Idylls of the King: Overview

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Author: A.O.J. Cockshut
Editor: D. L. Kirkpatrick
Date: 1991
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Work overview; Critical essay
Length: 945 words

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Alfred, Lord Tennyson's fascination with the Arthurian cycle of Malory was life-long. The first draft of ``Morte d'Arthur[r],'' eventually published in 1842, dates from the end of 1833 when he heard the news of Arthur Hallam's death; and the poet was still revising some of the later idylls shortly before his own death in 1892.

Malory is a diffuse and repetitive writer, and it was natural for Tennyson to select and simplify. But one alteration to Malory's narrative was particularly significant. In Malory, Mordred, the traitor and destroyer of the fellowship of the Round Table was Arthur's son, born of incest with his sister. Tennyson, influenced possibly by the accident that the king's name was the same as his beloved friend's makes Arthur wholly pure, surrounded with a complex symbolism of light, and at some points, almost a Christ-figure. Some critics, of whom Swinburne was the most vehement, have complained that this change spoils the balance of the story. Certainly, in ``Guinevere'' (1859), there is a disturbing double vision; on the one hand, Arthur, in terms of the actual story is the deceived husband forgiving the now repentant wife. But the source, and the emotional feeling of the scene, seems to be derived from the scene in John's gospel, where Christ forgives the woman taken in adultery. Obviously, the two views are not compatible.

The single theme which links all the stories together is the fragility...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420007895