Saturday, July 16, 2016

Introducing the Roundtable! (Notes: 10)

Merlin and Arthur as imagined by cartoonists; a very literal 'Arthur-figure.'



After only a few years, other writers were busy making their own variations based off of Monmouth’s text The history of the King of Britain. Waus, a Norman Frenchmen, was one such writer who wrote A Verse History of the Kings of England. Writing during a time when literacy in the medieval world was at around ten percent, Waus was part of that French group of writers who would help push the Arthurian narrative forward.

It is Waus who first introduces us to King Arthur’s legendary ‘roundtable.’ As a writer, Waus was more interested in Romance than battle, leading researchers to suspect that he may have been a clerk of some kind. Waus adds Celtic influence to the Arthurian mythos, he excises several pages worth of Merlin’s prophecies, and dramatically expands upon Monmouth’s messianic treatment of Arthur, going as far to call his promised return “The Breton Hope.”

It is during the 12th century that we can trace the Arthurian legend with some precision. (1) Waus makes a translation into Old Northern French rhyming Octoslavic couplets; (2) after 1189, Lockman reworks Waus’s text into English alliterative verse, giving the public its first comprehensive account of King Arthur as English. What is important here is that the historical Arthur fought against the Germanic English tribes, the Anglo-Saxons, being of Celtic-Romano descent. And yet in Waus’s text we see the opposite, of Arthur depicted, somehow, as English. (Perhaps reminding contemporary readers of Hollywood’s tendency to whitewash historical figures by hiring White actors to portray non-white figures)

As a writer, Lockman was an English priest and amateur historian. Like Monmouth before him, Lockman’s text was supposed to be a complete history of Britain written in the Arthurian style (of King Arthur featuring heavily alongside the Brutus historical imposition). Oddly enough, however, Lockman rejects French in favor of English when writing. Instead, he promotes the Old English schema of alliterative verse and so suggests that he was perhaps writing as early as 1189, though maybe as late as 1216. This has confused historians since Lockman’s narrative is anto-Anglo-Saxon. This has prompted researchers to posit that he perhaps felt victimized by the Norman invasion since he, like many writers, arranged the Norman invasion as divine judgement from God, much in the same way that the Roman subject—the Celtic-Romano—rationalized the Anglo-Saxon invasion as divine punishment for sinful lives.

Lockman likely wrote his narrative for his ‘flock,’ his church congregation. This may help explain why he wrote in English alliterative verse—because it would have been digestible and easily consumed by the poor native persons (remember that this is a time where many intellectuals write either in Latin or Anglo-Norman), since over 90% spoke some form of Old English.

During this translation of Waus, Lockman deletes almost every mention of Romance. Instead, and, again, much like contemporary Hollywood, he recasts the legend in a dark, violent tone where bloodshed and cruelty reign supreme. Interestingly enough, the final lines of Lockman’s narrative suggests that instead of King Arthur returning, that “an Arthur” would return, thus leading many to speculate that Lockman believed that either someone else would rise to the occasion and claim the title of ‘Arthur’ or that Arthur, perhaps, would be reincarnated. It seems that Lockman did not believe that Arthur, as told in the legend, would return, but that someone like him would take up his mantle.