THE "ALLITERATIVE MORTE ARTHURE": THE FORM OF EPIC TRAGEDY (ENGLAND).
AuthorSTOTTLEMYER, RONALD STEVEN.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe most enduring problem in the criticism of the Alliterative Morte Arthure is the difficulty of describing its genre accurately. In the past most critics and literary historians have been content to label the poem variously as a romance, a chronicle, an heroic poem, an epic, or a tragedy solely on the basis of a superficial reading of its subject matter, plot, and theme. This study challenges those readings of the poem with an extensive analysis of its total artistic structure of narrative techniques, patterns of imagery and symbolism, and thematic development. The results of this analysis indicate that the Alliterative Morte Arthure is best described as an epic tragedy. The analysis of the poem's form and content is inductive in nature. After a review of the criticism dealing with the poem's genre and an exposition of the study's methodology, the analysis then proceeds with a close reading of the particular narrative structure and content of the poem's three macro-episodes. Since this study rests on the critical proposition that the analysis of a work's genre is best founded on an examination of its narrative structure, this reading focuses primarily on the description of the various narrative relationships that exists between the episodes of each macro-episode. The analysis simultaneously accounts for the thematic significance of the various patterns of imagery, symbolism, and other narrative content that emerge from this close reading. The study then concludes with a discussion of the Alliterative Morte Arthure's genre. A preliminary description of the basic features of epic and romance suggests that the poem is undeniably a species of epic narrative. The results of a close reading of the poem, however, indicate that this designation of its genre as well as the widely accepted classification of it as a medieval tragedy of fortune are both inadequate to illuminate the particularly communal nature of Arthur's tragedy. For this reason the Alliterative Morte Arthure is most appropriately described as an epic tragedy, a narrative that presents the epic hero's catastrophe in the context of his relationship with his community.