Pentecostal Oath as context for Elaine of Corbenic raping Lancelot

Thomas Malory’s fifteenth-century Arthurian romance, The Death of Arthur {Le Morte Darthur} illustrates the peculiarly gendered notion of chivalry that arose in medieval European romance. Malory in Le Morte Darthur had King Arthur impose on knights a code known as the Pentecostal Oath. Under the Pentecostal Oath, men were obligated to serve women or be killed. As is common under penal codes, men raping women was a felony crime, but women raping men wasn’t a criminal offense. The Pentecostal Oath didn’t explicitly require knights to serve women sexually according to women’s desires. Nonetheless, Lancelot’s response to Elaine of Corbenic raping him twice indicates that Lancelot had internalized such a sense of women’s sexual entitlement.

The context of the Pentecostal Oath in Le Morte Darthur highlights the importance of men serving women. Leading up to the Pentecostal Oath is King Arthur’s wedding to Guenivere. Then a white hart (a male deer), chased by a white brachet (a female hunting hound) interrupted the Round Table’s proceedings. The brachet bit the hart in the buttocks. The hart leapt, knocking over a knight, and ran off. That knight seized the brachet and left. Then a lady named Nenyve entered and pleaded that her brachet be returned to her. Another knight entered, seized Nenyve, and carried her off. This intricately gendered interruption set up the quests of Sir Gawain, Sir Torre, and King Pellinore. All three were knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. Their stories are exempla of knightly ethics with respect to gender.

At King Arthur’s command, Sir Gawain hunted for the white hart. Gawain found the hart and set his greyhounds on it. They chased the hart into a castle and killed it there. But Blamoure of the Maryse, a knight of that castle, had received the hart as a gift from “my sovereign lady.” Furious at the hounds killing the hart, Blamoure killed two of them and chased the rest out of the castle. Then Blamoure and Gawain fought. Gawain knocked Blamoure to the ground. Despite Blamoure’s plea for mercy, Gawain prepared to cut off his head. Blamoure’s lady came running out and embraced Blamoure on the ground. Gawain then accidentally cut off her head.

Gawain was ashamed that he had killed a woman rather than a man. Like classical epic, Arthurian romance presents continual, normalized violence against men. Violence against women is more unusual and more morally fraught. When Gawain returned to Camelot, he suffered gynocentric penal judgment:

As soon as Sir Gawain arrived, Merlin made King Arthur, whom Sir Gawain served as his lord, tell of Gawain’s adventure — how he slayed the lady, and how he would give no mercy to the knight, by which the lady was slain. Then the King and the Queen were greatly displeased with Sir Gawain for the slaying of the lady. By order of the Queen, there was established a court session of ladies concerning Sir Gawain. They ordered him forever while he lived to serve all ladies and to fight on behalf of their disputes. Forever he should be chivalric and never refuse mercy to him that asks for mercy. Thus was Sir Gawain sworn upon the four Christian Evangelists that he should never be against a lady or gentlewoman, except if he fights for a lady and his adversary fights for another lady.

{ anone as he was com Merlion dud make kynge Arthure that sir Gawayne was sworne to telle of hys adventure, and how he slew the lady, and how he wolde gyff no mercy unto the knyght, wherethorow the lady was slayne. Than the kynge and the quene were gretely displeased with sir Gawayne for the sleynge of the lady, and there by ordynaunce of the queene there was sette a queste of ladyes uppon sir Gawayne, and they juged hym for ever whyle he lyved to be with all ladyes and to fyght for hir quarels; and ever that he sholde be curteyse, and never to refuse mercy to hym that askith mercy. Thus was sir Gawayne sworne uppon the four Evaungelystis that he sholde never be ayenste lady ne jantillwoman but if he fyght for a lady and hys adversary fyghtith for another. }[1]

Queen Guenivere and King Arthur were primarily upset at Gawain slaying a lady. Gawain having refused to grant mercy to the knight gains significance because that led to Gawain slaying the lady. The court of ladies effectively outlawed Gawain fighting for gender justice for men. Gawain, along with many other men throughout history, are thus positioned as tools to fight on behalf of women.

