Sophus Bugge Annual Lecture: Misadventure and Mischance at King Arthur`s Court: Guinevere`s Trial in La mort le Roi Artu
Speech by Stephen D. White, Emory University
The lecture provide a legal historical interpretation of an early 13th-century French prose-romance in order to show how so-called fantastic literature can sometimes be read as raising profound questions about law and politics.
Professor Emeritus Stephen D. White. Photo: Camilla K. Elmar, CAS Oslo
In La mort le Roi Artu (c.1230), Queen Guinevere is accused of treacherously poisoning Gaheris, a knight of King Arthur’s, but is later acquitted when Lancelot proves by battle against Gaheris’s brother Mador that the queen had no treason in mind. Because the story shows that Guinevere caused Gaheris to die by giving him a poisoned fruit to eat, but did so without knowing that it was poisoned, the killing resembles other “misadventures” and “mischances” that befall many characters in this prose-romance when one of them harms or kills another without intending to do so. By analyzing Guinevere’s trial for killing by treason in relation to other cases of “misadventure” and “mischance,” I show how La mort le Roi Artu—like other Arthurian romances—makes artful use of odd coincidences, accidents, disguises, honest and dishonest misunderstandings, ridiculous conspiracies and other plot-devices to raise serious questions about legal and moral responsibility, intention, treason, loyalty, and sin in kingdoms of the High Middle Ages.
About the lecturer
Stephen D. White is Candler Professor of Medieval History (emeritus) at Emory University. He was part of an anthropological turn within medieval studies, and wrote important articles from the late 1970s onwards discussing the social, political and legal order in “feudal” France. Here he argued against the widespread opinion that this was a “feudal anarchy”, instead highlighting alternative ways of creating and maintaining social order without a state. Since the 1990s, Professor White has written extensively on emotions, holding that Norbert Elias’ view on the “civilizing” of emotions needs to be drastically revised. Increasingly, White has turned to inter-disciplinary methods in his research, exploring so-called “unhistorical” literature and works of art (including the Bayeux Tapestry) for their implicit discussions on contemporary issues. Some of Stephen White’s most important contributions are collected in Feuding and Peace-Making in Eleventh-Century France (2005) and Re-Thinking Kinship and Feudalism in Early Medieval Europe (2006, both in Ashgate Variorum series).
About Sophus Bugges Annual Lecture
Sophus Bugge is a foundational figure for the study of Scandinavian, and most prominently Old Norse culture and language. The Sophus Bugge Annual Lecture series aims at presenting international and excellent research in the multidisciplinary study of the Scandinavian Middle Ages in the tradition of Sophus Bugge.
Young medievalists awarded with grants from Kaja & Torfinn Tobiassens fund for medieval studies will be presented in conncection with the lecture.