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Friday, April 30, 2010

The Passing of Arthur

In this last idyll, Bedivere accompanies Arthur to his battle with Modred as his only remaining knight.  In the battle, Arthur charges at Modred who strikes him on the helmet.  Arthur slays Modred with Excalibur, though severely wounded himself.  Arthur, knowing he is dying, tells Bedivere to throw Excalibur into the lake.  Twice Bedivere disobeys and hides the sword, thinking it should be kept as a relic.  However, after Arthur threatens to slay Bedivere, the latter throws the sword into the lake and sees a hand reach up and grab it.  Arthur, realizing the end is near, has Bedivere carry him to the water's edge, where they are met by a barge with three queens.  Bedivere places Arthur in the barge, which sails for Avilion.

The final battle between Arthur and Modred takes place at Lyonnesse, which is the homeland of Tristram.  Tennyson provides an unattractive description of the location:

Then rose the King and moved his host by night,

And ever pushed Sir Modred, league by league,
Back to the sunset bound of Lyonnesse--
A land of old upheaven from the abyss
By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,
And the long mountains ended in a coast
Of ever-shifting sand, and far away
The phantom circle of a moaning sea.

It is in this land of abyss that Arthur must fight his last battle.  He goes outside the Camelot bubble to defeat Modred.  He defeats evil on evil's home turf.  In a land full of evil, purity is victorious.  There remains no other action other than for him to be carried to Avilion.
The above painting is Bedwyr and Dying Arthur (1862) by John Duncan.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


This penultimate idyll switches locations from Camelot to a convent, to which Guinevere fled after Modred discovered her and Lancelot giving each other their final farewells.    Lancelot flees to his homeland while Guinevere rides to the convent in Almesbury, where her identity is unknown to the nuns.  She meets a young nun who tries to comfort hert but adds to her misery by condemning the action of the Queen to whom she is speaking.  The nun states that all the evil in the land is the result of Guinevere's entrance into the kingdom.  Guinevere sends the nun away, but Arthur appears and further condemn's the Queen's actions.  He declares she ruined his court by being untrue to him; nevertheless, he still loves her and will make sure she is protected after his death.  He blesses her and leaves, causing Guinevere to realize the greatness of the man to whom she was married but did not love.  She remains in the convent until her death.

One theme in this idyll is that it is too late to change what has been done.  The young nun sings the following song: 

'Late, late, so late! and dark the night and chill!
Late, late, so late! but we can enter still.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

'No light had we: for that we do repent;
And learning this, the bridegroom will relent.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

'No light: so late! and dark and chill the night!
O let us in, that we may find the light!
Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now.

'Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?
O let us in, though late, to kiss his feet!
No, no, too late! ye cannot enter now.'

The song describes the Lancelot/Guinevere affair.  The couple thought they could meet one last time before departing and were caught by Modred.  Then they think they can repent for their ignorance and all can be forgiven, but it  is too late for that to happen.  Lastly they think the can appeal to Arthur and have everything return to normal, but Arthur makes it clear that Guinevere can never return to Camelot:

I hold that man the worst of public foes
Who either for his own or children's sake,
To save his blood from scandal, lets the wife
Whom he knows false, abide and rule the house.

Finally, Guinevere realizes too late the greatness of the King:

Thou art the highest and most human too,
Not Lancelot, nor another. Is there none
Will tell the King I love him though so late?
Now--ere he goes to the great Battle? none:
Myself must tell him in that purer life,
But now it were too daring.

It is too late to fix what has been done and Guinevere must live (though Arthur dies) with the consequences.

The above drawing is Arthur farewell to Guinevere (1867) by Gustave Dore.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Last Tournament

In this ominously titled idyll, when Arthur leaves the court with the young knights to defend a man who has been maimed by the Red Knight, he tells Lancelot to remain at Camelot to preside over a joust.  In Arthur's absence, the weather is gloomy and tourney rules are violated, but Lancelot appears powerless to do anything about it.  Tristram wins the tournament, causing Lancelot to proclaim, "The glory of our Round Table is no more."  Tristram and Dagonet, Arthur's fool, have a discussion and Tristram celebrates his win while Dagonet dejectedly foresees the impending doom.  Tristram goes to see his mistress Queen Isolt, the wife of King Mark who shares a name with Tristram's wife.  Mark returns and kills Tristram.  Arthur returns to Camelot to find Guinevere's quarters empty and Dagonet sobbingly declares to Arthur, "I am thy fool/And I shall never make thee smile again."

