Fashionable beards and beards as fashion: beard coats in Thomas Malory's Morte D'arthur.
In fifteenth-century England, the time period in which Malory lived and wrote, beards were unfashionable. (1) Contemporary literary counterparts, by contrast, largely wore beards whose significance stemmed from an earlier historical context. In order to convey the complexity of the beards and beard coats in the Morte d'Arthur, I will first discuss this earlier historical context, and then trace its influence in two examples of continental literature. From there, I will follow the beard motif into English Arthurian literature and into Malory's work.
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, beards were unpopular in Western Europe, especially among the Christian clergy. (2) The Spanish monk Leovigildus explains in his treatise De Habitu Clericorum that European clergymen wished to distinguish themselves from Jews:
Blessed Peter, hearing that, in the name of the apostles, they who had come to faith from the Jews had dared to impose the burdens of the law upon the Gentiles ... in order that it be known to all the faithful that it will be henceforth proper to live not under the law but under the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; and thus [permitted] shaving the beard and the hair of the head into roundness. (3)
Traditional Jews observed Old Testament regulations concerning the growth and shaving of the beard and hair. For example, Leviticus 19. 27 requires that 'You shall not round off the side growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard'. (4) Jews who followed this commandment, therefore, could be recognised by their hairstyles and grown-out beards. Christians, however, believed themselves to be liberated from the laws of the Old Testament and no longer obliged to follow such commandments. A clean-shaven man in the Middle Ages, then, was most likely someone who recognised the New Testament and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This distinction became increasingly important during the First Crusade as Westerners came into closer contact with non-Christian cultures. As a result, Christian men in the Holy Land who allowed their beards to grow opened themselves up to scrutiny. In his history of the First Crusade, Guibert de Nogent criticised Western Crusaders for neglecting to shave: 'A terrible neglect covered the thinness of the weary cheeks of our men, who, continually prepared for battle, worn out by continual travelling, had stopped shaving their beards in the Franks' manner.' (5) This accusation of slovenliness is echoed in the writings of Gerald of Wales who labelled the Irish people 'barbarous, being barbarous not only in their dress, but suffering their hair and beards (barbis) to grow enormously in an uncouth manner'.6 Both of these clerics regarded beards as undesirable and uncivilised, but their harsh opinions did not prevail. After the Western victories in the Holy Land, many Westerners began to settle in the Eastern kingdoms and adopt local style, which included a full beard. William, the Archbishop of Tyre during the mid-twelfth century, wrote
it is customary among peoples in the East, both Greeks and other nations, to grow their beards with great care and total solicitude and to consider it a very great shame and irrevocable ignominy to have one hair pulled from the beard with injury. (7)
Unlike Guibert or Gerald, William of Tyre did not equate growing a beard with uncivilised behaviour or even regard it as an undesirable trait. In addition, the shame he mentions from having one's beard removed has a biblical precedent. In II Samuel, King David sends emissaries to King Hanun of the Ammonites. King Hanun mistakes the emissaries for spies,
so Hanun took David's servants and shaved off half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle as far as their hips, and sent them away. When they told it to David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly humiliated. The king said, "Stay at Jericho until your beards grow, and then return". (8)
By shaving half of the men's beards and cutting off half of their clothes, Hanun's punishment of David's men equates a clean-shaven face with bared private parts. As William of Tyre notes, the Westerners who settled in the Holy Land came to adopt a similar attitude about the removal of their own beards.
At the same time, beards could become a liability in battle because they provided enemies with a handle they could grab in order to pull soldiers down. For this reason, Alexander the Great instructed his soldiers to shave their beards. (9) While this practice may have increased soldiers' effectiveness in battle, a shaved face could, conversely, also imply a fear of the enemy. A king or military leader who displayed his beard during battle, therefore, demonstrated bravery and courage by leaving his beard vulnerable to attack. (10) In fact, the idea of shaving one's beard became so reprehensible that it became the subject of a medieval con job. William of Tyre relates how Count Baldwin II of Edessa tricked Gabriel of Melitine into giving him 30,000 besants by claiming that he had promised to give his beard to his soldiers if they did not receive their wages:
Gabriel, horror-stricken at the intelligence, clapped his hands together over his head, and bitterly reproached the count for having thus incautiously pledged the precious ornament of his visage--an ornament of which no man could divest himself without incurring well-merited disgrace. (11)
Gabriel then gave Baldwin the money for the army's wages in order to spare him such humiliation. This example illustrates that in the Middle Ages, beards were not merely a fashion accessory; they carried great importance, especially in the East. Western men did not seem to attribute the same level of importance to their physical beards, but the influence of Eastern ideas about beards does appear in Western literature. Although Westerners had little compunction with shaving their faces in actual practice, Western beards in literature retain a similar depth of symbolic meaning to Eastern ones.
