To me, methought, who waited with a crowd,
There came a bark that, blowing forward, bore
King Arthur, like a modern gentleman
Of stateliest port; and all the people cried,
"Arthur is come again: he cannot die."

"Morte d'Arthur" (1842)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Session Details Does the Matter of Britain (Still) Matter? (Roundtable)

Here are the full details on the Does the Matter of Britain (Still) Matter? (Roundtable) session later this week at NeMLA:

Northeast Modern Language Association 51st Annual Convention, 5-8 March 2020
Marriott Copley Place, Boston, Massachusetts

Saturday, Mar 7, Track 17, 03:15-04:30        
Location: HARVARD (Media Equipped)
17.19 Does the Matter of Britain (Still) Matter? (Roundtable)
Sponsored by the Alliance for the Promotion of Research on the Matter of Britain
Organized by Michael A. Torregrossa, Independent Scholar

Chair: Christopher Berard, Providence College
Cultural Studies and Media Studies & British

"The Figure of King Arthur in the 21st Century" Christopher Berard, Providence College

Samuel Johnson, in his Lives of the Poets (1779–81) bemoans “the common fate of mythological stories”. Johnson writes:

We have been too early acquainted with the poetical heroes, to expect any pleasure from their revival; to show them as they have already been shown, is to disgust by repetition; to give them new qualities, or new adventures, is to offend by violating received notions.

Johnson’s remarks regarding the limited adaptability of mythological figures were once applicable to the figure of King Arthur and the Matter of Britain, but not anymore. There has not been a prominent feature film or television adaptation of the “canonical” legend of Arthur (i.e. based off of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae (1137) or Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur (1470) since Jerry Zucker's First Knight (1995). The “canonical” Arthur is fading out of popular consciousness.  A new Arthurian film faithful to the narratives of Geoffrey of Monmouth or Sir Thomas Malory would not “disgust by repetition”. Why have we not seen one?  My presentation will point to some political, social, ethnic, ethical and religious dimensions of the “canonical” figure that are out of step with today's mainstream popular culture. I will tentatively suggest that King Arthur, if recollected at all, has come to be understood as emblematic of the patriarchy, classism, and Western imperialism.

Dr. Christopher Michael Berard completed his Ph.D. in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto's Centre for Medieval Studies. He researches the use of literature as a model for imitation and emulation by historical figures, past and present. More specifically, Dr. Berard analyzes how post-Conquest kings of England have emulated and otherwise used the legendary King Arthur of Britain for political gain, and how this activity has in turn impacted depictions of Arthur in literature. He is the author of a monograph on this topic, Arthurianism in Early Plantagenet England: From Henry II to Edward I, and it is the latest volume in the Arthurian Studies book series published by Boydell Press.

"Is There a Place for the Matter of Britain in Contemporary Arthurian Narrative?" Rachael Warmington, Seton Hall University

Arthurian Legend has persisted and appealed to many cultures because the mythic patterns, motifs and supernatural elements within the narrative are relatable and, more importantly, malleable. Consequently, this has made it possible for each culture and generation to add, remove and alter aspects of the canon to produce oral and written literature as well as film and television adaptations and appropriations that reinforce or reject dominant ideologies, support or critique governing power systems and comment on social anxieties or conflicts that are relevant to each time period and region. Often the Matter of Britain is not focused on in contemporary adaptations and appropriations of Arthurian Legend.. To explore why the Matter of Britain is often obscured or absent in adaptations and appropriations of Arthurian Legend, I consider the importance of adaptation in terms of a diachronic reading, examining the lineage of Arthurian variants both regionally and chronologically because there are several regional and generational deviations that influence contemporary adaptations and appropriations of the Arthurian Legend. These regional and generational patterns dictate the additions to and exclusions in the numerous variants of Arthurian legend in contemporary literature, film and television.

Rachael Warmington is a full-time instructor at Seton Hall University. She earned her B.A. in English from Montclair State University, M.A. in English from Seton Hall University, her MFA at CUNY City College and she is a doctoral candidate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Rachael is also the editor-in-chief of the open access academic journal, Wachung Review.  She is currently writing her dissertation which focuses on themes of Arthurian Legend in medieval texts and in contemporary literature, film and television adaptations and appropriations and how these themes create the space that challenges oppression in its various forms, but have also been used to perpetuate racism, sexism and religious intolerance.

