The magical mantle, the drinking horn and the chastity test : A study of a 'tale' in Arthurian Celtic literature.
Saint Paul, Thérèse
The field of the study is that of popular versus learned literature and the use of traditional patterns and cliches in medieval works, Arthurian and Celtic in particular. The aim of the study is to examine the definition of a "Tale": its very concept, its form, and its reception through a plurality of methods, from different and cumulative perspectives which seek to blend into a creative synthesis. This leads to a questioning of the usefulness of motif-indexes in tale-definition. An approach is given which takes into account contemporary scholarship on "structural", internal textual analysis as well as pre-structural concepts such as the notion of the Heroic Biographical Pattern. A preliminary approach (part I) gives a survey of the Tale in time and place. The Tale is found from the 12th to the 20th century but was particularly popular between the 12th and 14th centuries. The presence of its early versions in an Arthurian literary context points to a milieu of Tale formation 'which is in-between insular Celtic, Breton and Anglo-Norman French. Networks of version-filiations are drawn which confirm this while they also indicate pivotal versions and point to specific geographical groupings (in particular French, Scottish/Irish Gaelic, Icelandic, English, Welsh, Dutch and German). In an appendix to this section, a statistical method ("Cluster Analysis") is used to add verification. Part II assembles short monographs on the Tale "traits". It thereby establishes their literary status and their strong Arthurian-Celtic link in matters of detail, images, recurrent themes such as: for example the feast setting, the fairy visitant, the magic objects, the test, the names of characters. Having thus created a background of information and critical material, the next level of approach (part III) considers the appeal and durability of the Tale in the medieval period and beyond; and this, in diverse literary genres. It is concluded that the main topics (the Chastity Test of women/cuckoldry of men; the mockery of Arthur, of the chivalric code and of the honour concept) struck a sensitive chord in the minds of medieval audiences. But, as the study goes on to show, the Tale is basically exploited for its farcical, comic potential. Finally, the appeal and durability of the Tale is sought in its relation to traditional tale patterns and in their mythical value. In this sense, the study shares the views of scholars who sought parallels between society (its mentality, world vision) and myth.