The twelfth-century chanson de geste, La Chanson de Roland, features the owners of two significant beards: King Charlemagne and the traitorous Count Ganelon. Charlemagne's beard is specifically mentioned twenty-six times in the poem and serves as his most distinguishing characteristic. As he listens to his men debate whether to wage war against the Saracens, Charlemagne tugs and strokes his beard:
The Emperor kept his head lowered, He stroked his beard, smoothed his moustache, He does not tell his nephew he agrees or disagrees. (Li emperere en tint sun chef enbrunc, Si duist sa barbe, afaitad sun gernun, Ne ben ne mal ne respunt sun nevuld.) (12)
Most often, the poet links Charlemagne's age and experience with his beard: 'Charles the Old with the blossoming beard' ('Carlez li velz a la barbe flurie', l. 970). The poet also repeatedly emphasises the whiteness of the King's beard that reinforces the connection between facial hair and maturity: 'whitebearded Charles' ('Carles ... ki ad la barbe blanche', l. 2334). As the leader of the Saracens observes the King, he associates Charlemagne's beard with his obvious nobility: 'He is very big, he looks very much like a marquis, | His beard is white as a flower in April' ('Granz ad le cors, ben resemblet marchis, | Blanche ad la barbe cume flur en avrill', ll. 3502-03). Charlemagne's beard embodies all of the qualities that make him an admirable figure and a good man: wisdom, maturity, and nobility.
In addition to being the outward sign of Charlemagne's worth, his beard also shows his fearlessness in battle:
The Emperor rides forth in very noble fashion, He has exposed his beard to view, on his byrnie. Out of loyalty to him, the others do the same, A hundred thousand Franks can be recognised in this way (Mult gentement li emperere chevalchet, Desur sa bronie fors ad mise sa barbe. Pur sue amor altretel funt li altre, Cent milie Francs en sunt reconoisable). (ll. 3121-24)
Finally, after Charlemagne routs his enemy, the poet remarks 'Fierce is the king with the hoary beard' ('Fiers est li reis a la barbe canue', l. 3654). The King displays his courage, as he makes no effort to conceal his beard or to shield it from being pulled by his enemies. His military prowess comes to the fore as his courage rubs off on his men who emulate him with their free-flowing locks.
All of the positive qualities embodied in Charlemagne's beard come into stark contrast with the beard of the traitorous Count Ganelon who plots with the Saracens to kill Roland. When Ganelon's treachery is discovered, Charlemagne's head cook takes his revenge:
The head cook takes charge of him, he assigns this duty to a hundred of his fellows From the kitchen, the most reliable and the toughest. They pluck out his beard and his moustache (Cil le receipt, s'i met .C. cumpaignons De la quisine, des mielz e des peiurs. Icil li peilent la barbe e les gernuns). (ll. 1821-23)
Although Ganelon's punishment also includes being beaten by the kitchen boys and chained, the loss of his beard is a significant part of the penalty. Charlemagne's beard represents wisdom, maturity, and nobility, and Ganelon possesses none of these qualities as proven by his lack of a beard.
Another medieval poem, the thirteenth-century El Cantar del mio Cid, places even greater importance on the shame of beard removal. The Cid, a Spanish nobleman who has been exiled by King Alfonso, grows his beard in order to recover from the shame of his exile. The beard growth illustrates a recuperation of honour, and the beard itself is the outward sign of the Cid's restored reputation. In several instances, the poet praises the Cid's beard, as when he exclaims: 'God! How full-bearded he is!' ('!Dios, commo es bien barbado!'). (13) The beard of the Cid, as it grows, also encapsulates the Cid's growing honour in the eyes of his people and his king. After the Cid wins a battle against Count Ramon, the Cid's beard wins the honour: 'there he won this battle, whereby he honoured his beard.' (14) As the Cid's honour accumulates, his beard also grows fuller. The Cid takes pride in the fact that his beard has never been plucked, and he also swears on his beard as though it were something precious to him: 'by this beard that no one has pulled out, | the infantes of Carrion will not succeed in doing it'. (15) By swearing on his beard as he would swear on his honour, the Cid strengthens his beard's significance and its connection to his reputation.