The conversation between Tristram and Dagonet reflects the mood of each toward the direction the kingdom is heading.  Dagonet dances when there is no music, but when Tristram begins to play his harp, Dagonet immediately stops dancing.  He refuses to dance to Tristram's "broken music," preferring Arthur's music instead.  Broken music refers to Tristram's affair with the wife of Mark which, along with many of the other unrighteousness acts of the knights, has created a dissonant atmosphere in Arthur's pure atmosphere.  Tristram sings the following song:

"Free love--free field--we love but while we may:
The woods are hushed, their music is no more:
The leaf is dead, the yearning past away:
New leaf, new life--the days of frost are o'er:
New life, new love, to suit the newer day:
New loves are sweet as those that went before:
Free love--free field--we love but while we may."

Tristram praises "free love," which suggests a love requiring no commitment.  Tristram married his wife because she shared a name with the woman he truly loved.  He longs for an opportunity to be able to love Queen Isolt freely and openly.  The quiet of the woods is the hushing of the old order of things, Arthur's way of doing things.  Tristram is ready for a "new life," a new way of doing things.  Dagonet refuses to dance to this music because he respects Arthur's rule, though he can envision the impending doom.

The above painting is Tristram and Isolde (1916) by John Waterhouse.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pelleas and Ettarre

Pelleas falls in love with Ettarre, who asks him to win a golden circlet for her at a joust.  Pelleas wins the tournament, at which point Ettarre accepts the prize and begins to become annoyed by the presence of Pelleas, who, despite her cruelty to him, remains faithful "like a dog before his master's door."  Ettarre sends him away, and meeting Gawain, Pelleas accepts that knight's offer to cause Ettarre to regret her actions by telling her that Pelleas has been killed and was the best and bravest knight.  After Gawain fails to return after three days, Pelleas visits Ettarre's abode to find Gawain in bed with Ettarre.  Deciding not to kill them both, Pelleas places his sword across their throats and leaves.  The affair causes Ettarre to love Pelleas though too late. 

On the way to Camelot, Pelleas meets Percival, who tells him about the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere, though refusing to malign the Queen.  Pelleas later meets Lancelot and the two battle, with Lancelot proving himself stronger.  They ride back to face the Queen, who realizes that Pelleas knows her secret shame.  Modred knows the secret will soon become known to Arthur, saying "The time is hard at hand."

All of the knights seem to know the sin of Lancelot and Guinevere.  Pelleas, newly knighted, at first upholds Guinevere as the ideal model for a wife:

O where? I love thee, though I know thee not.
For fair thou art and pure as Guinevere,
And I will make thee with my spear and sword
As famous--O my Queen, my Guinevere,
For I will be thine Arthur when we meet.'

Using Guinevere as the ideal wife, however, causes him to be ensnared by the beauty of Ettarre, who uses him and never loves him.  He realizes "I never loved her, I but lusted for her."  Ettarre is similar to Guinevere in that the Queen never loved Arthur.  Pelleas, much like Arthur, remains faithful but is rejected by Ettarre.  Instead, he finds Ettarre sleeping with a fellow knight whom he trusted.  The episode, along with Percival's revelation of the affair, changes Pelleas' perception of the Queen; she is no longer his ideal.  When he stands before her at the end of the ideal, she realizes that he too knows of her sin with Lancelot:

                                          'O young knight,
Hath the great heart of knighthood in thee failed
So far thou canst not bide, unfrowardly,
A fall from him?' Then, for he answered not,
'Or hast thou other griefs? If I, the Queen,
May help them, loose thy tongue, and let me know.'
But Pelleas lifted up an eye so fierce
She quailed; and he, hissing 'I have no sword,'
Sprang from the door into the dark. The Queen
Looked hard upon her lover, he on her;
And each foresaw the dolorous day to be.

Guinevere, no longer viewed as a model wife, is hissed at and snakebitten by his response and by the thought that Arthur will soon find out the secret.  She sees she is no longer respected as Queen, the affair having lower her in the estimation of the knights.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Holy Grail

Percivale has joined a monastery and tells Ambrosius, a fellow monk, of his vision of the Holy Grail.  While Arthur is away helping a maiden that appealed for his help, the knights make a vow to ride a year and a day in quest of the Holy Grail.  Upon his return, Arthur learns of the vow and is upset, and, though he tells them they must fulfill their vows, he warns that many will not return but die. Ultimately, Galahad, Percivale, and Bors see the Grail while Lancelot is only given a veiled vision, which fact Lancelot blames on sin in his life.  Gawain gives up early in the quest.  Arthur acknowledges he was right in his prediction that many would die and states that kings cannot chase visions but must rule.

