Daily Archives: February 7, 2018

Le Morte Darthur: The Masculine & Feminine State Dynamic

“Ryght so there cam a damesell into the halle and salewed the kyng and prayde hym of succoure.”

Sir Gareth of Orkney, 226:12

The damesell’s interaction with Arthur at court reveals a political complexity concerning the obligations between men and women in the context of the medieval romance genre. Here, women possess considerable power and influence and are just as capable as the men to perform in the state political sphere. This male / female relationship dynamic illustrates the intricacy of the roles both men and women can play in the political realm and reveals the considerable power women actually possess in spite of the majority of Malory’s word count being devoted to masculine action and influence.

The damesell, unable to take care of the Rede Knyght of the Rede Laundys by herself, addresses Kynge Arthur in person at his court in hopes this masculine governing body will provide her with necessary service, “[my sustir] is beseged with a tirraunte,” (226:16) and that the damesell has “come to you for succoure” (226:18). The damesell understands that the purpose of Arthur’s administration is an effort to bring order to all England, which she is showing respect to by coming directly to Arthur as well as deferring to his rule. However, in not revealing the full facts of the case, the name and location of her “sustir”, she is refused. Though Arthur and his (male) knights have sworn and are obligated to protect ladies from harm (the Pentecostal Oath), especially against a “tirraunte” (226:16) who is doing such harm, Arthur can refuse this obligation since the damesell is also refusing information for him. The damesell, understanding that Arthur cannot just send out his military without having full reliable information, shows political tact, “than muste I seke forther” (226:35) when Arthur denies her request.

While she does ultimately obtain a champion, Sir Gareth, “graunte me to have this adventure of this damesell,” (227:7) since his true royal lineage is kept from her she does not see the worth that this “kychyn knave” could honorably provide for her, and in fact grows angry, “she wexed angry” (227:17) and insults Arthur himself in front of the whole assembled court, “Fy on the” (227:16). The damesell requires the full and honorable force of the masculine state institution to uphold its obligations to protect the people, especially in this case since it’s a lady in need of assistance, and so she feels justified in behaving openly hostile towards the king since she believes these obligations are not only not being met, she also believes her honor and need of assistance is being mocked by being assigned this “kychyn knave” as if it were some sort of bastardized consolation prize. For his part, Arthur shows political tact and restraint by not punishing the damesell for insubordination or disrespect since she is, after all, one of the lady’s he has sworn to protect, a fact the damesell is well aware of and knows will protect her in this verbal sparring match.

Yet Arthur does have an option that allows him to uphold his protection obligations without necessarily being directly implicated in the damsell’s affair should the adventure turn out bad for the him and the state. By allowing Gareth to be knighted not by the head of the state, Arthur, but by his lieutenant, Lancelot “than Sir Launcelot gaff hym the order of knyghthode” (229:16), Arthur can still save face and not neglect his obligations. In turn, the damesell, though begrudgingly, does her part in shaping the character of this fresh knight by constantly testing him, either through verbal abuse, “thou stynkyst all of the kychyn,” (229:28) or by upholding the chivilaristic rule of mercy as a teaching moment (as far as she believes it to be) for Gareth, “sle hym nat, for and thou do thou shalt repente hit” (236:9).

Thus both parties, male and female, show political shrewdness and take full advantage of the complicated opportunities which have been given to each of them. For the damesell’s sake, at worst Gareth would be killed by one of the numerous knights they will encounter during the adventure and so she will be free to just “seke forther,” and in Arthur’s case he has an opportunity to remove yet another “tirraunte” from his kingdom. In their own ways, both Arthur and the damesell possess great influence in the shaping of society and in upholding chivalry.

page 222 of 960 of Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte Darthur: The Definitive Original Text Edition

222:

Launcelot is renowned the world over.

Beowulf was also eager to gain fame, and was also generous to his kinsmen (the old myth hero). Also like Heracles in that he’s divine and undertook labors / adventures. All this is civilization building and Launcelot’s role in the greater myth cycle is that he’s bringing justice to Arthur’s court and the realm. He’s the strong arm of the law.