As Count Ganelon's beard stands in contrast to Charlemagne's beard in La Chanson de Roland, the Cid's beard also has a dishonourable counterpart. In the third cantar of the poem, the Cid's mortal enemy Garcia Ordonez takes sides against the Cid in a dispute over the marriage of the Cid's daughters. In the process of defending the Cid's delinquent sons-in-law, Ordonez insults the excessive length of the Cid's beard. The Cid takes great offence at Ordonez's remark and viciously retorts:
Then the Campeador took hold of his beard, --Thanks to God, who commands Heaven and Earth. That's why it's long, because it was grown with great care, What makes you, Count, reproach my beard? for since it first grew it was treated with care, it was never grabbed by any son of a woman, nor did any son of a Moor or Christian woman ever pull it out, as I did to you, Count, in the town of Cabra. When I took Cabra and you by the beard, there was not a boy who did not pull out a little, the one that I pulled out has still not evened out (Essora el Campeador prisos' a la barba, --Grado a Dios, que cielo e tierra manda. Por esso es luenga, que a delicio fue criada, ?que avedes vos, conde, por retraer la mi barba?, ca de quando nasco a delicio fue criada, ca non me priso a ella fijo de mugier nada, nimbla messo fijo de moro nin de cristiana, commo yo a vos, conde, en el castiello de Cabra. Quando pris a Cabra e a vos por la barba, non i ovo rapaz que non messo su pulgada, la que yo messe aun non es eguada). (16)
Unlike the Cid who is capable of recovering from his shame by growing a full, luxuriant, and honourable beard, Ordonez does not possess the noble qualities necessary for growing such a beard. He has never recovered from his humiliation, and the bald patch on his face reveals his devious nature.
While these medieval poems show that beards represent the qualities of a man's character--wisdom, experience, maturity, military prowess, nobility, and honour (or the lack thereof)--medieval beards also serve the more obvious and natural purpose of distinguishing men from women. In Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Miller's Tale', for example, Absolon realises he has not kissed Alisoun on the mouth 'for wel he wiste a womman hath no berd'. (17) Thomas Malory also draws on this purpose of the beard in the Morte d'Arthur when Sir Belleus mistakes Lancelot for his female lover: 'And whan sir Launcelot felte a rough berde kyssyng hym he sterte oute of the bedde lyghtly, and the othir knyght after him.' (18) Just as Chaucer's Absolon recognises his mistake due to the presence of hair, Lancelot recognises the masculine gender of the person he kisses because he feels the other man's beard.
Early Arthurian sources appropriate this same beard motif, and the Arthurian story of Arthur's defeat of the giant of St Michael's Mount adds a more sinister implication to the removal of one's beard. For example, in his Historia Regum Britanniae, Geoffrey of Monmouth relates that after Arthur kills the giant, he laughs heartily and reminisces with his men about another successful giant slaying in his past:
Arthur said that he had not come into contact with anyone so strong since the time he killed the giant Retho on Mount Arvaius, after the latter had challenged him to single combat. Retho had made himself a fur cloak from the beards of the kings whom he had slain. He sent a message to Arthur, telling him to rip his own beard off his face and when it was torn off send it to him. Since Arthur was more distinguished than any of the other kings, Retho promised in his honour to sew his beard higher up the cloak than the others. If Arthur would not do this, then Retho challenged him to a duel, saying that whoever proved the stronger should have the fur cloak as a trophy and also the beard of the man he had beaten. Soon after the battle began, Arthur was victorious. He took the giant's beard and the trophy too. From that day on, as he had just said, he had met nobody stronger than Retho. (19)
The beards in this story share characteristics with the beards from other medieval accounts. They have been plucked out of their owners' faces in order to humiliate and subjugate them, as happens to both Ganelon's and Ordonez's beards in their respective poems. However, the beards then take on a different form as they are collected and woven together into a fur coat. Just as the Cid's beard grows fuller with each of his victories, the beard coat grows bigger with each king the giant defeats. The beard coat does, though, not represent accumulated honour. Instead, it becomes a monstrous trophy signifying the unchecked expansion of the giant's domain.