When Arthur returns from defending the honor of the young maiden, he notices a storm brewing directly above Camelot:

Returning o'er the plain that then began
To darken under Camelot; whence the King
Looked up, calling aloud, "Lo, there! the roofs
Of our great hall are rolled in thunder-smoke!
Pray Heaven, they be not smitten by the bolt."
Arthur foresees a storm over Camelot upon his return.  He later learns of the oath the knights have taken.  Before this quest is taken, Arthur still believes that all his knight are upholding his pure ideals; after the knight that lived return from their quest, Arthur learns that Galahad is the only pure knight he has.  Purity is the only way to see the Holy Grail, and Galahad is the only knight that faces no obstacles in seeing the Holy Grail.  Sir Bors is imprisoned and Percivale must first become pure before seeing the Grail.  Lancelot faces many obstacles before only seeing a veiled Grail.  Gawain is distracted in his quest by a group of maidens and never completes the task.  Arthur becomes cognizant of the fact the knights have not emulated their king in purity.  The storm he sees shows the turmoil that is coming to his court.  It is a storm that will break up the court and result in much devastation.
The above painting is The Temptation of Sir Percival (1894) by Arthur Hacker.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lancelot and Elaine

The time has arrived for the last of Arthur's annual jousts, the previous eight having been won by Lancelot.  Figuring it is his fame that has won him many of the contests, Lancelot decides to participate in disguise.  He borrows a shield from a son of the Lord of Astolat and allows the daughter of the Lord, Elaine, to keep his own shield while he bears her favor, which he has never done and will further help his disguise.  Lancelot wins the tournament, though he is severely injured.  Elaine nurses him back to health and declares her love for him but he does not share the sentiment, though he acknowledges that he may have loved her had he not loved Guinevere.  Lancelot returns to Camelot but Elaine dies of a broken heart and has left specific instructions to have her body transport to Camelot to deliver a note to Arthur which states her love for Lancelot.  Arthur honors her with a proper burial while Lancelot declares her to be purer than Guinevere and expresses regret for not having loved her.

Once Merlin is essentially dead to all mankind, Arthur is no longer protected from the corruption in his kingdom.  He has his first fleeting suspicion of an impure relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere, and death no longer occurs in the forests but literally visits his doorstep.  Merlin presence managed to shield Arthur from knowledge of the evil in his kingdom but with Vivien eliminating him, Arthur begins to see evidence of unrighteousness. 

Lancelot, too, has his eyes opened when the Queen expresses jealous of Elaine, about whom he states:  "Ye loved me, damsel, surely with a love/Far tenderer than my Queen's."  Lancelot describes her to Arthur thus :

Pure, as you ever wish your knights to be.
To doubt her fairness were to want an eye,
To doubt her pureness were to want a heart.

Such descriptions allow the reader to compare her directly with Guinevere.  Obviously, Guinevere cannot claim purity as a virtue, yet neither does she appear to be concerned about the person that has died.  She is only worried that Lancelot may have loved Elaine more than her.  Though there are many whispers about the Queen, there is nothing to demean in her character.  Her purity causes Lancelot to regret having loved Guinevere, though the latter expresses no such regret.  In this idyll, Lancelot becomes a character with which to sympathize while Guinevere is portrayed as selfish and jealous-heart.

The above painting is Elaine, or the lily maid of Astolat (1870) by Sophie Anderson.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Assessment of the Idylls so far

Up to this point, the idylls have provided an interesting depiction of what has happened in Arthur's kingdom.  "The Coming of Arthur" represents order being restored with Arthur's placement on the throne and his marriage with Guinevere.  Because order has been restored, man manages to overcome life's obstacles in "Gareth and Lynette."  However, the first seeds of discord are sown in the Geraint idylls, where the sin of Guinevere and Lancelot is first mentioned, causing Geraint to doubt his wife.  Then, we go from the talk of sin to a view of a compromising situation in "Balin and Balan," leaving the kingdom vulnerable.   That vulnerability, though Arthur proves himself pure, opens the way for evil to gain greater power by essentially killing wisdom in "Merlin and Vivien."  At this point, man is in a downward spiral that will likely end tragically.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Merlin and Vivien

