Middle English Word of the Moment

Friday, April 24, 2009

Malory and games of musical horses

So, it's Arthur's first big battle. On the home team, we have kings Arthur, Ban and Bors, and all their knights. On the away team, eleven kings (technically some of them are dukes, but who's counting), foremost among them Arthur's half-brothers-in-law Lot of Orkney, Nentres of Garlot and Uriens of Gore (married to Morgause, Elaine and Morgan respectively). And it is all very grand and heroic and written on a large scale - 60000 men fighting, 15000 left alive by the end of the day, according to Merlin (and he would know, for in addition to being factotum, military strategist, conduit for God's word and general ideas man, he is really good at counting things). In all this vast field of carnage, the knights seem primarily concerned with swapping their horses around, and the kings seem to prioritise personal combat with all the other kings and famous knights over, say, leading their own forces or seeing to the right flank. Really. The kings can all see each other all the time and reach each other's sides in short order, and we have two full pages of horse-swapping:
Whan sir Kay saw sir Gryfflet on foote, he rode unto kynge Nentres and smote hym downe, and ledde his horse unto sire Gryfflette and horsed hym agayne. Also sir Kay with the same spere smote downe kynge Lotte and hurte hym passyinge sore. That saw the Kynge with the Hondred Knyghtes and ran unto sir Kay and smote hym downe, and toke hys horse and gaff hym kynge Lotte, whereof he seyde gramercy. Whan sir Gryfflet saw sir Kay and sir Lucas de Butler on foote, he with a sherpe spere grete and square rode to Pynnel, a good man of armys, and smote horse and man downe, and than he toke hys horse and gaff hym unto sir Kay. Than kyng Lotte saw kynge Nentres on foote... (Malory[1], 19.1-11)
Is it just me, or have the real generals shooed all the big names with fancy outfits off into their very own exclusive field to engage in their all-important little games of chivalric exchange out of the way of the real business, where they won't accidentally get stuck on some unnamed soldier's pike or get any ideas about giving orders to the men who are actually fighting this war?

Well, but of course, this is a tournament-style battle, not intended for realism, but for entertainment. If tournaments were intended to mimic war in game, here we have a war mimicking a tournament, following the conventions of chivalric combat in the ring and in literature. And it also has layers of 'game' - certainly for the audience, for whom it is constructed, devised, laid out, as carefully as ever Theseus could arrange; maybe even for the participants as well, panoplied and tricked out, busy with the detailed rules of musical horses and intricate social obligation. Kings Ban and Bors come to join Arthur in his war ostensibly for political advantage, but also for their own glory, recalling the actions of young knights such as Piers Gaveston and his little gang when they abandoned Edward I's drawn-out, fruitless campaign in Scotland to skip across the channel to France and enter in a few more interesting tournaments over there.

So, since it is essential in any game to keep a proper score, without more ado, have the Musical Horses Scoretable!

Royal purple denotes those properly of the Pendragon party, while those treacherous, ungrateful, sinister ingrates are, naturally, in green.

Conquering hero

Suddenly horseless failure

Suddenly rehorsed knight

Sir Brastias

Duke Estance of Canbenet

Sir Ulphuns

Sir Kay

King Nentres

Sir Gryfflet

Sir Kay

King Lot

-

The King with the Hundred Knights

Sir Kay

King Lot

Sir Gryfflet

Sir Pinnel

Sir Kay

King Lot

Sir Meliot de la Roche

King Nentres

The King with the Hundred Knights

Sir Gwyniarte de Bloy

King Idres

King Lot

Sir Clarinaus de la Foreyste Saveage

Duke Estance of Canbenet

King Arthur

King Cradilment of North Wales

Sir Ulphuns

The King with the Hundred Knights

Sir Ector

King Cradilment

King Arthur

King Cradilment of North Wales

None, because Arthur killed the horse too, which probably didn’t please his foster-father overmuch, even if it was done with the best of intentions.

Sir Kay

King Morganor

Sir Ector

Sir Ector

Sir Lardance

Sir Brastias

Sir Gryfflet

Unnamed knight.

Sir Lucas

Sir Lucas

King Anguischance

-

Sir Lucas

Two unnamed squires.

Sir Bloyas de la Flaundres and Sir Gwynas



Interestingly, the three unnamed victims in this list are also the only three to explicitly be killed in the process. Clearly, they shouldn't have just rashly wandered into that special field with all the big guns.

3 comments:

Lady D. said...

Honestly, I go away for a few days and you write loads of posts for me to come back to lol!!!

Great post - I could just see you working out that table. By the way - 'musical horses' - that could catch on!

On a wayward point - Blogger has brought up a great word in the word verification box for this: 'factiful'. I think I shall have to try and use that somewhere!

Ceirseach said...

That is a good word!

I stopped being productive this week, if that helps? I blame dogs.

highlyeccentric said...

*giggles uncontrollably* I want to play!