AN ABSTRACT OF THE THESIS OF Kaely Horton for the degree of Master of Arts in English presented on April 29, 2014 Title: “Land of War And Blood”: Spectacular Violence, Conflicting Medievalisms, and Chivalric Legacies in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones
Abstract approved: ______________________________________________________ Evan M. Gottlieb
This thesis examines depictions of medievalism in three central texts: Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Each of these texts provides an entry point for exploring the ways in which English and American writers have struggled to reconcile themselves with a medieval history that both defines and eludes them. Although Ivanhoe has traditionally been viewed as a classic example of romanticized medievalism, Chapter One highlights its ambivalence toward the medieval England it represents. Chapter Two explores the equally fraught relationship between Connecticut Yankee’s Hank Morgan (and, by extension, Mark Twain himself) and the medieval world he finds himself in. Finally, Chapter Three suggests that A Game of Thrones both exists within a long tradition of glorified medieval landscapes and also subverts that tradition by dismantling the concept of a chivalric code. Collectively, these texts suggest both the endurance of medievalism and the complex relationship contemporary audiences have with medieval pasts.
©Copyright by Kaely Horton April 29, 2014 All Rights Reserved
“Land of War And Blood”: Spectacular Violence, Conflicting Medievalisms, and Chivalric Legacies in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones
by Kaely Horton
Oregon State University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Presented April 29, 2014 Commencement June 2014
Master of Arts thesis of Kaely Horton presented on April 29, 2014
Major Professor, representing English
Director of the School of Writing, Literature, and Film
Dean of the Graduate School
I understand that my thesis will become part of the permanent collection of Oregon State University libraries. My signature below authorizes release of my thesis to any reader upon request.
Kaely Horton, Author
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS A big thank-you must go to Evan Gottlieb, my major adviser, whose constant feedback and encouragement made me feel supported every step of the way. Thank you also to other members of my committee, Tara Williams and Peter Betjemann, for much-needed counsel regarding pivotal elements of the project, and to Jonathan Katz for graciously agreeing to serve as my Graduate Council Representative. Finally, thank you to Lisa Ede for support and advice in the early stages of this project, and for playing a substantial part in making my grad school experience wonderful. Renate Boronowsky, a lifelong friend, for countless phone conversations, pep talks, and shared laughs. Thank you for believing in me even when I didn’t. Amelia England, my roommate, friend, and fellow MA, for late-night kitchen conversations and library days, and also just for being an all-around awesome person. Clare Braun, Nazifa Islam, Matt Dodson, and Adrian and Britta Stumpp, for your warm friendship and support over the last two years. It has meant more than you will ever know. (Special thanks to Nazifa for the paper punch thing.) To my entire cohort, MA and MFA, in the SWLF: You have been such a joy to work, play, live, teach, and write with. I feel lucky to be one of you. Adam Michaud, for so many things: Bringing me brownies in the library, refusing to hang out with me when I was supposed to be working, believing in me, reminding me that there is a life outside of grad school and it is a good one. My parents, Creight and Jo Horton, and my aunt Barb, for your unwavering love and support. I love you guys and couldn’t have done this without you. And finally, my sister, Eyrie Horton. You know why. And if you don’t, you should.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Page Introduction: The “Patchwork” Middle Ages ..................................................................
Chapter I: Imagining Medievalism: Conflicting Chivalries in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe
Chapter II: Hank Morgan Goes To War: The Shadow of Chivalry in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court ...................................................................
Chapter III: The Empty Suit of Armor: Perspective, Spectatorship, and Disillusionment in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones .....................................................................
Conclusion: Looking Back—and Forward—to Medievalism ..........................................
Works Cited ......................................................................................................................