Sir Torre quested for Nenyve’s brachet. To serve Nenyve’s request to have her brachet returned to her, Torre fought and defeated three knights. Torre and those three knights suffered brutal blows to their bodies, but all survived. However, a young woman asked that Torre cut off the head of one of the knights, Abelleus. Abelleus had pleaded for mercy to Torre. Nonetheless, adhering to the woman’s request, Torre cut off Abelleus’s head. Guenivere and Arthur were delighted with Torre’s actions. Arthur granted him an earldom as a reward. Men thus gain honor and material rewards by killing other men in serving women.

King Pellinore sought the abducted lady Nenyve. As he was riding on his quest, he come across a lady holding a wounded knight in her arms. She cried out to Pellinore for help. Pellinore, however, rode on, not wanting to delay his search for Nenyve. He found Nenyve’s cousin Meliot de Logurs and the abducting knight Outelake of Wentelonde fighting over custody of her. Pellinore declared that he would take her to the Round Table at Camelot. Neither Meliot nor Outelake acquiesced. First Pellinore fought Outelake for custody of Nenyve. With a blow of his sword, Pellinore cleaved Outelake’s head down to his chin and killed him. Seeing Outelake’s death, Meliot surrendered his claim to custody of Nenyve. Riding back to Camelot with Nenyve, Pellinore came across the lady and the knight he had seen earlier. The knight had died and then the lady killed herself in grief. Wild beasts had eaten their bodies. To Nenyve, Pellinore lamented:

My heart rues painfully the death of her that lies over there, for she was a surpassingly beautiful lady, and a young one.

{ my herte rwyth sore of the deth of hir that lyeth yondir, for she was a passyng fayre lady, and a yonge. }[2]

Pellinore said nothing about the man’s death. Throughout history, men’s deaths have mattered little relative to women’s deaths. Nenyve, who apparently recognized trade-offs in men working to save women, urged Pellinore to be less distraught. After all, Pellinore had saved her. Merlin later revealed to Pellinore that the dead woman was actually his daughter Alyne, and the dead man, Alyne’s knight-lover. Merlin’s revelation deepened Pellinore’s regret for not saving her. More abstractly, Merlin’s revelation emphasizes men’s obligation to all women. One man, however, cannot save all the women in the world.

Following the exempla of Gawain, Torre, and Pellinore’s quests, King Arthur commanded the Pentecostal Oath. This code of conduct formally established the knights of the Round Table:

The King established all the knights and gave them riches and land. He commanded them never to do outrage nor murder and always to flee from treason. He commanded them to give mercy to he who asks for mercy, upon pain of forfeiting their honor and the lordship of King Arthur forevermore. They must always help ladies, young women, gentlewomen, and widows, and strengthen them in their rights, and never rape them, upon pain of death. Also, that no man should fight in a wrongful quarrel for neither love nor for any worldly goods. So to this code were sworn all knights of the Round Table, both old and young. Every year they were so sworn at the high feast of Pentecost.

{ the kynge stablysshed all the knyghtes and gaff them rychesse and londys; and charged them never to do outerage nothir morthir, and allwayes to fle treson, and to gyff mercy unto hym that askith mercy, uppon payne of forfiture [of their] worship and lordship of kynge Arthure for evirmore; and allwayes to do ladyes, damesels, and jantilwomen and wydowes [socour:] strengthe hem in hir xyghtes, and never to enforce them, uppon payne of dethe. Also, that no man take no batayles in a wrongefull quarell for no love ne for no world is goodis. So unto thys were all knyghtis sworne of the Table Rounde, both olde and yonge, and every yere so were the[y] sworne at the hygh feste of Pentecoste. }[3]

The Pentecostal Oath formally established knights’ obligation to serve women, or be killed for not doing so. Pellinore’s exemplum underscored the knight’s women-serving obligation. Gawain’s exemplum showed that a blow accidentally slipping from man to woman is a grave gender offense. Torre’s exemplum showed that a woman’s request to kill a man trumps that man’s request for mercy. Murder, treason, and rape were well-established felony crimes in medieval England. The Pentecostal Oath associated not helping women and not strengthening women’s rights with felony crimes. Is it any wonder that men recently were castigated for not being last off the sinking ship Costa Concordia?

