, Research Paper
A Comparison of Medieval and Anglo Saxon Characteristics
A study of Lerner and Loewe s Camelot, based on T.H. White s Once and Future King, and The Road to Camlann by Rosemary Sutcliff, will illustrate many aspects of Medieval culture. Three Medieval cultural traits which appear in both works are belief in magic fantasy, humility, and the importance of women. Comparing and contrasting the historical novel and the film to Anglo Saxon poetry will reveal that the belief in magic and fantasy was a modification of Anglo Saxon characteristics, and humility and the importance of women were cultural characteristics which were completely new to the Medieval period.
The belief in magic and fantasy is a characteristic displayed in the film mostly by a man named Merlin. Merlin is the teacher of Arthur, King of England. In Camelot, the first time Merlin appears he seems to emerge from a tree in a forest. This gives the idea that Merlin is part of the tree and the forest. Arthur tells Guenever, to whom he is betrothed that Merlin is said to be someone, whom: lives backwards. He can remember the future so he can tell you what you will be doing in it. He doesn t age, he youthens (Lerner). Mordred, the illigitement son of King Arthur, also shows the extreme belief in magic and fantasy when he says, Mother had a potion to take off ten years. They gave it to me when I was 9 to make me 1 (Lerner). The belief in magic and fantasy was something that everyone truly did believe in, not something that people just talked about.
The novel also shows that the belief in magic and fantasy is a part of the lives of everyone in Camlann. Merlin plays the same role in the novel as he does in the film. He is Arthur s teacher, and mentor who can see into the future to warn Arthur of things that will happen in his life. However, Morgan La Fay, the half sister of Arthur, really shows the belief in magic and fantasy. Is it said that she is a mistress of black magic, and sought always to do harm to her half brother Arthur with her many spells (Sutcliff 9-10). This shows that there is a belief in magic among everyone.
The belief in magic and fantasy was a modification of the Anglo Saxon characteristic. The Anglo Saxons did believe that these things happened, but the belief was much stronger in the medieval period than in the Anglo-Saxon period. In the Anglo-Saxon time, the only evidence there is in the belief of magic and fantasy is Grendel, a horrible monster from Beowulf. Grendel is described as a hideous monster that lives is the bottom of a lake and comes up at night and eats people. When Beowulf, Prince of the Geats fights Grendel he gets help from some of his men. However when his men join in, the fighting scene is describe by saying:
Their [Beowulf s men] courage
Was great but all wasted: they could hack at Grendel
From every side, trying to open
A path for his [Grendel s] evil soul, but their points
Could not hurt him, the sharpest and hardest iron
Could not scratch at his skin, for that sin-stained demon
Had bewitched all men s weapons, laid spells
That blunted every mortal man s blade. (798-804)
This is one of the only examples that show the belief in magic and fantasy that the Anglo Saxons had.
Humility was another important medieval characteristic. In the film, it is mostly Arthur who shows this trait and how much of undesirable trait bragging was. When Arthur meets Sir Lancelot of the Lake, from the kingdom of Benwick who has come in response to Arthur s call for great knights to join the round table, he has knocked Arthur off the horse he was on, and is looking down on him. This was an embarrassing moment for Arthur after the two were introduced. Lancelot, however, also does a lot of bragging when he first arrives in Camelot. In a conversation with Guenever he says, I would never ask anyone to live by my standards, milady (Lerner). This shows a great deal of bragging being done by Lancelot; especially when Guenivere asks, Have you jousted with humility lately or isn t it fashionable in France this year? (Lerner). From this conversation with Lancelot, the people who are around to hear it decide right way that they do not like him because of his excessive bragging. This shows how important humility was to the people of this time period.
