Medieval Romance Has Inspired Literature Term Paper

Pages: 14 (3946 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] The various images of beauty the poet paints about love and its exhilarating effect make "The Eve of St. Agnes" a wonderful combination of medieval and romantic elements. Here we see how the poet has moved away from moralizing in his poetry and instead settled on rich details and idealized characters.

Another poet that brought the medieval past alive in his poetry was Alfred Tennyson. His poetry often revives old ideas and phrases within new contexts. This kind of poetry can be seen as old notions with a new spin. "Idylls of the King" and "The Lady of Shallot" demonstrate his skill in this area. The poem, "Idylls of the King" illustrates the poet's ability to capture and renew older legends and myths with a flavor all his own. Abrams notes that Tennyson realized that the Arthurian story had "epic potential and selected it for his lifework as 'the greatest of all poetical subjects'" (Tennyson qtd. In Abrams 11484). Mallory's Morte Darthur was The primary source for "Idylls of the King," which has the same appeal but, in Abrams opinion, the "overall design of the whole poem is more ambitious and impressive" (1184). The poem represent a rise and fall, which indicates a cycle in which a civilization must confront the "possibilities of a renewal in the future" (1184). Tennyson adds to Malory's tale by adding more magical qualities and the motivation of the women to spur on the knight's behavior. We see the medieval aspects of courage, loyalty, and Christianity in this poem. Catherine Phillips contends that the poet "knew an Italian version of the story of Elaine, which he used for 'The Lady of Shalott' and, traveling extensively in Wales, he collected local fables" (Phillips). As he became more familiar with his material, "he came increasingly to introduce his own emphasis and even to invent incidents" (Phillips). These invented incidents are exactly what McSweeney is referring to when he mentions that the poet teases us and prompts us to not only think about the poem and its language but also what else the poet might have had in mind. We stretch our imaginations when we read them and their mystery possibly allows us to find a new meaning.

The spirit of the Arthurian legend is revived with "The Idylls of the King." The primitive, Celtic origins emerge and form a complex world of medieval chivalry filled with symbolism. No doubt the world is a medieval one that includes the damsel in distress and a knight in shining armor. However, we also have new elements that are uniquely Tennyson. Arthur is described as asking that will "follow Christ" (Tennyson Idylls of the King I.499). The man is depicted with all his glory when he says, "Behold, for these have sworn/To wage my wars, and worship me their king" (I.506-7). Here we see the medieval qualities merged with the Christian aspects, both which prove to be important to the poet. He is able to create a world with these elements, which are as McSweeney described as fantastical and curious. In no way, do we feel as though we are stuck in the stale past when reading this work.

Tennyson also illustrates his ability to work the past with new ideas of the present in "The Lady of Shalott," which is based upon a myth that works with the poet's imagination. The lovely lady, the tower, Camelot, and Lancelot all bring forth images from the forgotten past. The lady clearly comes from Arthurian legend but her tale is also influenced by an Italian romance, as noted earlier. The poem is rich with details that remind us of the medieval world and its traditions. There is also an air of mystery and a dream-like state that we find with Keats' "La belle dame sans Merci." The poet depicts a lady that lives an isolated life, cursed as the Lady of Shalott. Her curse is weaving "night and day/A magic web with colors gay" (Tennyson Lady of Shalott 37-8). Her curse also includes not being able to look down upon Camelot. She is trapped within the tower walls, and can only look to the outside through a mirror "clear/That hangs before her all the year" (48-9). This is the only way she can see the "highway near/Winding down to Camelot" (49-50). While the window and the mirror are meant to alleviate her sense of isolation, they only heighten it. Many believe that her isolation can be seen as its own form of beauty and loveliness, but her isolation proves to be more than she can bear.

Lancelot is a vision from the medieval world that changes the lady's perspective and life forever. His presence illustrates a contrast between worlds -- namely the lady's world of shadows and light and the real world that she sees below. He is a symbol of the passion that she is forbidden to feel. The poet brings Lancelot into clear focus when he is described with a "blazoned baldric slung/A mighty silver bugle hug,/And as he rode his armor rung" (87-9). In addition, "Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather,/The helmet and the helmet-feather/Burned like one burning flame together" (92-4). Here we can see how the knight is a symbol of the bright world of Camelot that exists beyond the lady's tower. The poet prevents an image that is radiant and almost blinding to look upon, which seems to produce a hypnotic and mystical quality about him. In addition to this, he also sings "Tirra lirra" (107), which gives us a sense of his dynamic personality and endless energy. His pull is too great for her and she looks upon him.

At this point in the poem, the mood and tone change. The mystical dream-like state is broken and now the lady enters the world, which is not only beautiful but deadly as well. She has taken hold of her mortality with her choice and while embracing love, she embraces death. The independent move to set out on the river is the lady's progress toward life and this cannot be done without moving toward death. She accepts her choice, singing "her last song" (143). Instead of working on a piece of art, she becomes one. What we learn from her is that we all need to be involved with the world somehow and that our art can sometimes simply be the act of human touch.

Prose writers also used elements of the medieval past to express their thoughts and desires and make comments on society. Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin are two writers that pull from the past to make very definite points about the present. In Carlyle's "Past and Present," Smith states, "what must strike every one is, the manifest partiality Mr. Carlyle shows to the past, and the unfair preference he gives it over the present" (Smith). Henry Williams agrees with Smith, adding that Carlyle uses "myth to point the idea of a chapter or a succession of chapters. Thus Midas and The Sphinx are chapter captions; in each case there is constructed an elaborate application to England" (Williams). An example of how Carlyle called attention to his concerns can be seen in "Democracy," where he discusses class distinction. He writes:

It is not to die . . . that makes a man wretched . . . But it is to live miserable we know why; to work sore and yet gain nothing; to be heartworn, weary, yet isolated, unrelated, girt-in with a cold universe Laissez-faire: it is to die slowly all our life long, imprisoned in a deaf, dead Infinite Injustice . . . this is and remains for ever intolerable to all men whom God has made. (Carlyle 1003)

Carlyle defends the weaker in society by referring to Gurth from Scott's Ivanhoe. The man is "born thrall of Cedric the Saxon" (1004) and "seems happy" (1004). Williams notes that Carlyle's piece depicts the " illusion of a materialistic present is a sense of superiority to the past" (Williams). He also states that "Carlyle tried to show, as did Ruskin later, that in some respects the present was worse than the past" (Williams). In many instances, we need only to look around us to discover that this assertion is true. Carlyle uses his imagination like Keats and Tennyson did -- to build upon an idea and unite it with something which with we were already familiar. This technique proves to be successful because it allows us to connect with something while the author makes his point.

In John Ruskin's The Stones of Venice, we see how the writer blends the past with the present to makes his points. His work is elaborate with detail that allows him to focus on each aspect of society. In the first section of his work, he studies the architecture of the past. He writes that he finds in Venice, "the vitality of religion in private life, and its eadness in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Medieval Romance Has Inspired Literature.  (2005, April 23).  Retrieved December 11, 2018, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/medieval-romance-inspired-literature/413207

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