Date of Award

1-1992

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Supervisor

Laurel Braswell-Means

Abstract

Due in part to romantic, epochal theories of history, Sir Thomas Malory has conventionally been thought of as the last voice of authentic feudalism and of traditional chivalry. This thesis challenges that reputation of the nostalgic writer, and argues that his work reflects the social mobility that was transforming England's landed class in the late Middle Ages, when knighthood was in decline, and the identity of gentleman were becoming correspondingly more important. Through the term "gentry writer", the thesis attempts to link Malory more closely with the readers and writers of English romances, as represented by the many unadorned manuscripts of provincial provenance. Typically the heroes of these romances carve out successful careers at the expense of haughty lords and mean-spirited burgesses, and in the process demonstrate that their honour and virtue are individual qualities, not necessarily dependent on the office of knighthood. While the theme of social mobility and careerism has been noted as a theme of Middle English romance, its prominence within Malory's work has received little attention. This thesis finds that the standards by which Malory judges his heroes are not prowess or martial ability so much as a combination of ethical and moral qualities which he calls "jantylnesse". Gentleness is exemplified by the great knights such as Lancelot and Tristram, but is also the cause for the success of the numerous Fair Unknowns who come to Arthur's court. In determining that Malory ultimately regards his characters as independent gentlemen rather than as extensions of a corporate identity, the thesis concludes that Malory's work reflects the same desire to define an honourable and individual identity which is seen in the romances, courtesy books, and correspondence of the gentry.

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