In the novel many of the same examples of humility are shown. Guenever is unexpectedly captured by Sir Meliagraunce, a member of the Round Table, whom at the time held one of Arthur s Castles and secretly loved Queen Guenever. Sir Meliagraunce and Guenever were riding through the forest when he forced her to go with him to his castle, where he held her captive. Eventually news spread back to Camlann of what is going on. Sir Lancelot, member of the Round Table and from Benwick, who has jousted for Guenever in the past, goes to her rescue. When Sir Meliagraunce hears of Sir Lancelot s arrival he says, Mercy, madam! Pray you have mercy on me, for I was driven to this madness by my love for you!” (Sutcliff 42). Guenever answers, It is not for me to have mercy, but for the knight who comes to rescue me, and for my lord the High King [Arthur], who I doubt not follows hard after (Sutcliff 42-43). Sir Meliagraunce then realizes that he has made a mistake and should not have taken the Queen. After the Queen speaks, Sir Meliagraunce says, You can speak for me! Tell them I have done you no harm, but used you with all courtesy- (Sutcliff 43). This is a good example to show how people let themselves be humiliated when they knew they were in trouble.
The characteristic of humility was a cultural characteristic which is completely new to the medieval period. It was the opposite of their characteristic of bragging. In the Anglo Saxon period, everyone was supposed to brag, and supposed to make a name for themselves that would live on after they died. In the epic poem Beowulf, Beowulf, prince of the Geats, appears to be very egotistical to the readers. However, he is very representative of the Anglo Saxon society values. Beowulf fights a monster named Grendel without any sword or shield, saying that the monster is not using any other weapons or means of defense, so neither will he. After he kills the monster, no one reacts negatively to this bragging, unlike in the Medieval period when people who would brag or try to make a name for themselves were looked down upon.
The importance of women was a cultural characteristic that was completely new to the Medieval period. In the film, it is Geunivere who shows how important women were in society. Arthur says that because of Guenivere he wants to be the best king that ever lived, and talks to her about his kingdom and how it is not united and asked her how he can make it united. Arthur decides that he is going to make everyone untied by having knights from all over the kingdom come and join a brotherhood that would be called Knights of the Round Table. They would sit around a round table so that there is no head. The table that will symbolize Arthur s new idea is supplied by Guenivere. All of these examples show how important women were and how valid their ideas in society were.
In the novel, much like the film, the importance of women is shown threw the relationship that Arthur and Guenever have. Guenever was accused of having an affair two different times in the novel. Arthur believes she is innocent and says, If Guenever was not my queen, I would joust for her innocence, because I am not able to, I must find a Knight which will take my place and do this for me (Sutcliff 61). This shows how important it was to Arthur that his queen be represented strongly. Many of the Knights in Camlann jump at this opportunity also showing how important Guenever was to them. The first time various knights of the kingdom joust for her innocence against those who believe she is guilty. The second time Guenever chooses Lancelot to joust for her innocence, and like the first joust, her knight wins. These actions show that women were important not only to their husband, but also to all men.
In the Anglo Saxon time period, women had little importance. There is no mention of women in the poetry of this time period, which in it self is significant. Women were not thought about or paid attention to by anyone in society. The only example is from Beowulf, when Welthow, queen of the Dane s, brings Beowulf a drink and says:
Accept this cup,
My lord and king! May happiness come
To the Danes great ring-giver; may the Geats receive
Mild words from your mouth, words they have earned!
Let gifts flow freely from your open hands,
Treasures your armies have brought you from all over
The world. I have heard that the greatest of the Geats
Now rests in your heart like a son. (1169-1176)
This quote shows how the queen was treating Beowulf, and how she serves him and waits on him and tells him how great he is. This makes it obvious that if this is how a queen lives; certainly ordinary women have much less significance.
Many of these changes from the Anglo-Saxon time to the Medieval period were brought about by Christianity.
The belief in magic and fantasy was a characteristic that was changed because of Christianity. Before Christianity, people believed in the overwhelming power of fate, and when Christianity came about so did the belief of God and of miraculous and magical things happening. Humility and the importance of women we two totally different ideas that arose from Christianity. Humility was the opposite of the Anglo-Saxon idea of bragging and risk taking. They felt that there was no afterlife so you had to brag and take risks so that you could make a name for yourself that would live on after you passed away. Where as when the idea of Christianity came, people believed in an afterlife so it was not right to brag; people who did were humiliating themselves. The importance of women was a direct result of Christianity. It came out of the Cult of the Virgin. This was the extremely belief and devotion to the Virgin Mary, which came directly from the idea of Christianity.
Christianity was not responsible for the direct changes in everything, but did soften the transitions that different characteristics had from one time period to the next.
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