1 Introduction The “Patchwork” Middle Ages The European Middle Ages: An era of chivalry, tournaments, rigid class and gender divides, brutal violence, lush tapestries, nobility, corruption, and intrigue. When it comes to contemporary audiences, few eras have maintained the staying power and appeal of medieval Europe. From Camelot to Avalon, from Sir Launcelot to Rossetti to Ned Stark, the Middle Ages has remained a prevailing force even within a modern American cultural milieu that ostensibly endorses vastly contrasting social structures, ideologies, and values. Gail Ashton and Daniel Kline describe the well-known tropes of the Middle Ages that remain ubiquitous in both modern popular culture and literary landscape: “knights, shepherds, crones, monsters, alluring women . . . its emblems, the castles, tears, magical objects” (4). The genre of fantasy fiction makes heavy use of these tropes, frequently setting stories in quasi-medieval imagined worlds. The connection between medievalism and fantasy is no accident, perhaps, since even historically situated depictions of medieval landscapes tend to be questionable in their accuracy. Tison Pugh and Angela Weisl write that “the ‘Middle Ages’ emerges as an invention of those who came after it; its entire construction is, essentially, a fantasy” (2). Both in overtly fantastic and theoretically realistic contexts, the Middle Ages serves as a frequent backdrop for our stories. For many authors, the implications surrounding the Middle Ages have proven to be both contradictory and mesmerizing. Umberto Eco suggests that we are “dreaming the Middle Ages” (64). But precisely what we are dreaming and why, he writes, varies widely. Rather than treating the time period—or its depiction—as a continuous whole, Eco lists ten “little” Middle Ages that are frequently presented in modern literature and mass media, suggesting that the
2 Middle Ages can be, among other things, a mythological backdrop, a site of ironical revisitation, a place of barbarism, a center for Romantic nostalgia, or a way to reconstruct or emphasize national identity (68-70). Eco claims that “the Middle Ages have never been reconstructed from scratch: We have always mended or patched them up, as something in which we still live” (6768). The fact that we “still live” in the Middle Ages, that it echoes so strongly in our customs, ideologies, social structures, and above all, our entertainment, makes it imperative that we study, not just the time period itself, but also our endless re-imaginings of it. What is (or are) the Middle Ages? This is a central question to any study that seeks to explore medievalism(s), and one that defies a simple or final answer. In their landmark text Medievalisms: Making the Past in the Present, Tison Pugh and Angela Jane Weisl tackle the thorny questions of how one might define both the medieval time period and the deluge of representations that focus on or attempt to recreate it. Part of the reason these questions are so difficult to resolve, as Pugh and Weisl point out, is embedded in the very nature of the terms we struggle to define. The word “medieval,” as one definition in the Oxford English Dictionary suggests, is directly related to “medium” or “middle”: “of or relating to a period of time intervening between . . . ancient and modern” (5). One might say, then, that the Middle Ages constitutes a liminal space between an ancient world so far behind us we can barely conceive of it and the one we live in now. Yet even this definition seems inadequate. Perhaps it is no accident that “the Middle Ages” is notated in the plural form: It is not a single, unified “age”; rather, the plural implies both incomprehensible time and a multitude of disparate eras. Thus, perhaps we are not talking about a liminal space, but liminal spaces. Due to its status as an elusive placeholder between ancient and modern, the Middle Ages defies clear definition.
3 It is also, perhaps, telling that this time period(s) has frequently been described as the “Dark Ages”—“dark” implying both mysterious, elusive, and unknown, and also brutal, barbaric, bleak, and undesirable. Pugh and Weisl point out that the word “medieval” is also inextricably connected to violence, particularly by a more modern and theoretically more enlightened audience. One definition states that to “get medieval” means “to use violence or extreme measures on, to become aggressive” (5). Interestingly, the OED situates this particular meaning within the late nineteenth-century and twentieth-century United States, suggesting that Americans may be especially keen to link medieval Europe with primitive qualities. Certainly, there is no shortage of possibilities for violent depictions in medievalist texts—executions, duels, mobs, sieges, rape, torture, and combat in battle, to name a few. Ian Haywood describes events like these in the context of what he calls “spectacular violence”—a term which signifies both the extreme (and potentially sublime) nature of these violent events and also their highly public nature (2). In this thesis, I argue that Haywood’s “bloody vignette” of suffering, which he claims is central to the Romantic literary imagination, can also be found in many contemporary manifestations of medievalism (4). A central theoretical question within this project involves the ways in which spectators, both characters and readers, process violence they witness from a perceived physical or psychological distance. In exploring the development of our fascination with medievalism—and the violent depictions it frequently implies—I engage with this question through both textual analysis and cultural speculation, attempting to unpack the various social and historical legacies we have inherited from our competing medievalist pasts. An awareness of literary historicity, or, as Ruth Mack writes, the “historical quality . . . of written texts . . . their functions as historical objects and representations of the past,” is crucial in