Vivien slithers her way into Arthur's court with a sob story about a seduction and manages to sow seeds of doubt about Guinevere.  She is successful in creating discord until she tries to entice Arthur, which fails miserably and makes her a subject of ridicule, forcing her to leave the Court.  Nevertheless, Vivien sets her eyes on Merlin, from whom she wishes to obtain a secret charm.  Merlin refuses, but Vivien wears him down until he relinquishes the secret and she uses the charm on him, leaving him "lost to life and use and name and fame.

Tennyson fashions Vivien in the mold of Delilah.  She begins by praising  him:  "Trample me/Dear feet, that I have followed through the world/And I will pay you worship."  She then requests his love:  "'O Merlin, do ye love me?' and again/'O Merlin, do ye love me?' and once more/'Great Master, do ye love me?'"  Then she tells him how he can prove his love: 

O Merlin, teach it me.
The charm so taught will charm us both to rest.
For, grant me some slight power upon your fate,
I, feeling that you felt me worthy trust,
Should rest and let you rest, knowing you mine.

Tennyson achieves this portrait by giving her serpentine qualities:
                                                    a robe
Of samite without price, that more exprest
Than hid her, clung about her lissome limbs,
In colour like the satin-shining palm
On sallows in the windy gleams of March.

The repeated use of the letter s adds a hissing sound for full effect.  Once he is in her grasp, she will not let go until she has squeeze the secret from him:

And lissome Vivien, holding by his heel,
Writhed toward him, slided up his knee and sat,
Behind his ankle twined her hollow feet
Together, curved an arm about his neck,
Clung like a snake;

And she evens goes so far as to wrap herself in his beard:

                              then adding all at once,
'And lo, I clothe myself with wisdom,' drew
The vast and shaggy mantle of his beard
Across her neck and bosom to her knee

Finally, Merlin wearies of her and tells her the secret:
The snake of gold slid from her hair, the braid
Slipt and uncoiled itself, she wept afresh,
And the dark wood grew darker toward the storm
In silence, while his anger slowly died
Within him, till he let his wisdom go
For ease of heart, and half believed her true

She in turn uses the secret charm against him and Merlin's powers no longer reside with him:

Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm
Of woven paces and of waving hands,
And in the hollow oak he lay as dead,
And lost to life and use and name and fame.

Then crying 'I have made his glory mine,'
And shrieking out 'O fool!' the harlot leapt
Adown the forest, and the thicket closed
Behind her, and the forest echoed 'fool.'

Vivien has achieved her goal and has made the wizard ineffectual.

The above depiction was extracted from http://www.candlelightstories.com/ .

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Balin and Balan

This idyll tells the story of twin brothers who are knights of Arthur's Round Table.  Arthur restores Balin's knighthood while Balan volunteers to kill the demon of the woods who has killed one of Arthur's knights.  Balin remains behind and develops true admiration for Guinevere and Lancelot before chancing upon them in the garden and seeing them talking about their supposed affair and does not want to believe it:  "Queen? subject? but I see not what I see./Damsel and lover? hear not what I hear."  He leaves the court to find his brother and hears of the rumor from Garlon, whom he fights, and the evil Vivien, who adds lies to his suspicions.  When Balan approaches Balin, he mistakes him for the woods demon and they kills one another.

This idylls contains much garden and forest imagery.  We first meet the brothers while they are sitting beside a fountain "from underneath a plume of lady fern."  When they return as knights at Arthur's court, they encounter a "woodland wealth/Of leaf, and gayest garlandage of flowers, along the walls and down the board."  In the woods dwells a demon who practices black magic.  Balin's temperament is described as "a flame/That rages in the woodland."  In the garden, "A walk of roses ran from door to door;/A walk of lilies crost it to the bower," and Balin sees Lancelot and Guinevere, who declares to the knight "we have ridden before among the flowers."  Balin, after he has fed from Garlon, finds himself unworthy of carrying a shield bearing the Queen's crown and hangs the shield on a branch in the woods, falls asleep in a glade, and is awakened by Vivien, who rides through the forest singing a song praising lust and plots to bring down Arthur and his knights.  She poisons Balin's mind with lies about Lancelot and Guinevere.  There in those woods, he and his brother Balan die.

