Saturday, November 27, 2021

The Green Knight. (Film). A review of sorts


As someone who has opinionated about the depressing quality of filmed versions of Medieval stories, the hype surrounding The Green Knight was certainly exciting: art house meets medieval poetry. 
Reviews were very positive, I think I read two five star reviews in the Guardian alone. 
A medieval heart of darkness, a journey into the wilderness to confront the limitations of an ideology. They didn't say that, that's one way of thinking about the poem. Imagine what a young Herzog could have done with it.
So I watched the film twice as soon as it appeared on whichever streaming service it appeared on.

I liked King Arthur's accent.

Who was King Arthur's Father #1

 We all know the answer is 'Uther Pendragon'. 

So the stories of Uther Pendragon. In several parts.


Part one. Genesis.


While it’s just possible that the character of ‘Vortigern’ can be traced back to an historical person, it does seem most unlikely that Uther Pendragon is anything other than a fiction. 

So before tracing his career through the legendary history from Geoffrey to Laȝamon, down the rabbit hole we go for any signs of an origin for his story.


Did Geoffrey invent Uther; was he already Arthur’s father in the tradition; or were there stories circulating about an Uther which he was able to use? 


The impact of The History of the Kings of Britain on The Legendary History, and the story of King Arthur in particular, is difficult to underestimate. The more one considers Geoffrey and his book, the more extraordinary his achievement becomes. But while the argument over how much he borrowed and how much he invented can seem academic in the worst sense of that word, it’s a crucial for anyone trying to discern which stories pre- existed his work.


For those interested in ‘the native tradition’, whether the source pre or post-dates Geoffrey’s work is a crucial issue. But as Patrick Sims-Williams has written, for the early Arthurian poems; ‘it is rarely possible to know whether an Arthurian poem is earlier or later than Geoffrey of Monmouth.’ 


It is probably undeniable that stories about an Arthur were circulating in Wales long before Geoffrey, possibly even before Nennius. If Pa wr yw'r porthor  or Culhwch and Olwen are anything to go by, Arthur was camped securely in the world of folk tales. But as Oliver Padel pointed out, you can tell stories about a hero and his associates without bothering with his birth, or for that matter his biography. 


Padel also pointed out that: ‘Arthur is not fitted into the historical pattern of rulers’ pedigrees. He is consistently absent from the early Welsh Genealogies and is never given a patronym in the earliest Welsh texts: in lacking this attribute he stands in notable contrast with the other heroes of the Welsh Triads.’


So where did Uther come from? 


Geoffrey’s work has a basic pattern: A died, B came to the throne, ruled, then died and was succeeded by C. This means that to be a legitimate ruler in the sequence, Arthur has to have a pedigree. At the very least he has to have a royal father who has to precede him in the sequence and who must rule over Britain before him. This demand of the genre Geoffrey used changes everything. The hero now needs a biography, and he needs a father. 


Geoffrey identifies this character as Uther Pendragon. 


Did Geoffrey invent Uther; was he already Arthur’s father in the tradition; or were there stories circulating about an Uther which he was able to use? 

In the next post, the delightful possibility that Uther was created by a translation error. 

(Bibliography at the end of the last post in this sequence)