4 any study involving texts set in bygone eras (3). This awareness becomes even more pressing when one considers the cultural instability surrounding the Middle Ages. As Pugh and Weisl emphasize, it is frequently difficult to separate historically accurate definitions of the Middle Ages from the contemporary assumptions and associations it evokes—assumptions which frequently have far more to do with modern reimaginings of the Middle Ages than they do with historical reality. Medievalism—the all-encompassing term that refers to the many ways in which we look back at the Middle Ages—has provided us with a multitude of reimaginings upon which to base our beliefs about that time. More than telling us anything factual about the period in question, however, such retroactive fantasies frequently offer insight into the modern social and cultural structures that produce and consume them. Pugh and Weisl write, “In its simplest sense, medievalism refers to the art, literature, scholarship, avocational pastimes, and sundry forms of entertainment and culture that turn to the Middle Ages for their subject matter or inspiration, and in doing so . . . comment on the artist’s contemporary sociocultural milieu” (1). Furthermore, as Eco details, because nostalgia for and retroactive depictions of the Middle Ages essentially began as soon as the time period ended, these portrayals have come to far outnumber depictions created within the time period of itself. To complicate matters, Pugh and Weisl point out that even these depictions are suspect, frequently appearing as “dreams of what medieval people believed their world should be” rather than what it was. Thus, “reimaginings of the Middle Ages are essentially fantasies built upon fantasies,” (3) with little necessary relation to the reality of the time period. The rise of neomedievalism adds a further wrinkle to this tissue of fantasies. Described by Amy Kaufman as “not a dream of the Middle Ages, but a dream of someone else’s
5 medievalism,” neomedievalism embraces the lack of historical accuracy that others lament (Pugh and Weisl 3). Neomedievalism does not seek to recreate a historically correct Middle Ages; instead, it uses the tropes and customs of medieval worlds as generic or satirical settings and props for contemporary stories, offering an “image of the past that is divorced from any chronology, the image of an alternative past divorced from history” (Marshall 23). Neomedievalism accepts the possibilities of re-creation, keeping its focus squarely on the present world, with little regard for the historical reality that inspired its subject matter. This trend is evident in films such as A Knight’s Tale, which features a medieval setting that incorporates modern rock music, ideologies, and slang. In keeping with Eco’s description of the Middle Ages as constantly under renovation by modern writers (67), neomedievalists select the features of medieval history that appeal to them while excluding others, participating in a patchwork process which combines medieval features with modern social and cultural structures. The Middle Ages thus serves as a medium through which contemporary writers can engage in cultural commentary, poking fun at both the present and the past. One of the most prominent ideological and cultural elements of medievalism, chivalry, constitutes another central focus of this project. Yet its perceived meaning, both in medieval history and in our own contemporary cultural milieu, has frequently shifted. In his Essay on Chivalry, Sir Walter Scott writes that “it was peculiar to the institution of chivalry, to blend military valour with the strongest passions which actuate the human mind, the feelings of devotion and those of love” (Essay 4). In addition to demonstrating a common Romantic understanding of this term, Scott’s definition also speaks to the paradoxical nature of chivalry, highlighting the fact that it is simultaneously associated with warfare and love. Chivalry,
6 according to Scott, was a singularly noble endeavor, a way to combat inhumanity, barbarism, and injustice. The key word here, perhaps, is “combat,” since chivalry has always been closely connected to prowess in battle. Initially, the word “chivalry” simply meant “men-at-arms” or “horsemen,” a denotation for which the modern equivalent is “cavalry” (“chivalry, n.”). Gradually, it came to be associated with gallantry, acquiring meanings such as “knighthood,” “warlike distinction or glory” and “a feat of knightly valour.” By the nineteenth century in which Scott was writing, “chivalry” had taken on a far more complicated meaning than its original roots might suggest. The Oxford English Dictionary’s most recent definition— and also the one with which most twenty-first century Americans are probably familiar —reads: “The brave, honourable, and courteous character attributed to the ideal knight; disinterested bravery, honour, and courtesy; chivalrousness” (“chivalry, n.”). As this definition makes clear – and as Scott had already intuited in his Essay – “chivalry” is not only a functional term indicating a certain type of soldier or his