Elaine of Corbenic raping Lancelot in Le Morte Darthur

An eminent woman-server, Lancelot rescued Elaine of Corbenic. He found her in boiling water in a heated bathhouse:

There Sir Lancelot took by the hand the fairest lady that he ever saw. She was as naked as a needle. By enchantment Queen Morgan le Fay and the queen of Northgales had put her there in that pain because she was called the fairest lady of that country. There she had been for five years. Never might she be delivered out of her pain until the time when the best knight in the world had taken her by the hand. Then the people brought her clothes. When she was dressed, Sir Lancelot thought she was the fairest lady that he ever saw, except for Queen Guenivere.

{ there sir Launcelot toke the fayryst lady by the honde that ever he sawe, and she was as naked as a nedyll. And by enchauntemente quene Morgan le Fay and the quene of Northe Galys had put her there in that paynes, bycause she was called the fayryst lady of that contrey; and there she had bene fyve yere, and never myght she be delyverde oute of her paynes unto the tyme the beste knyght of the worlde had takyn her by the honde. Than the people brought her cloth is, and whan sche was arayed sir Launcelot thought she was the fayryst lady that ever he saw but yf hit were quene Gwenyver. }[4]

Rescuing a beautiful, naked woman in a heated bathhouse might heat a man’s amorous desire. Lancelot, “the best knight in the world,” regarded Elaine as “the fairest lady that he ever saw,” or “the fairest lady that he ever saw, except for Queen Guenivere.” Lancelot was then amorously serving Queen Guenivere. But she, after all, was married to King Arthur. Nonetheless, after rescuing the beautiful, naked, and warmly receptive Elaine of Corbenic, Lancelot didn’t want to serve her sexually.

Both Elaine and King Pelles, Elaine’s father, wanted Lancelot to have sex with her. They knew that if Lancelot did, she would give birth to a new best knight in the world. Lancelot, however, didn’t have the dog-like sexuality attributed to men no later than since Jacob had sex with Leah. Lancelot needed to be forced.

The rape of Lancelot involved a well-prepared bed trick. The enchanter Dame Brusen, who was a servant-woman to Elaine, arranged for a messenger to bring Lancelot a ring that appeared to be from Queen Guenivere. The messenger told him that Guenivere sought his company in the castle of Case, five miles away. Lancelot eagerly rode through the night to that castle. Elaine and Dame Brusen arranged to already be there. At the castle, Lancelot saw what he thought were Guenivere’s knights. Then Dame Brusen led him to what she said was Guenivere’s bedroom. There she got him inebriated and raped:

Dame Brusen brought Sir Lancelot a cup of wine. As soon as he had drunk that wine, he was so inebriated and mad that he would have no delay. Without any delay he went to bed. And so he thought that the maiden Elaine was Queen Guenivere. And know you well that Sir Lancelot was glad. So was lady Elaine that she had gotten Sir Lancelot into her arms, for she knew well that on that same night Sir Galahad would be conceived within her. He would prove to be the best knight in the world. So they lay together until early morning.

