Minstrels and Knights
scops composed poems and performed them, usually with the accompaniment of a harp. Later, however, they were replaced by minstrels. Minstrels were a kind of professional entertainer: they would wander from court to court or had a fix abode at the court of a noble. They sang and recited lyrics and narratives, including ballads and romances.
Minstrels sang about romances whose main character was the knight, a central figure in the Middle Ages. This figure grew in importance as a result of the prosperity achieved by the courts, particularly in France, where the nobles wanted to hear stories about heroes, adventures and chivalry.
The knight was an idealised figure in literature. He was expected to uphold a code of chivalry which was usually associated with ideals of honour, courtly love and virtue. He was expected to be loyal to his king or lord, fight for him in battle and, if necessary, sacrifing himself for honour.
Another knightly phenomenon was courtly love, a love relationship between a knight and his lady, in which the knight served his beloved with the same loyalty he had for his king or lord.
The duties of a knight also included a Christian element: faith in God and commitment to fight against evil. The knight was also expected to protect the weak and the poor, to be humble before others, merciful to his enemies and gentle to the noble ladies.
The Legend of King Arthur
Stories and legends of a hero-warrior named Arthur who defended Britain against the Saxon invaders had been around since the 5th century. It was in the 12th century however that Geoffrey of Monmouth's work, The History of the Kings of Britain (c. 1137) gave the Arthurian legend popularity and made it grow. From that moment on, tales relating to the figure of King Arthur began to flourish. The legend became adorned, embellished, extended and modified by different writers and in many different languages. The setting of the tales was also moved from the more primitive 5th century to the more romantic period of medieval times with its knights, their shining armours and their ideals of courtly love.
Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur (1485)
Sir Thomas Malory's life is a bit of a romance itself. Many of the facts about it are not certain. He may have been a Member of Parliament for the same country. From 1451 on he became involved in a series of increasingly serious difficulties with the law that would last for the rest of his life.Whether he was guilty or not - as he claimed - the impression is certainly that of a man of a violent temperament. It seems that most or all of the Morte D'Arthur (c.1470) was written in prison (there is a reference to his being in prison early in the manuscript of the work) and it is possible that Malory died there in 1471. The Morte D'Arthur was later on printed by William Caxton in 1485.
The Morte D'Arthur is a long prose romance set in the Middle Ages. Like many medieval works it has no original title and is a compilation and reworking of a vast body of existing material that had been accumulating over at least six centuries.
The epic work retells the adventures of the knights of the Round Table in chronological sequence from the birth of Arthur.
Many hundreds of years ago in Britain, King Uther Pendragon of England warred against the Cornish Duke of Tintagil, and so called him to parley. Unfortunately, Uther fell in lust with his enemy's wife, Igraine, so the duke and his spouse abandoned the peace process and fled home; the duke holed up in Castle Terrabil, his wife in Castle Tintagil.
Uther laid seige on both, unsuccessfully. Then he asked his friend Sir Ulfius to fetch Merlin, who made a bargain to use his magic to make himself, Uther, and Ulfius look like Sir Jordanus, the duke, and Sir Brastias respectively. Seeing them leaving Terrabil en route for Tintagil, the real duke followed but was killed. The three imposters entered Tintagil Castle, and Igraine was done by the disguised Uther, who shortly after married her as himself.
Igraine's existing three daughters by the old duke were Margawse, Elaine, and Morgan le Fay, who eventually married King Lot of Lothian and Orkney (eventually begetting Gawaine and the other Orkney Knights), King Nentres of Garlot, and King Uriens of the land of Gore.
Nine months later, Arthur was born, and taken away by Merlin according to his bargain with Uther, to be fostered by Sir Ector. Two years later Uther fell sick, thus prompting his Northern enemies to make battle, but he fought back, leading his armies from his horse-drawn sick-bed (Merlin's idea) and drove them off. He died anyway, and the land fell into strife for many years.
Eventually Merlin advised the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite the warring lords to London for Christmas, where mysteriously appeared in the churchyard, against the high altar, a four foot marble cube, and set in it a steel anvil, and stuck in that a sword. Written in gold on the sword were the words "Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England". Several tried, but all failed, so the Archbishop called a joust for New Year's Day, so everyone could have try.
Of the many who came were Sir Ector, his son Sir Kay, and young Arthur. At the joust Sir Kay discovered that he had left his sword at his lodging, so Arthur ran back for it. Everybody there was out watching the joust, so instead of breaking in he decided to take the sword instead, removing it with ease, and he delivered it to Sir Kay. After giving several demonstrations of his pulling power to the growing crowd, Arthur finally had revealed to him by Sir Ector that he was fostered on Merlin's orders, but did not tell him his true lineage, which was still a mystery to all but Merlin. The other lords were still dubious and demanded repeat performances at Twelfth Night, Candlemass, Easter, and finally Pentecost, during which Arthur was protected by Sirs Baudwin of Britain, Kay, Ulfius, Brastias and others (...)
A. READING ACTIVITIES - READING COMPREHENSION
1. Read King Arthur, Who was he? Then answer the following questions:
a. What kind of leader was King Arthur if he existed?
b. Who created the basis of the Arthurian legend?
c. Which elements of the story did he record?
d. Where did the main source of Arthurian myths come from?
e. How did Camelot come to an end?
2. Now read this text and answer the following questions:
a. Who were king Arthur’s parents?
b. Was he brought up by them?
c. What is the legend linked to Arthur’s sword, Excalibur? (Click HERE and find the answer)
A NEW MODERN TURN ON THE OLD LEGEND
B. WATCHING AND LISTENING COMPREHENSION ACTIVITIES
None of the characters is the mythical figure of the tradition. They are complex, conflicting human beings, totally different from their iconic counterparts.
Here's how they imagine the first encounter between Merlin and Arthur (video 1). Watch and answer the questions in the worksheet (TASK 1) .
After Arthur's coronation, Gawain, a valorous knight is hired to train Arthur's knights. Watch this scene (video 2) and complete TASK 2 and TASK 3 in the worksheet.
Young Arthur, prompted by Merlin, risks his life to pull the sword from the stone. This scene too is quite different from the traditional tale. Watch and discover how different it is. Then complete TASK 4.