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen gives a convincing analysis of Arthur's battle with the giant of St Michael's Mount from a postcolonial perspective. He claims that in the tradition of great mythical and biblical heroes, Arthur must rid his land of monsters before he can lay claim to it as king. (20) The slaying of the monster heralds the establishment of Arthur's empire and encourages further imperialism: 'Arthur's battle against the giant on a continental mountaintop celebrates the forcible acquisition of territories abroad.' (21) Although Cohen ignores the episode including the beard coat, its presence and function in the story support his argument. The beard coat is the physical symbol of conquest, and the giant's oversized stature and his unseemly challenge to Arthur demonstrate an excess which must be stopped in order for Arthur to become a successful ruler. Arthur's confiscation of the beard coat reinforces his domination over the former rulers of those lands. By defeating Retho and taking the beard coat, Arthur begins to establish his own empire.
Another version of the same story appears in the fourteenth-century Middle English Alliterative Morte Arthure. In this adaptation, the two giants merge to form one character so that the giant of St Michael's Mount is also the owner of the beard coat. Cohen does not ignore the significance of the beard coat in this story. He suggests that by becoming the owner of the coat himself, King Arthur becomes the same kind of monstrosity that he supposedly defeats when he kills the giant:
The "kyrtill" that the giant fashions from the kings' collected hair undermines the ideological purity of Arthur's vision of forcibly uniting disparate realms under British sovereignty, materialising Arthur's own ambition of empire into a costume with which to clothe a monstrous body. (22)
The picture Cohen paints of Arthur in the Alliterative Morte is an unsettling one. Far from becoming an ideal king, Arthur transforms into a glutton whose appetite for empire remains unsatisfied.
In his subsequent version of the story in the Morte d'Arthur,Thomas Malory redeems King Arthur from this gluttony. In fact, Malory's use of Arthur's own beard and his inclusion of two beard coats in his narrative strengthen Arthur's positive characteristics. Although Malory uses the Alliterative Morte as one of the sources for his account, he changes the text in order to establish Arthur as a good and worthy ruler rather than a monster. The primary sources for Malory's account of Arthur's rise to the throne and early reign are the French prose Suite du Merlin and the Middle English Alliterative Morte Arthure. (23) The Alliterative Morte contains the account of the beard coat in which the giant of St Michael's Mount is the owner of the coat. (24) The Suite du Merlin's version more closely resembles the earlier account in Geoffrey of Monmouth, although the owner of the beard coat is named King Royns, and he takes on the role of the main antagonist in the story instead of being a mere side note. (25) Rather than following his sources by choosing only one of the beard coat stories for his own narrative, Malory includes both of them. While this superfluity may at first appear to be mere slavishness to source material, a careful examination of the beard coat incidents supports Malory's deliberate and purposeful inclusion of both versions of the story in his work. Both beard coats appear at key moments in Arthur's reign during which Arthur faces challenges to his kingship and his masculinity. Arthur's triumph over the owners of the beard coats is a way of overcoming these challenges and defines him as a ca pable leader, reinforcing his masculinity. These two stories mark Arthur's progression from a young and inexperienced king to a mature, highly successful military leader and the worthy emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
One of the keys to understanding this progression in Malory's narrative is an event early in the text and in Arthur's kingship. At his coronation feast, Arthur attempts to gain the neighbouring kings' loyalty by sending giftbearing messengers to them. (26) The kings remain unimpressed: 'But the kynges wold none receyve, but rebuked the messagers shamefully and said they had no joye to receyve no yeftes of a berdles boye that was come of lowe blood.' (27) The two reasons the kings supply for their rejection of Arthur are his lack of nobility and his youth. Malory's possible sources for this account either omit this scene entirely or do not include the objection of 'berdles boye', which suggests this phrase is a small but thematically significant, original contribution by Malory.
Malory's most likely source for this event, the French Suite du Merlin, exists in several manuscripts, but only one of those manuscripts--Cambridge, MS Additional 7071--includes the kings' rebellion. (28) The other manuscripts omit it entirely. The Prose Merlin, another French work closely related to the Suite, includes the episode as well. Before the discovery of the Cambridge manuscript, scholars believed that Malory knew both the Prose Merlin and the Suite and that he combined the two versions himself when writing the Morte d'Arthur. (29) When Eugene Vinaver discovered the Cambridge manuscript in 1945, he concluded that Malory most likely used a source resembling that manuscript rather than combining multiple sources. Scholars cannot know the exact wording of the text of Malory's source. Yet a close examination of the Prose Merlin upon which the Cambridge manuscript obviously draws, and of the Cambridge manuscript itself, can support a reasonable reconstruction of Malory's source text. (30)
The Prose Merlin states that the kings reject Arthur's kingship because 'they were mad to have made such a lowborn man king and lord over them'. (31) In the Cambridge manuscript, the kings refuse to follow Arthur because he is an 'oume de si bas lieu', or 'a man of such low station'. (32) None of the extant manuscripts contains the reference to Arthur's youth that Malory includes.