[WITHDRAWN] "Death Redeems Us Not from Tongues: Thomas Hughes and the 16th-century Crisis of Arthurian History" Liam Thomas Daley, University of Maryland College Park

"From Round Table Tournaments to Renaissance Festivals: Arthuriana and the Hyperreal" Theresa FitzPatrick, Concordia University Saint Paul

Beginning in the thirteenth century, less than fifty years after the first mention of a “round table” in Wace’s Brut, Round Table Tournaments became popular pastimes for wealthy European aristocrats. Here, according to Norris J. Lacy and Geoffrey Ashe, “Arthurian devotees dressed in the appropriate costume to join in feasts, jousts, and dancing in imitation of the King and his knights. In some cases, the participants assumed the names and arms of Arthur’s knights, and more elaborate Round Tables might even include a real castle built for the occasion.” The Winchester Round Table was believed to be commissioned for just such a tournament, possibly during the reign of Edward III, himself an Arthurian enthusiast. In 1522, in a powerful example of sign and simulation, Henry VIII had it repainted with a Tudor rose in its center and his own likeness where Arthur’s should be. Even actual kings had to, in one way or another, measure up to the idea of Arthur, and the implication of assuming his place on the table was clear to anyone who saw it. The story, the image leads the un-real to define the real.

We often base our beliefs not on history, but on story: the Arthurian ideal becomes an otherworldly mirror for us to hold up our lives to and take stock—and it has always been so. Leaders are corrupt and greedy, but Arthur was a fair and honest king under whose rule the land and people flourished. War, poverty, and intolerance run rampant, but Arthur gave every knight an equal voice in decision-making and every citizen a champion to fight for them. Evil was easy to detect, and the valiant and brave were rewarded with favor. The fact that this was never the case—that Arthur’s realm is just as fictional as Narnia or Middle Earth—doesn’t stop us from using it as a template for societal success. Or, just as meaningfully, as an inspiration for cosplay. 

Dr. Theresa FitzPatrick is an Assistant Professor of English at Concordia University, St. Paul where she has taught for the last ten years. Her research interests include Arthurian literature and legend, medieval otherworlds, postmodern theory, and the Baudrillardian hyperreal. More broadly, however, she spends most of her time structuring lessons that will broaden the appeal of literature studies, connecting its importance to students of all backgrounds, not just the academically elite. 

"'And What Everybody Else Needs, Too': Seeking the Grail in The Unwritten" Emily Race, Sewanee: The University of the South

In her exhaustive introduction to The Grail: A Casebook, Arthurian scholar Dhira B. Mahoney describes the Holy Grail as “a standard symbol in the English language for an object of search far-off, mysterious, out of reach” (1). This symbolic property has eclipsed both the object itself as well as the specific narratives that built the mythos. As an archetype, the Holy Grail implicitly includes the ideas of seeking, worthiness, and near-impossible tasks. In the comic book The Unwritten, written by Mike Carey and drawn by Peter Gross from 2009-2015, the plot’s endgame heavily references the Grail stories precisely because of the symbolic narrative inseparable from it. Protagonist Tom clambers directly into Arthurian literature to find what he needs, since the Grail Quest narrative provides him a story pattern he can use: a quest for a powerful object, difficult to obtain, that will fulfill the questers’ needs if all prerequisites are met. Through The Unwritten, Carey and Gross show the continued relevance and fascination with Arthurian motifs, as Tom becomes both Fisher King and Perceval, both Lancelot and Galahad. This paper will explore why the Grail becomes the crucial symbol in this rich text, based on its significance in cultural imagination. 

Since receiving her BA in Secondary Language Arts Education in 2007 from Anderson University, Emily Race has taught high school English classes in Indiana. In efforts to keep her scholarly skills sharp, she has presented papers as an independent scholar at conferences such as Catwoman to Katniss: Villainesses and Heroines of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Midwest Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association Conference. In 2016, Emily started an MA program in American and British Literature at University of the South (known colloquially as Sewanee). Having finished her courses over subsequent summers, she is now preparing to write her thesis on a Reader Response analysis of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s The Unwritten, examining the agency of the reader and story logic in a world where narrative has very real power, and characters have very little.

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