{ dame Brusen brought sir Launcelot a kuppe of wyne, and anone as he had drunken that wyne he was so asoted and madde that he myght make no delay, but wythoute ony let he wente to bedde. And so he wente that mayden Elayne had bene quene Gwenyver. And wyte you well that sir Launcelot was glad, and so was that lady Eleyne that she had gotyn sir Launcelot in her armys, for well she knew that that same nyght sholde be bygotyn sir Galahad uppon her, that sholde preve the beste knyeht of the worlde. And so they lay togydir untyll underne of the morne }

Lancelot didn’t consent to sex with Elaine. He was raped with deception and inebriating drink. When Lancelot finally arose to let some morning light into the bedroom (it had been shrewdly sealed), he was furious at seeing that he had been raped:

Immediately he took his sword in hand and said, “You female traitor! What are you that I have slept with all this night? You shall die right here at my hands!”

{ anone he gate his swerde in his honde and seyde, “Thou traytoures! What art thou that I have layne bye all this nyght. Thou shalt dye ryght here of myne hondys!” }

Elaine, naked, then got out of bed and on her knees pleaded that she was pregnant with a child from him. That child, she declared, would become the greatest knight in the world. She didn’t mention that even men who are raped are forced to pay “child support.” Lancelot remained furious:

“Ah, false female traitor! Why have you deceived me? Tell me right now,” said Sir Lancelot. “What are you?”

{ “A, false traytoures! Why haste thou betrayed me? Telle me anone,” seyde sir Launcelot, “what thou arte.” }

Lancelot seemed to think that she was some kind of demon. But she responded:

I am Elaine, the daughter of King Pelles.

{ I am Elayne, the doughter of kynge Pelles. }

Just as Menelaus failed to punish the treasonous Helen in Troy, and so too Aeneas, Lancelot forgave the royal, beautiful, naked, imploring Elaine:

“Well,” said Sir Lancelot, “I will forgive you.” And then he took her up into his arms and kissed her, for she was a fair lady, and also lusty and young, and wise as any living at that time. “So God help me,” said Sir Lancelot, “I may not accuse you, but she who made this enchantment on me and between you and me. I will find her, and that same lady Dame Brusen shall lose her head for her witchcraft, for there never was a knight deceived as I was this night.”

{ “Well,” seyde sir Launcelot, “I woll forgyff you.” And therewyth he toke her up in his armys and kyssed her, for she was a fayre lady, and thereto lusty and yonge, and wyse as ony was that tyme lyvynge. “So God me helpe,” seyde sir Launcelot, “I may nat wyte [this to] you; but her that made thys enchauntemente uppon me and betwene you and me, and I may fynde her, that same lady dame Brusen shall lose her hede for her wycchecrauftys, for there was never knyght disceyved as I am this nyght.” }

As Elaine’s serving-woman, Dame Brusen did Elaine’s will. Moreover, Lancelot never punished Dame Brusen. Women are much less likely to be punished for crime than are men.

At a feast in King Arthur’s court, Dame Brusen at Elaine’s behest arranged for Elaine to rape Lancelot again. Queen Guenivere had told Lancelot to come to her bed when she sent for him. Having learned of their plan, Dame Brusen went to Lancelot that night. She said that Guenivere was waiting in bed for him and that she would take him to her. But she took him instead to Elaine’s bed. In the dark and with his delight in a woman’s body, Lancelot mistook Elaine for Guenivere. Late at night in his sleep he spoke aloud of his love for Guenivere. She was angry that he wasn’t in bed with her, and she was wondering where he was. Then she heard him talking in his sleep about her. She coughed loudly to wake him. He awoke and realized that again Elaine had raped him.

After realizing that he had been raped again, Lancelot jumped madly out of Elaine’s bed. The furious Guinevere was there to confront him. Being raped twice was more than Lancelot could bear:

“Alas!” said Sir Lancelot. Then he felt such heartfelt sorrow at Guenivere’s words that he fell down to the floor in a swoon. And then Queen Guenivere departed. When Sir Lancelot awoke out of his swoon, he leapt out of a bay window into a garden. There he was scratched by thorns all over on his face and his body. He ran forth he knew not where, and he was as wild as ever a man was. He ran two years, and never a man had the grace to know him.