Rhetorical Analysis of Eve L. Ewing’s “Why Authoritarians Attack the Arts”

“Why Authoritarians Attack the Arts” is an opinion editorial written by the University of Chicago sociologist, Eve L. Ewing and was published in the New York Times on April 6, 2017. Ewing argues the Trump administration’s efforts to defund the arts, specifically in regards to the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, could be interpreted as one of the methods an authoritarian regime employs to moderate any dissent and criticism levied at it. Ewing claims that “artists play a distinctive role in challenging authoritarianism” and is attempting to educate her readers that if American art is allowed to only “serve the instruments of power,” American society may lose the benefit and freedom to criticize those in power.

Ewing says “we should be very afraid” there is a political war on the arts and it is in her declarative of “we should” that reveals who she is attempting to reach. With an affluent readership of 14.5 million subscriptions earning a mean of roughly $75,000 annually (“New York Times Audience,”) Ewing has carefully chosen (and been chosen by) her forum by speaking directly to this majority demographic of the New York Times. In a 2014 Pew Research poll, 65% of New York Times readers identified as politically left of center (“Where News Audiences Fit,”) a liberal audience assumed to be friendly to the arts and who identify with the belief that “lives other than [their] own have value.” Ewing is also counting on the New York Times’ 56.9% post-graduate college educated audience, (“New York Times Audience,”) to understand the implications stemming from some of the 20th century’s most notorious authoritarians who likewise viewed the arts and artists as a threat to their power, such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet who “tortured and exiled” mulraists, and Joseph Stalin who “executed all of the Soviet Union’s Ukrainian folk poets” (Ewing).

Ewing compares President Trump’s “public castigation of the “Hamilton” cast” in retaliation for their “fairly tame commentary” against the Vice President to Brazil’s authoritarian government blocking of a museum director’s exhibition because it contained a photograph “seen as embarrassing to the police.” Ewing further primes her audience’s concern of impending American authoritarianism by leading off the article with the example of the Nazi’s war against the arts, a war her audience will know began two years before Germany even invaded Poland. She explains how in 1937 a Nazi art exhibition was set up to promote the “ideal Aryan society” and to denigrate art and artists the Third Reich believed “could play a key role in the rise or fall of their dictatorship.” Ewing is banking on her audience’s education, socio-economic standing, beliefs, and political leanings to be in a position to understand how co-opting the arts can solidify the power structures of an authoritarian regime.

Thus, kairos is vital to Ewing’s argument as this opinion editorial was published fewer than 3 months after Trump was inaugurated. She is taking full advantage of the exigence of political turmoil surrounding his presidency to reach an audience who will not be able to resist making the connection between a candidate they did not support during the election with that of the authoritarian terrors of Pinochet, Stalin, and Hitler she describes in the article. She is attempting to educate her intended audience, to draw attention to the possibility that something as seemingly innocuous as defunding the National Endowment for the Arts or publicly feuding with the outspoken actors in a Broadway play could, in fact, be the “canary in the coal mine” (Ewing) of a larger, more ominous threat to contemporary American culture where political dissent and criticism should be practised without reprisal. Ewing’s credentials as a university sociologist may influence anyone still on the fence as to if there truly is a legitimate cause for concern over Trump’s actions. An astute audience will understand that if this topic already has the attention of a major news outlet as well as other university educated professionals, like themselves, then perhaps there is more to the argument than mere speculation.

Ewing’s goal is to utilize a major American forum to excite an already receptive audience into seeing the possibility that allowing authoritarians to “attack the arts” is actually a symptom of a regime unwilling to be criticized and that is attempting to “[create] a society where propaganda reigns and dissent is silenced” (Ewing). She also understands that many in her audience may also be some of the very same / sympathetic to those “who occupy marginalized social positions” (Ewing) and could be directly affected if their freedom to criticize was usurped by an authoritarian regime. Ewing tells her audience that there is still “a chance to see daylight again,” but her choice of the word “chance” assumes her audience will also intuit that there is an even greater probability they might not “see daylight again” should her argument not be taken seriously.

 

Works Cited

Ewing, Eve L., “Why Authoritarians Attack the Arts.” The New York Times, 6 Apr. 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/06/opinion/why-authoritarians-attack-the-arts.html. Accessed Feb 2018.

“New York Times Audience.” The New York Times, Aug 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/marketing/selfservice/audience.html. Accessed Feb 2018.

“Where News Audiences Fit on the Political Spectrum.” Pew Research Center, 21 Oct, 2014. http://www.journalism.org/interactives/media-polarization/outlet/new-york-times/. Accessed Feb 2018.