In his translation of the French text, therefore, Malory introduces the phrase 'berdles boye' to the objection found in his source that Arthur 'was come of lowe blood'. His addition of this phrase provides pleasant alliteration and serves to accentuate Arthur's lack of masculine qualities. By emphasising the challenges to both Arthur's nobility and masculinity, this detail provides a thematic link to the subsequent episodes involving beard coats in the Morte d'Arthur.
Malory takes full advantage of the built-in meanings of medieval literary beards as he constructs his own version of the Arthurian legend. While Arthur's lack of a beard at his coronation obviously indicates his youth, it also indicates his lack of experience and capability. The kings' subsequent rebellion proves their scepticism about Arthur's status as a military leader who is capable of settling his country's civil unrest. This link between physical attributes and physical capabilities is supported by historical medieval attitudes about masculinity that associated the presence of male sexual characteristics, such as beard growth, with men's ability to carry out their masculine gender roles. (33) As Derek G. Neal explains, 'nonsexual aspects of social masculinity ... are themselves grounded, and detectible, in the body'. (34) Therefore, if a beard serves as the outward sign of masculinity, then Arthur's absent beard represents an absence of masculinity. He is not just young: he is a 'berdles boye', and therefore incapable of being an effective man or leader.
By the time Malory introduces the first beard coat, several years have passed since Arthur's coronation, and he still has not achieved complete subjugation of his enemies:
So thys meanwhyle com a messyngere frome kynge Royns of NortheWalis, and kynge he was of all Irelonde and of Iles. And this was hys message, gretynge well kyng Arthure on thys maner of wyse, sayng that kynge Royns had discomfite and overcom eleven kyngis, and every of them dud hym omage. And that was thus to sey they gaff theire beardes clene flayne off, as much as was bearde; wherefore the messyngere com for kynge Arthures berde. For kynge Royns had purfilde a mantell with kynges berdis, and there lacked one place of the mantell; wherefore he sente for hys bearde, othir ellis he wolde entir into his londis and brenne and sle, and nevir leve tylle he hathe the hede and the bearde bothe. "Well", seyde Arthure, "thou haste seyde thy message, the whych ys the moste orgulus and lewdiste message that evir man had isente unto a kynge. Also thou mayste se my bearde ys full yonge yet to make off a purphile". (35)
In his retelling of this story, Malory has again deviated from his source. In the Suite du Merlin, Arthur scoffs at Royns's demand for his beard:
When the messenger had spoken, the king said to him, "Good friend, it doesn't seem to me that I am the one to whom King Rion sent you, for I never had a beard--I am still too young--but if I had one, he wouldn't have it. I would rather lose my head". (36)
While the Arthur of the French text claims to be too young to grow a beard, Malory changes this detail and amplifies Arthur's development. In his passage, Malory directly addresses the kings' two objections to Arthur as their high king at his coronation. First of all, Arthur now has facial hair. He has grown physically into manhood, and he has the outward sign of a beard to prove it. He is no longer a 'berdles boye'. Arthur has also discovered that he is the legitimate son of King Uther. He therefore has a true claim to the throne and is no longer of 'lowe blood'. In addition, he has quashed the initial rebellion of the kings and proven himself a successful military leader. He has risen in the world, both in terms of his nobility and his prowess. The confirmation of his royal blood and the threat he poses to his enemies earn him a place on the border of King Royns's coat. It is no coincidence that Arthur's beard begins growing at the same time that he establishes his legitimacy and his new kingdom. His beard is the physical manifestation of his burgeoning prowess.