The woods and the garden represent the weakness of the human flesh.  The garden is where Lancelot and Guinevere have met at least once before and where they carry on their relationship.  They place themselves outside in the open, a vulnerable position where they could be discovered easily.  Similarly, Balin subjects himself to vulnerability when he falls asleep in the woods.  He is at the mercy of nature and awakens to be tricked by Vivien.  Finally, just before dying, Balan states that the woods are where Vivien dwells and "dallies with (Garlon)."  The woods are where man gives in to the desires of the flesh and not a proper dwelling place for the knights of Arthur's Round Table.

The above drawing is The Death of Balin and Balin (1902) by H. J. Ford.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Geraint and Enid

This section is made up of two idylls, both concerning the titular figures.  Geraint and his wife Enid are departing the court of King Arthur because of rumors about Queen Guinevere's "guilty love for Lancelot."  Geraint fears his wife will be subject to similar rumors, being so close to the Queen.  Tennyson flashes back to describe how they met:  Geraint,a knight of the Round Table, comes to the defense of Guinevere's honor after she is disrespected by Edryn.  Enid's beauty inspires him to defeat Edryn, causing him to ask for her hand.  After their marriage, the Queen keeps a promise to clothe the wife of Geraint.  Geraint tests his wife by forcing her to walk ahead of him and reamin silent.  Despite this, Enid repeatedly warns him of dangers ahead, proving her loyalty.

Tennyson's use of dramatic irony leads to a misunderstanding between husband and wife.  Geraint overhears his wife say, "I am no true wife," and the statement proves to be a double entendre to the couple.  He assumes that she has been unfaithful as is rumored about Guinevere though her real meaning is that she should tell her husband that people are ridiculing him.  Nevertheless, Enid proves herself faithful in the end.

The above painting is Enid and Geraint by Rowland Wheelwright (1870-1955).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gareth and Lynette

Gareth is youngest son of Queen Bellicent and King Lot and desires to become one of Arthur's knights.  His mother objects but consents on the condition that he serve as a kitchen maid for a year and a day, a condition from which she releases him after a month.  Arthur makes Gareth a knight, telling no one but Lancelot, and when Lynette petitions to Arthur to send Lancelot to free her sister Lyonors from the confines of four knights, Arthur sends Gareth instead.  Lynette, thinking he is a kitchen maid, feels offended and scorns Gareth, but the latter is successful in his quest and rescues Lyonors.  Lynette appreciates Gareth's quest and marries him.

This idyll is similar to Pilgrim's Progress in that it is allegorical.  On entering the gate to the city, Gareth notices on the keystone a carving of the Lady of the Lake.  She has her arms stretched out like the cross, which represents the laying down of ones life.  Water drips from each hand, signifying a spiritual cleansing.  In one hand is a sword, showing there are spiritual battles ahead , and in the other hand is a censer, which represents the prayer needed for such a journey.  Lastly, "o'ver her breast floated the sacred fish," the fish being an ancient representation of Jesus, symbolizing salvation.  Gareth proceeds on his journey having a idea of what the journey has in store.

The first knight that opposes Gareth in his quest is Morning Star, whose blue armor and blue shield exude overconfidence.  He stands gloriously just before the battle and begins mocking Gareth, saying:

'A kitchen-knave, and sent in scorn of me!
Such fight not I, but answer scorn with scorn.
For this were shame to do him further wrong
Than set him on his feet, and take his horse
And arms, and so return him to the King.
Come, therefore, leave thy lady lightly, knave.
Avoid: for it beseemeth not a knave
To ride with such a lady.'

Gareth proceeds to defeat soundly the knight, who represents Pride, and sends him to Arthur to seek pardon.
The second foe is Noonday Sun, who rides a red horse and wears blindingly bright armor.  He has a red face of "rounded foolishness."  The two meet at midstream and fight to a draw until the horse of the Sun slips in the water and the Sun is "wash'd away."  To the king Gareth also sends this defeated foe.  The Sun represents Ambition; the bright red showing it to be a deep passion, which Tennyson calls foolishness.  The stream serves as a cleansing.  Gareth has defeated Pride and Ambition. 
The third knight is Evening Star, which represents Obstinacy.  This old foe has old and tarnished armor and seems to be "one that all in later, sadder age begins to war against ill uses of a life."  He has refused to change his ways, even to the detriment of his health.  However, he is also a more difficult foe to defeat in that he keeps getting up after getting knocked down.

