This paper is drawn from a chapter in my dissertation, which examines the varying ideologies of education in medieval literary genres. Romance, I argue, portrays an ideology based on failure and completion. The hero must first fail before undergoing an experiential learning process through which he grows into the person he is expected to be. Reading the Middle English romances Horn and Havelok, I argue that the goal of education in romance is to correctly perform one’s (noble) social status, and the methods of acquiring this education are experience-based, always involving failure before success.
Thomas Malory’s Sir Gareth is a character defined by his negotiation of materials, specifically meats and metals. This paper, by analysing the things which Gareth eats, wears, wins, and loses, will explore the ways in which Malory’s Morte Darthur uses these material accoutrements of knighthood to question what a knight is actually made of. In the food he eats, harnesses he dons, and even the blood he bleeds, Gareth’s body – the principle material of his knightly identity – is constantly being added to, subtracted from, shaped, and reformed. I will elucidate this process and the ‘matter’ of chivalry in Malory’s Morte.
The late-medieval king-and-commoner ballad The King and the Hermit, in which an incognito King Edward seeks shelter with a hermit only to be served venison poached from his own forest, is notable for its inversion of norms and roles. The hermit’s material plenty and the king’s temporary powerlessness are ironic and inform the humour of the poem. Here I shall argue that the hermit is not best viewed through the prism of medieval anti-clericalism. Rather, his illicit actions are better viewed as responses to faulty institutional charity and faintly resonate with the pragmatic examples of the early hermit saints.