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Masculinity of King Arthur in Literature

Is Chretien merely mocking Arthur or the concept of Arthurian literature?

Chretien as Bonnie Wheeler explains is not only mocking Arthurian literature but also the character that is King Arthur by confining him to contexts that portray him as weak and not only ridiculous but laughably so. The story of Arthur missing the highest feast of the year because he was pre-occupied by the pursuit of his pleasures stands to undermine the character of Arthur by portraying him as a self indulgent, irresponsible ruler.

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In this story he keeps the Knights of the Round Table waiting vainly for him to show up and kick-off the festivities. While waiting, they begin to squabble among themselves with some even daring to question Arthur’s authority as king. Chretien even hints that there were dissenting voices from within the kings’ inner circle of knights who doubt Arthur’s ability and power as king as he seems to keep “pointless pledges” made at a game during Christmas.

Chretien mocks Arthur in his work as his portrayal of Arthur is that of incompetence to the point where even his knights refer to his decisions as pointless and doubt his skills as King. He also takes a jab at Arthurian literature in that he not only undermines Arthur and his character but he also depicts a situation where the kings’ men “his Knights” have little if any respect for him. Arthurian literature is thereby mocked as it usually portrays Arthur as a king that is respected by his Knights. By showing that the Knights did not respect Arthur as king Chretien undermines Arthurian literature which views the brotherhood of the round table as Arthurs’ greatest achievement.

Is Arthur really Arthur if he is only called King or referred to as King?

It is the title of King that allows the character that is Arthur to fully develop. It is this title that allowed him access to the famous characters that surrounded and helped mould this character into the legend that it is today. Granted, the name Arthur supersedes the title of king, but it is this title that thrust the young Arthur into the scene opening up opportunities that would shape him into one of the most romanticized Kings in history.

Is his role diminished by just calling or referring to him as Arthur?

The role that Arthur plays in all the literature available on him is that of a great leader, great king. The name Arthur is synonymous with his role as king and it would be an attempt in futility to try to separate the king from the man. The role of Arthur the man in no way diminishes his role as king and neither does his role as king diminish his role as a man. Arthur is remembered as a hero and like many heroes before him it is not his throne that makes him a hero but his vir modestus coupled with his achievements in the battle-field. He represents the current culture’s desire of a hero as he seems to abhor senseless violence, and is represented as a peacemaker and keeper rather than a war monger.

Does Arthur have to do Arthur-esque things to really be Arthur?

As is evidenced by the various Arthurian literature available, various depictions of Arthur his beginnings and experiences exist. Some, such as Chretien’s, portray him as rather dull, while others such as Malory’s, as one who learns on the job under the watchful eye of Merlin. His achievements during his lifetime are not responsible for “Arthur the legend”, it is how he went about attaining them that makes him Arthur.

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