But up like fire he started: and as oft
As Gareth brought him grovelling on his knees,
So many a time he vaulted up again;

Neverthless, Gareth overcomes him with his persistence and throws him into the river.

Death is the final obstacle Gareth must overcome.  Everything about this knight and his residence, Castle Perilous where Lady Lyonors is being imprisoned, is black.  Gareth sees the knight

Through those black foldings, that which housed therein.
High on a nightblack horse, in nightblack arms,
With white breast-bone, and barren ribs of Death,
And crowned with fleshless laughter.

Like his other quests, Gareth refuses to back down.  He knocks the knight off his horse and uses his sword to split open the skull.  Out came a young boy who states his brothers forced him to hold the Lady Lyonors captive.  Gareth demonstrated no fear and defeated Death, which no longer a ghastly monster but now only a young boy.  Gareth has proven himself as a knight and is worthy of Lynette's hand.

The above painting is The Overcoming of the Rusty Knight (1894-1908) by Arthur Hughes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Coming of Arthur

Idylls of the King opens with the section "The Coming of Arthur," which details Arthur's marriage to Guinevere.  King Leodogran of Cameliard summons Arthur to help him restore the wasted land, overrun by beasts and heathens.  Arthur consents and, upon arriving, sees Leodogran's daughter Guinevere and immediately falls in love.  After driving out the heathen and restoring order, Arthur sends three knights to ask for Guinevere's hand.  Leodogran withholds his consent, questioning whether Arthur is Uther's true son and, therefore, a legitimate king.  There is no consensus on the story behind Arthur's birth, so he decides to sleep on it and during this sleep, he has a dream which gives him confidence in Arthur's legitimacy; thus he agrees to give Guinevere to Arthur and Lancelot delivers to the King his new bride.

The dream scene illustrates the difficulty the king faces in making his decision. Introduced by the line, "Doubted, and drowsed, nodded and slept, and saw," the dream, through the unusual grammar, creates an uneasy mood.  The alliterative d sound allows the reader to feel the doubt that Leodogran experiences while the soothing s sound eases the doubt.  Leodogran sees a land that is growing uncontrollably until a "phantom king" appears in a cloud of smoke, representing the question of his birth, "[n]ow looming, and now lost," with the l sound illustrating the elusive nature of the king .  Suddenly, a sword appears and, while there are those that doubt Arthur's being Uther's son,

With a wink his dream was changed, the haze descended,
and the solid earth became
as nothing, but the King stood out in heaven,

The haze is gone, and there is no longer any uncertainty concerning Arthur's birth, as he stands crowned in heaven.  Tennyson places a messianic mantle on Arthur as one chosen to restore order, faith, and purity to a land that had been seized by the heathen.

The above painting is King Arthur by Frank Dicksee (1853-1928).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Structure of Idylls of the King

Idylls of the King is made up 12 separate but interrelated poems, all revolving around the subject of the Arthurian legend.  The work was not written in chronological order, with "The Passing of Arthur," the last of the poems, being written first, shortly after the death of Arthur Henry Hallam and likely in tribute to that young man.  The work begins and ends with poems about Arthur while other ten poems deal with his knights, his Queen, and Merlin.  Together, the poems illustrate the greatest and purity of the King and the failure of the others to live up to his standards. 

The work is written in blank verse and contain much imagery of the sea and other aspects of nature.  Religion plays a major role with the many biblical allusions.  Dedicated to Prince Albert, the work was first published in 1859 with four idylls, two years before the death of the man Tennyson calls "Albert the Good."  Tennyson believed that Albert displayed many of the same qualities with which Arthur is depicted.  Ultimately, Tennyson desired all Victorians to adhere to those same morals.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) was the fourth of twelve children born to a clergyman.  He attended Trinity College where he made acquaintences with such men as William Thackeray, William Gladstone, and Edward Fitzgerald.  Nevertheless, his best friend was Arthur Henry Hallam, whom he memorialized in the poem In Memoriam after Hallam's death in 1833.  In the 1830s and 1840s he wrote poems such as Mariana, Locksley Hall, Ulysses, and The Lady of Shalott.  His poetry was a favorite of Prince Albert's, which probably led to his being named Poet Laureate of England by Queen Victoria after the death of William Wordsworth.  His later poetry included The Charge of the Light Brigade, a patriotic piece detailing a battle of the Crimean War and Enoch Arden, which tells the story of a sailor thought to be dead that returns home to find his wife has remarried.  Tennyson died about two months after his 83rd birthday and was buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Tennyson wrote Idylls of the King over a period of more than fifty years.  "The Passing of Arthur" was written shortly after the death of Hallam, and he would continue to write and edit the poem until its final publication in 1885.  A lifetime fascination with the Arthurian legend, particularly as presented by Sir Thomas Malory, fostered the work.  The work is infused with Victorian morals, which was Tennyson's attempt to modernize the legend.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Broken Vase