{ “Alas!” seyde sir Launcelot. And therewyth he toke suche an hartely sorow at her wordys that he felle downe to the floure in a sowne. And therewythall quene Gwenyver departed. And whan sir Launcelot awooke oute of hys swoghe, he lepte oute at a bay-wyndow into a gardyne, and there wyth thornys he was all to-cracched of his vysage and hys body, and so he ranne furth he knew nat whothir, and was as wylde [woode] as ever was man. And so he ran two yere, and never man had grace to know hym. }[5]

Elaine raping Lancelot caused him enormous pain and suffering. Women should not presume that men enjoy being raped.

Lancelot, naked and mad with grief after Elaine raped him in Morte Darthur

Despite his suffering, Lancelot later apologized to Elaine for threatening her after she raped him. Within the romance context of continual slaughter of men, Lancelot’s apology is telling:

Fair lady Elaine, as a result of you I have had much trouble and anguish. It is not necessary to recount it, for you know how. Nonetheless, I know well that I did wrong to you when I drew my sword on you to have slain you in the morning after I had slept with you. It was all because you and Dame Brusen made me have sex with you against my will. As you say, from that Sir Galahad, your son, was conceived.

{ Fayre lady Elayne, for youre sake I have had muche care and angwyshe, hit nedyth nat to reherse hit, ye know how. Natwythstondynge I know well I have done fowle to you whan that I drewe my swerde to you to have slayne you uppon the morne aftir whan char I had layne wyth you. And all was for the cause that ye and dame Brusen made me for to lye be you magry myne hede. And as ye sey, sir Galahad, your sonne, was begotyn. }[6]

The conception of Galahad (“your son,” not “our son”) seems to be associated with Lancelot’s sense that he was obliged to serve sexually Elaine, or at least to accept her raping him. Morgan le Fay had earlier given Lancelot an ultimatum: either have sex with one of us four queens (none of whom was Guenivere) or die in prison. Lancelot chose to die in prison. He escaped by making a deal to fight men on behalf of a young woman’s father.[7] Lancelot subsequently became more accepting of being raped.

battle scene from Malory's Morte Darthur

Lancelot is a preeminent knight of Arthurian romance. Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur is the most influential Arthurian romance written in English.[8] The depiction of gender injustice in Le Morte Darthur must be honestly addressed. The Pentecostal Oat should be rejected as a code for men’s subservience to women. Women raping men should not be accepted or excused. Penal justice systems have been gendered to punish predominately persons with penises. That fundamental systemic injustice urgently needs to be redressed. The silence about gender injustices against men, including women raping men, must end.[9]

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[1] Thomas Malory, The Death of Arthur {Le Morte Darthur}, The Tale of King Arthur, “Torre and Pellinor” (Caxton 3.8), Middle English Winchester Manuscript text from Vinaver (1973) p. 67, my English modernization. Subsequent quotes from Le Morte Darthur are similarly sourced.

The court of ladies that judged Gawain suggests the courts of love that Andreas Capellanus described in his twelfth-century Latin work On Love {De amore}. Perhaps the fourteenth-century Queen of Aragon Violant de Bar conducted such courts.

The Winchester Manuscript (British Library, Add MS 59678) was written between c. 1471 and 1483. It’s the earliest surviving text and only manuscript of Le Morte Darthur. Caxton’s print edition of 1485 differs from the Winchester Manuscript in labeling of sections, abridgments, and other changes. I cite book and tale names from Vinaver’s edition and give Caxton’s book and chapter numbers in parentheses. These citations are Vinaver’s and Caxton’s editorial matter. The appended page number cites Vinaver (1973).

Cooper (1998) is a slightly abridged edition of the Winchester Manuscript text, with modernized spelling and punctuation. My modernization is meant to be more accessible to non-native or non-fluent readers of English. Sommer (1889) is a freely available reprint of Caxton’s 1485 edition. Pollard (1903) provides Caxton’s edition with modernized spelling.