physical abilities but also the name for an entire ideological code. This evolving definition of chivalry seems to mirror evolving attitudes toward warfare and those who participate in it. According to chivalry’s more expansive definitions, it is not enough for a knight to be physically skilled; in order for him to be chivalrous, he must also exhibit certain character and moral traits. He must be well-mannered, courageous, honorable, devoted to king and country, and committed to defending those who are unable to defend themselves. Furthermore, the chivalric commitment to protecting the weak, innocent, and pure of heart frequently manifested itself as “devotion to the female sex” (Scott, Essay 10). One might imagine that in a European medieval landscape characterized by oppression and persecution of women, knightly dedication to the welfare of females—even as it often still
7 viewed those females in terms of rank and property —was both conspicuous and necessary. When twenty-first century Americans refer to chivalry, they frequently allude to its implications regarding gender roles; the phrase “Chivalry is not dead!” is often applied to situations when men open doors for women, offer them seats, or perform other gender-normed acts of gallantry associated with knighthood. Thus, both in depictions of medieval worlds (such as Scott’s own medieval romances, or, more recently, the neomedieval milieu of pop culture) and in modern social and cultural norms, the echo of chivalry remains. But chivalry, like many other artifacts of real and imagined medieval worlds, has acquired so many meanings that its roles in modern America(s) are difficult to parse out. The word “chivalry” is inextricably connected to both appearance (i.e., genteel good manners) and underlying morals (honesty, integrity, kindness); it has been used to indicate both aesthetic glory (a knight in shining armor) and laudable behavior (a knight rescuing someone in need). Above all, as Scott points out, the term “chivalry” implies both bloody warfare and a keeping of the peace, suggesting some semblance of order in a world of barbaric chaos (Essay 10). Even as it borders on contranymic—that is, holding two opposing meanings at the same time—one must wonder if the word “chivalry” still holds much power in the contemporary American cultural landscape; if, despite the fact that it means so many things, it has lost much of its meaning to modern Americans who are unaware of its complex origins. This text will examine the varying meanings “chivalry” has acquired in more modern texts that look back at the Middle Ages with varying levels of nostalgia, scorn, and ambivalence, alternately glorifying and condemning an era which is as much obscured by textual representation as it is revealed. While the main character in Scott’s Ivanhoe describes chivalry
8 as the “stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant” (247), Mark Twain’s character in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Hank Morgan, focuses on chivalry as it relates to appearances, mocking the impracticality of armor and decrying the custom of single combat as “a sign and mark of childhood” (14). Ned Stark, the protagonist in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, is a staunch believer in the honorable ideals that characterize the most recent definition of chivalry—yet these beliefs do not serve him well. Each of these characters represents a facet of the complex relationship modern audiences have with the concept of medieval chivalry, and on a wider level, with medievalism itself. The previously mentioned three texts, published over the last two hundred years, provide insight into the development and endurance of this trend. The first, Scott’s Ivanhoe, offers a grand and glorious picture of medieval England on the surface, but its attitude toward medievalism becomes more ambiguous when one considers the persecuted and prophetic character of Rebecca. The second, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, offers a satirical, burlesque view of medieval England, a view which becomes more complicated when one considers both the inconsistency of its main character and the fact that much of its criticism is echoed in Ivanhoe itself. The final text, George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, simultaneously perpetuates the endurance of medievalism and systematically dismantles its traditional concepts of chivalry, monarchy, and honor. Taken together, these three texts simultaneously suggest both chivalry’s endurance and its fundamental unsustainability. Even as they respond to an imagined or recreated past, these texts also respond to each other, creating a clear temporal and international trajectory for the impulse(s) toward medievalism: from nineteenth-century historical romance to twenty-first century epic fantasy, from English desires