Though Myshkin is unable to find Rogozhin, the latter finds Myshkin at the hotel where the attack occurred.  Rogozhin takes Myshkin to his home where he sees the dead body of Natasya, still in her wedding gown and stabbed through the heart.  One realizes that the episode of the broken vase forshadowed the death of Natasya.  Dostoevsky describes the scene of the broken vase:

But one very curious fact was that all the shame and vexation and mortification which he felt over the accident were less powerful than the deep impression of the almost supernatural truth of his premonition. He stood still in alarm—in almost superstitious alarm, for a moment; then all mists seemed to clear away from his eyes; he was conscious of nothing but light and joy and ecstasy; his breath came and went; but the moment passed. Thank God it was not that! He drew a long breath and looked around.

Myshkin was more affected by the fact that he had a premonition that he would break the vase than he was by the actual breaking of the vase.  Similarly, when Myshkin sees Natasya's body, he does not appear to be shocked at all and is more focused on consoling Rogozhin than showing concern for Natasya, despite how much he pitied her.  Interestingly, before the incident with the vase, Aglaia jokingly encouraged him to break it, saying her mother loves it and would go out of her mind.  When the actual event takes place, Aglaia shows more concern for Myshkin than the vase.  By the end of the novel, Aglaia and Natasya are no longer friends but rivals and Aglaia likely did not show much emotion upon hearing of Natasya's death.  In the end, Natasya is no more valuable than a broken vase.

Vase with Cover (above), William De Morgan.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Runaway Bride

The engagement between Myshkin and Aglaia is broken when the latter two visit Natasya, and Myshkin is unable to reject completely.  Aglaia runs away and Myskin remains with Natasya, deciding to marry her instead.  They decide on Pavlovsk as the site for the wedding, and, during the ceremony, Natasya spots Rogozhin and runs away with him.  The two run run off to St. Petersberg, where Myshkin searches endlessly, albeit unsuccessfully.

Myshkin shows once again that he is unable to forsake Natasya.  He remains committed to saving her, if at all possible.  Aglaia feels rejected, but she does not, in Myshkin's eyes, need salvation.  Interestingly, when Natasya see Rogozhin in the crowd, she uses the words, "save me," essentially asking him to save her from her salvation.  Natasya realizes that she cannot "live among the trees" of Pavlovsk; a peaceful exiistence would be foreign to her.  She is more comfortable in the chaotic city setting of St. Petersberg.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Roman Catholicism

The Epanchins decide to have a party in order to present Myshkin to their rich friends as the future husband of Aglaia.  Myshkin desperately wants to make a good impression and is mostly quiet throughout most of the evening until he hears the name Pavlishtchev, his benefactor.  One of the partygoers, I van Petrovich, knew Pavlishtchev and saw Myshkin when the latter was a child.  Petrovich then mentions that Pavlishtchev converted to Roman Catholicism, a total shock to Myshkin.  The Prince goes on to launch a verbal assault on Catholicism, calling it an "unchristian religion."  This verbal onslaught excites Myshkin to the point that he gesstures violently and knocks over an expensive vase belonging to the Epanchins and has an epileptic attack.

Myshkin's attack on the Catholic Church is not spiritually based but politically based.  He states that Roman Catholicism is nothing but the "continuation of the Western Roman Empire" and that the Pope has an earthly throne and carries a sword.  He sees the Pope as someone having too much unquestioned temporal authority, sanctioning killing for the faith through the Jesuits.  He further states that "socialism springs from Catholicism," suggesting that the Church removes individuality from its adherents.  It denies everyone property, having bartered the truth for money.  The possibility that his benefactor converted to Roman Catholicism proves too much for Myshkin, who has another epileptic fit.


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