Thomas Malory apparently composed Le Morte Darthur in Newgate Prison, London, between March 1469 and March 1470. See British Library description for Add MS 59678. Malory drew upon, among other works, the romances of Chrétien de Troyes, the Old French Arthurian Vulgate Cycle, the legend of Tristan and Isolde, and the Alliterative Morte Arthure. Lancelot above refers to Malory’s Sir Lancelot du Lake {Launcelot du Lake}. Spelling variants are common, even within Le Morte Darthur, e.g. Elayne of Corbyn for Elaine of Corbenic.

[2] Morte Darthur, The Tale of King Arthur, “Torre and Pellinor” (3.14) p. 74. In Le Morte Darthur, the gendered pattern of concern even extends to non-human animals. While Gawain killed the male deer, Torre caught the female hound and brought it back to the Round Table.

[3] Morte Darthur, The Tale of King Arthur, “Torre and Pellinor” (3.14) p. 75. The words in brackets come from Caxton’s edition. Caxton omitted “and never rape them {and never to enforce them}.” Most men, like most non-human primates, won’t rape women. Moreover, a man raping a woman was already a well-established felony under English common law. Kelly (2004) p. 56.

Malory added the Pentecostal Oath to Arthurian literature. He explicitly introduced the Pentecostal Oath in the context of the exempla of Gawain, Torre, and Pellinore’s quests:

Thus when the quest was done of the white hart which Sir Gawain followed, and the quest of the brachet which Sir Torre, King Pellinore’s son, followed, and the quest for the lady that the knight took away, which King Pellinore at that time followed … }

{ Thus whan the queste was done of the whyght herte the whych folowed sir Gawayne, and the queste of the brachet whych folowed sir Torre, kynge Pellynors son, and the queste of the lady that the knyghte toke away, whych at that tyme folowed kynge Pellynor … }

Then comes the Pentecostal Oath. Cooper (1998) omits the exempla of Torre and Pellinore. Kelly argued that the Pentecostal Oath existed not “for disinterested promotion of chivalric virtue” but as “an instrument of rule.” Kelly (2004). That distinction matters little with respect to knights’ service to women. Under gynocentrism, men rulers must ensure men’s service to women.

Men’s service to women is built into the very premise of Arthurian romance. It is a genre that by its definition must create a compelling need for men to serve women through violence against men.

[4] Morte Darthur, Tristram de Lyones, “Launcelot and Elaine” (11.1) p. 478. The subsequent five quotes above are similarly from (11.2-3) pp. 480-1. Elaine of Corbenic is named Amite / Helizabel in the Vulgate Cycle. As the daughter of Pelles, the Grail King, Princess Elaine of Corbenic was the Grail Bearer.

Elaine of Corbenic, the Grail Bearer who raped Lancelot in Morte Darthur

[5] Morte Darthur, Tristram de Lyones, “Launcelot and Elaine” (11.8) p. 487. As he wandered insane with grief after being raped twice, Lancelot, blaming himself, took up the name “The Knight Who Has Done Evil {Le Chevaler Malfait}.”

[6] Morte Darthur, Tristram de Lyones, “Launcelot and Elaine” (12.4) p. 500-1. Saunders observed:

Whereas the issue of sexual violence against women is treated in detail and gains a symbolic resonance in various discourses, legal, theological, and literary, for men there was no legal counterpart to the process of appeal of rape open to women, and indeed literature rarely engages with the issue of sexual violence against men.

Saunders (2001) p. 20. Sexual violence against men occurs more frequently in medieval literature than sexual violence against women. But sexual violence againsts men is normalized like violence against men in general. In the context of uncritical teaching of the positive consent model, Grubbs (2018) analyzes Elayne of Corbyn (Elaine of Corbenic) raping Launcelot (Lancelot) without recognizing the broader context of violence against men.

