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The author question. in Malory’s Morte Darthur. Interpretations of Authorship Issues. Post- structuralists challenge traditional notions of authorship by challenging the author's control over the text.

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the author question

The author question

in Malory’s Morte Darthur

interpretations of authorship issues
Interpretations of Authorship Issues
  • Post-structuralists challenge traditional notions of authorship by challenging the author's control over the text.
    • For example, reader-response critics would argue that what readers bring to a text has as much to do with how a reader interprets a text as what the author writes.
    • Similarly, social constructionists argue that authors themselves are written by their cultures; authorship is a social construct and is granted by certain communities (academic, professional, etc.)
and what if the author is anonymous
And what if the author is “anonymous”?

"[I]n our culture, the name of an author is a variable that accompanies only certain texts to the exclusion of others: a private letter may have a signatory, but it does not have an author; a contract can have an underwriter, but it does not have an author; and similarly, an anonymous poster attached to a wall may have a writer, but he cannot be an author. . . [T]he function of an author is to characterize the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses within a society" (Michel Foucault, "What Is an Author" 124).

intertextuality and referentiality
Intertextuality and Referentiality
  • The postmodern conception of texts is that they exist in a network of other texts (even in print), that they exist in relation to all other texts.
  • Also, by viewing text as a mass assemblage, the center of the work is not fixed, and is determined more by the reader than by the text itself.
questioning the author leads us to question the notion of text
Questioning the author leads us to question the notion of “text.”

As Roland Barthes argues, “In [an] ideal text the networks are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest; this text is a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can reach, they are indeterminable.” (S/Z 5-6)

do we read morte darthur as a postmodern text
Do we read MorteDarthuras a postmodern text?

"A postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he produces are not in principle governed by preestablished rules, and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgement, by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work. Those rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking for." (Jean-Françoise Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition 81)

who was thomas malory
Who was Thomas Malory?
  • At least seven men with that name in the right time period
  • Most likely candidate is Thomas Malory of NewboldRevell in northern Lincolnshire
  • This Malory was a political operative in the Wars of the Roses, associated with the Earl of Warwick, who apparently had run afoul of the Lancastrian supporter the Duke of Buckingham
  • P.J.C. Field’s The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory is the best critical biography and explanation of the very confusing political and legal evidence
what do we know about this malory
What do we know about this Malory?
  • Sketchy biographical details
  • Skillful political operative in the very dicey times of the Wars of the Roses
  • Charismatic leader of men
  • Seems very concerned with questions of loyalty, duty, responsibility
  • Had access to both a large collection of the French Arthurian romances (in verse and prose) and to the English legend
  • Spent a lot of time in London in the 1460s—had time to write while in prison
what materials does he use
What materials does he use?
  • The French Vulgate prose cycle of Arthurian romances
    • The Vulgate Prose Merlin and the Post-Vulgate Merlin's Continuation (Suite du Merlin) (c. 1230).
    • Lancelot (which was called Lancelot Proper) from the time of the hero's birth to just before the next story began (ie. the Grail quest). Lancelot became the greatest knight in the world, due to his love for Guinevere, Arthur's Queen) (c. 1210, based on Chrétien de Troyes).
    • Quest of the Holy Grail (the French Queste del Saint Graal) (c. 1210)
    • The Death of King Arthur (also known as Mort de roiArtu or simply as Mort Artu) (c. 1210)
  • The French post-Vulgate prose cycle, which downplays Lancelot/Guinevere and highlights the Grail quest (c. 1230-1240)
  • At least 17 other old French and Middle English romances, especially the Alliterative MorteArthure (late 14th c. alliterative chronicle/history, surviving only in one Lincolnshire MS, the Thornton MS, c. 1400-1440, with the “Hic jacet” inscription…
what about his text
What about his text?
  • Printed by Caxton, 1485
    • Only two copies survive, one of which is complete
  • Rpt. by Wynkyn de Worde in 1498 and 1529
  • 3 more editions by 1634
  • OOP until 1816
  • In print since then
the winchester ms
The Winchester MS
  • Identified by Walter Oakeshott, 1934
  • Significantly different from Caxton’s print in layout, division, and (at points) in text
  • British Library calls it “Malory’s Arthurian Manuscript”
  • Was in Caxton’s workshop c. 1483

British Library Additional MS 59678

hoole book or bricolage
‘Hoole book’ or bricolage?
  • Until discovery of Winchester manuscript, only perception of Malory’s work was through Caxton’s edition
  • Eugene Vinaver (editor of standard critical edition) contends they are a collection of loosely connected tales, which he calls The Works of Sir Thomas Malory
  • In many ways, it’s a book of Lancelot rather than a book of King Arthur
  • Two major themes: What are the responsibilities of a knight in a politically complex world, and how can the personal relationships of fin amor be reconciled with political and religious duty
the mirror for magistrates tradition
The Mirror for Magistrates tradition
  • Title of the genre comes from a Tudor collection
  • The idea of a speculum or ‘mirror’ in which human conduct can be examined is characteristically medieval
  • Speculum Humanae Salvationis c. 1310-1324; several hundred copies survive (over 350 in Latin alone)