9 to acknowledge directly their national and cultural history to American attempts to address, claim, or reimagine an indirectly inherited medieval pseudo-past. There are, of course, a multitude of texts one might examine when studying medievalism and its legacies. Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, although it falls well outside the temporal scope of this particular project, is one of the first texts to engage comprehensively with a (re)created Middle Ages. Another landmark text for medievalism, and a touchstone for the way many people view the Middle Ages, is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. This text emphasizes the longstanding connection between fantasy and medievalism, depicting a world in which medieval customs and social structures exist alongside various forms of magic and imagined races such as elves, hobbits, and Orcs. The debt more recent works of medieval fantasy owe to The Lord of the Rings must be acknowledged when engaging with those texts; that said, I have chosen not to focus on The Lord of the Rings for several reasons. As a wellestablished text with a vast body of scholarship, The Lord of the Rings is an accepted classic within both medieval and fantasy studies; however, it is also dated, and therefore less effective in establishing contemporary American fascination with medievalism. In addition, despite its clear medieval influence, one might argue that The Lord of the Rings inhabits spaces of fantasy, allegory, and pre-historical mythology far more comfortably than it does the time-specific, historical Middle Ages “known” to the general public. Ironically, this does not preclude the possibility that The Lord of the Rings may encompass a certain degree of historical accuracy, assuming such a thing exists: as a dedicated medieval scholar, Tolkien was certainly better equipped to create an accurate medieval world than most writers, even if that world contained elements of fantasy and did not completely conform to popular conceptions of the Middle Ages
10 (Ashton & Kline 123). For this project’s purposes, however, I am far more interested in considering the ways in which nineteenth-century English medievalist depictions informed nineteenth- and 20th-century American attitudes toward (and reimaginings of) the Middle Ages. The Lord of the Rings, an early 20th-century English creation of a vaguely medieval national mythology, does not comfortably fit this trajectory. The three texts that form the backbone of this project, by contrast, suggest a clear line of inheritance—from English nineteenth-century historical romance, which despite external appearances is frequently ambivalent toward the medieval past it depicts, through late nineteenth-century American satire, which attempts to differentiate itself from a rejected European historical tradition, to twenty-first century American epic fantasy, which simultaneously displays respect for English traditions of medievalism and unmistakable ideological departure from them. The American impulse to reclaim, reject, or reimagine a European Middle Ages that is both theirs and not theirs is a constant source of tension within medievalist depictions. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and A Game of Thrones each offer entry points for exploring different facets of this tension, even as Ivanhoe demonstrates the long-standing complexity that has frequently surrounded medievalist reimaginings. Collectively, the three texts I examine suggest an enduring struggle—both American and English—to reconcile a medieval history that both defines and eludes us. Published in 1820, Ivanhoe – the focus of my first chapter -- marked a shift away from Scott’s early Waverley novels, which were set in the relatively recent past, and featured Scottish settings and characters. On the surface, this text is an adventure story for children, featuring all the requisite outlaws, brave knights, damsels in distress, kings in disguise, noble servants, and
11 lush descriptions of tournaments. Perhaps because of this overarching frame, Ivanhoe has frequently been marketed and received as the quintessential glorification of an English medieval past. Yet in-depth analysis of both this text and Scott’s other writings reveals an entirely different story, suggesting that even as Scott paid tribute to the highest ideals of chivalry, he also understood its fallibility, its potential for corruption, and its unsustainability in a modern world. The chapter “Imagining Medievalism: Conflicting Chivalries in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe” highlights and explores these paradoxes, presenting a reading of Ivanhoe’s ultimate ambivalence toward its medieval subject matter. This sense of ambivalence only grows stronger when we turn our attention to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Although Mark Twain—along with his protagonist, Hank Morgan—deliberately sets out to undercut concepts of medieval chivalry as both laughable and obsolete, he succeeds only in demonstrating the fundamental inescapability of America’s pseudo-medieval cultural past. Chapter Two of this text, “Hank Morgan Goes To War: The Shadow of Chivalry in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” explores the ways in which Twain and his protagonist both inadvertently become inverted reflections of the very thing they are trying to defeat; by “going to war” against chivalry and medieval glorification, they adopt the same language, metaphor, and underlying ideology as the knights they are fighting against. Thus, Connecticut Yankee serves as a testament to the deeply conflicted relationship nineteenth-century American writers had with an English medieval history that simultaneously belonged to them and represented everything they wanted to escape. The American fascination with medieval customs, trappings, and social structure that triggered the writing of Connecticut Yankee has only grown stronger in more recent years.
12 Twenty-first century Americans attend medieval fairs, crown prom kings and queens, attend jousting sessions, and flock to the medievalist fantasia that is Disneyland. They also revel in bestselling fantasy epics and blockbusters, many of which are set in worlds that o