[7] Morgan le Fay used her knowledge and power to attempt to coerce sexually Lancelot:

You must understand that you are our prisoner, and we know well that you are Sir Lancelot du Lake, King Ban’s son. Because we understand your worthiness and that you are the noblest knight living, and also we know well that no lady can have your love but one, and that is Queen Guenivere, now you shall lose her love forever, and she yours. It behooves you now to choose one of us four. I am Queen Morgan le Fay, queen of the land of Gore. Here also are the queen of Northgales, the queen of Eastland, and the queen of the Out Isles. Now choose one of us that you would have as your lover, or else you will die in this prison.

{ thou muste undirstonde thou art cure presonere, and we know the well that thou art sir Launcelot u Lake, kynge Bams sonne. And because that we undirstonde youre worthynesse that thou art the noblest knyght lyvyng, and also we know well there can no lady have thy love but one, and that is quene Gwenyvere, and now thou shalt hir love lose for ever, and she thyne. For hit behovyth the now to chose one of us four, for I am quene Morgan le Fay, quene of the londe of Gore, and here is the quene of North Galys, and the quene of Estlonde, and the quene of the Oute lies. Now chose one of us, whyche that thou wolte have to thy peramour, other ellys to dye in this preson. }

Morte Darthur, Sir Launcelot du Lake (6.3) p. 152. Given the vastly gender-disproportionate incarceration of men, rape of prisoners gender-disproportionately victimizes men.

Lancelot also suffered unintentional sexual assault. Without invitation, Lancelot took a bed in a pavilion. The pavilion owner, Sir Belleus, was expecting his sweetheart to be in that bed. Belleus lay down in that bed and mistakenly started kissing and fondling Lancelot. Lancelot drew his sword and severely wounded Belleus. When Belleus explained his mistake, Lancelot relented from killing him. Morte Darthur, Sir Launcelot du Lake (6.5) p. 153. This isn’t just a comic prelude to Lancelot’s unhappy life. It underscores stark gender differences in punishment for sexual wrongs. Cf. Jesmok (2004) pp. 29-32. For more fashionable concern, Kaufman (2010).

[8] After Caxton printed Malory’s Le Morte Darthur in 1485, Caxton’s successor Wynkyn de Worde produced illustrated editions in 1498 and 1529. Three more editions were printed before the English Civil War started in 1642. In a web section on “Discovering Literature: Medieval Works,” the British Library declares of Le Morte Darthur:

It was probably always a popular work: it was first printed by William Caxton (who appears to have printed works which might prove to be a commercial success) and has been read by generations of readers ever since. In a literary sense, Malory’s text is the most important of all the treatments of Arthurian legend, influencing writers as diverse as Edmund Spenser, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain and John Steinbeck.

[9] Gulley (2018a) illustrates the vicious anti-men gender bigotry that students must now endure in literature classes. Gulley’s introduction features false statistics about the relative incidence of rape of men and women, absurd claims about “rape culture” and the “subjugation of women” in the U.S. today, and an irony-free, dominant-ideology reading of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath tale. Gulley (2018a) pp. 1, 7, 10. In reference to “pervasive social inequalities linked to gender difference,” Gulley lamented:

In our supposedly post-feminist world, people often deny that such inequalities exist, and women, especially young women, may be reluctant to acknowledge the possibility that they may not always be in control.

Gulley (2018b) p. 125. Who would be reluctant to admit that she cannot “always be in control” of her life and her world? Is the point that women should always fear being raped? Should women also always fear being run over by a vehicle? One article in Gulley’s volume features a title that could be a parody of a professor spewing contempt for her own students: “Teaching Rape to the He-Man Woman Haters Club: Chrétien de Troyes at a Military School.” Baragona (2018). Baragona is Professor Emeritus at Virginia Military Institute. It’s hard to imagine any student willingly enduring the narrow-minded, sanctimonious, and disheartening indoctrination pervasive in Gulley (2018a). That edited volume exsits in a series with the following goal:

Teaching the Middle Ages aims to reflect the best and most innovative in medieval pedagogies, providing resources for instructors, students, and administrators wishing to understand the current and future place of medieval studies in the modern academy.

