliterative poet aimed for.

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However, the author of the Stanzaic Morte Arthur selected an unusual and rather difficult stanza for his poem. It is an eight-line stanza riming abababab.


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There are variations from this, as there are from his normal eight-syllable line the first stanza rimes ababcbcb and variant stanzas, such as lines , do appear , but in general the poet adheres to this rime scheme, which requires two sets of four riming words for each full stanza. Such a stanza is easy enough for a lyric poet to handle and it appears in a number of relatively short Middle English poems but it raises real difficulties in a long narrative poem, and it is not surprising that no other romancer attempted to use it.

Our poet was able to use it successfully because he adopted a number of traditional devices that eased his task of handling this stanza. He uses a relatively limited set of stock rimes, some of them several times over.

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Launcelot du Lake , for example, almost always rimes with sake , take , make , or wake. The relatively rare word neven "to name" almost invariably rimes with heven , steven "voice" , and seven. In addition to stock rimes such as these, the poet frequently uses imperfect rimes. In lines , for example, the word life rimes with swithe , kithe , and blithe. This is not due to carelessness, for the same group of rimes appears several times in the poem.


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  • The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem!

Nor does it seem to be due simply to including assonance within his definition of rime, since he also frequently rimes vowel sounds that are not exactly the same; he makes no clear distinction between open and closed vowel sounds and he is willing to rime words such as dere and were , as in the opening lines of the poem. Such a use of rime has a definite advantage, not only for the poet but for the reader, since it helps to de-emphasize the rimes and to keep them from intruding too often upon the consciousness of the audience.

As the reader will discover, the rimes remain well in the background and do not impede the narrative. That is not always the case in Middle English romance. The sound texture of the Stanzaic Morte Arthur owes almost as much to alliteration as to rime. This fondness for alliteration and the frequent use of alliterative formulas such as wo and wele is not unusual among the authors of the riming romances, but the man who wrote the Stanzaic Morte Arthur seems particularly fond of the alliterative style, and one suspects that he could have cast his poem in the alliterative meter if he had so chosen.

In purely alliterative poems, such as the Alliterative Morte Arthure , there is no rime at the ends of the lines. Instead, each line falls into two half-lines which are united by alliteration - the identity or near identity of the initial sound of stressed syllables.

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Alliterative Morte Arthure (ca. 1400–1402). Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature

In the first half-line most often two, but sometimes three, words will alliterate. In the second half-line usually only one word will alliterate. The alliteration always falls on a word that bears metrical stress; there are two sometimes three stressed words in the first half-line, and two almost never three in the second half-line. The number of unstressed syllables can vary considerably: Now g rete g lorious G od through g race of Himselven And the p recious p rayer of His p ris Moder S held us fro s hamesdeede and s inful workes, And g ive us g race to g uie and g overn us here In this w retched w orld, through v irtuous living That we may k aire til his c ourt, the k ingdom of heven.

As shown by the lines above, the poet can take certain liberties with the alliterating sounds. Sh - can sometimes alliterate with s - and w - with v - though these sounds may have been closer to one another than in Modern English.

Alliterative Morte Arthure - Boydell and Brewer

Moreover, it is a convention of this verse that any vowel sound can alliterate with any other vowel sound: Ye that l ust has to l ithe or l oves for to here Of e lders of o lde time and of their a wke deedes. The word "of" in the second line has no part in the alliterative scheme.

Words like "of" or "to" in the first line above are not ordinarily stressed in speech, and such words are therefore not ordinarily stressed in alliterative poetry.

The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem
The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem
The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem
The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem
The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem
The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem
The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem
The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem

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