Id. Front Matter. Apparently medieval studies, and perhaps also the modern academy, are doomed to be bit players in the public propaganda apparatus. Students might as well attend a recent exhibition at the British Museum.

[images] (1) Elaine of Corbenic raping Lancelot. Illumination from instance of The death of the King Arthur / The romance of Lancelot of the Lake {La mort le roi Artus / Roman de Lancelot du Lac}, made between 1401 to 1425. From folio 33 of Bibliothèque nationale de France. Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. MS 3480. (2) Lancelot, naked and mad with grief after Elaine raped him. Woodcut on p. 430 of Worde (1498). Wynkyn de Worde and his woodcutter “raised a surprising expectation of female agency,” one that “moves counter to contemporary and modern views of woman’s role in the late Middle Ages.” Hanks (2020) pp. 67, 54. Hanks doesn’t discuss Elaine raping Lancelot. (3) Massive violence against men (battle scene) in Le Morte Darthur. Woodcut on p. 603 of Worde (1498). Hanks (2020) doesn’t discuss woodcuts depicting violence against men. (4) Elaine of Corbenic, the Holy Grail Bearer who raped Lancelot. Illustration by Arthur Rackham between pp. 280-1 in Pollard (1917).


Baragona, Alan. 2018. “Teaching Rape to the He-Man Woman Haters Club: Chrétien de Troyes at a Military School.” Ch. 14 (pp. 183-198) in Gulley (2018a).

Cooper, Helen, ed. 1998. Thomas Malory. Le Morte Darthur: the Winchester manuscript. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gulley, Alison, ed. 2018a. Teaching Rape in the Medieval Literature Classroom: Approaches to Difficult Texts. Leeds, UK: ARC Humanities Press.

Gulley, Alison. 2018b. ‘“How do we know he really raped her?”: Using the BBC Canterbury Tales to Confront Student Skepticism towards the Wife of Bath.” Ch. 8 (pp. 113-127) in Gulley (2018a).

Grubbs, David. 2018. “The Knight Coerced: Two Cases of Raped Men in Chivalric Romance.” Ch. 12 (pp. 164-182) in Gulley (2018a).

Hanks, D. Thomas. 2020. “Women in Wood in Wynkyn de Worde’s 1498 Morte Darthur.” Arthuriana. 30 (1): 54–72.

Jesmok, Janet. 2004. “Comedic Preludes to Lancelot’s ‘Unhappy’ Life in Malory’s Le Morte Darthur.” Arthuriana. 14 (4): 26-44.

Kaufman, Amy S. 2010. “Guenevere Burning.” Arthuriana. 20 (1); 76–94.

Kelly, Robert L. 2004. “Royal Policy and Malory’s Round Table.” Arthuriana. 14 (1): 43-71.

Pollard, Alfred W., ed. 1903. Le morte darthur: Sir Thomas Malory’s book of King Arthur and of his noble knights of the Round Table. Caxton’s 1485 edition with modernized spelling. London: Macmillan.

Pollard, Alfred W., ed. 1917. The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table – Abridged from Malory’s Morte D’arthur. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. London: Macmillan.

Saunders, Corinne J. 2001. Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. Review by Albrecht Classen.

Sommer, Heinrich Oskar, ed. 1889. Thomas Malory. Le Morte Darthur. Caxton 1485 edition. London: Nutt.

Vinaver, Eugène, ed. 1973. Thomas Malory. The Works. 2nd ed (1st ed., 1947). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Worde, Wynkyn de. 1498. Thomas Malory. Thus endyth this noble & ioyous boke entytled Le morte Dathur. Westminster. Preserved in John Rylands Research Institue and Library, University of Manchester.

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