Despite this budding potential, Arthur has not yet reached full manhood when King Royns's messenger arrives at court. Arthur admits that his beard is 'full yonge yet', and he still requires help in bringing his rival king to heel. Arthur must rely on the knights under his command to defeat Royns in his stead. In this case, Sir Balin captures Royns and brings him to Camelot to surrender to King Arthur, after which the conflict between the two kings ends. (37)
Malory's manipulation of his source, the Suite du Merlin, also includes a possible change in King Royns's character. Malory gives Royns the title King of North Wales, Ireland, and the Isles. As with the description of the kings' rejection of Arthur at his coronation, different manuscripts of the Suite give different titles for King Royns. One document, known as the Huth manuscript, names him as the King of North Wales only. (38) The Cambridge manuscript calls him the King of the land of giants, Ireland, and the Isles. (39) Most scholars agree that Malory's source was closest to the Cambridge manuscript. Malory's inclusion of Ireland and the Isles in his description of
Royns's kingdom supports this hypothesis. If his source included the detail that Royns was also king of the land of giants, then Malory deliberately disassociated King Royns from that label. His purposes for this disassociation may stem from the progression he sets up as Arthur approaches full manhood. The episode of the giant of St Michael's Mount occurs chronologically after the episode with King Royns, and it reduces Royns's threat, which, in turn, increases the impact of Arthur's impending triumph. If Sir Balin were to defeat the king of the giants in battle, then that victory would diminish Arthur's subsequent defeat of the giant of St Michael's Mount. By stripping Royns of his gianthood, Malory leaves room in Arthur's development for even greater accomplishments.
If Malory had retained Royns's status as king of the giants, it would have thematically linked the King Royns episode to the battle against the giant of St Michael's Mount. As Arthur approached the battle with the giant of St Michael's Mount, the reader could not help but recall the King's earlier confrontation with Royns, the king of the giants. Since Malory's Royns is only King of North Wales, Ireland, and the Isles, there is nothing to link him with the giant of St Michael's Mount. Malory's omission of Royns's gianthood, therefore, leaves a thematic gap between these two episodes. The inclusion of the second beard coat in the episode with the giant of St Michael's Mount bridges this gap.
In Malory's version of the St Michael's Mount story, Arthur hears that a giant has kidnapped his cousin's wife. (40) He decides to rescue her, and as he approaches the mountain where the giant has taken refuge, he encounters an old woman who describes the giant's monstrous behaviour. (41) She also relates that
he hath made hym a coote full of precious stonys, and the bordoures thereof is the berdis of fyftene kynges, and they were of the grettyst blood that dured on erthe. Othir farme had he none of fyftene realmys. This presente was sente hym to this laste Crystemasse, they sente hym in faythe for savyng of their peple. (42)
Malory sticks very closely to his source material in this passage describing the giant. However, when the old woman reveals the giant's motivation for terrorising the countryside, Malory alters the story. In the Alliterative Morte, Malory's primary source for this incident, the giant wants Arthur's beard for the border of his coat. In Malory's Morte d'Arthur, the old woman tells the king that the giant wants Guinevere instead: 'for he settys nought by the kynge nother by no man ellys. But and thou have brought Arthurs wyff, dame Gwenyvere, he woll be more blyther of hir than thou haddyste geffyn hym halfendele Fraunce.' (43) This change in the giant's motivation diminishes the importance of Arthur's beard, yet still emphasises his masculine development.
As Dorsey Armstrong has convincingly argued, this shift in focus from Arthur's beard to Arthur's wife accentuates Arthur's masculinity. (44) By getting married, Arthur has taken another step in the process of becoming a man. The giant's threat against Guinevere, therefore, is a threat against Arthur's manhood:
Arthur's marriage to Guenevere is the founding relationship of the Arthurian community; with his marriage to her he receives the Round Table and the hundred knights who currently "comprise" it. More important, his marriage to Guenevere identifies him as heteronormative, a fit masculine figure to head a homosocial community of knights. (45)
In addition, Cohen observes that the juxtaposition of Arthur's control, over himself and his knights against the giant's monstrous qualities, demonstrates the horrors of unbridled masculinity. (46) The giant rapes women to death, while the Round Table knights swear to protect women and not to rape them. The giant lives in isolation on a mountaintop and collects the beards of other men while the Round Table knights live in community and form a brotherhood. Significantly, Arthur not only kills the giant, but also castrates him, further cementing the giant's loss of control and of masculine power. (47)
As both Armstrong and Cohen have noted, Arthur's victory over the giant of St Michael's Mount acts as a prelude to his victory over the Emperor Lucius and serves as the beginning of the golden age of Arthur's reign. Yet, this triumph also serves as the climax of his journey into adulthood. He no longer requires the help of his knights in defeating his enemy: he kills the giant single-handedly. His masculinity is also no longer in question because he protects his wife from the giant and preserves his marital status. In case the status of his beard is still in doubt, Arthur confiscates the giant's beard coat and therefore possesses not only his own beard, but also fifteen others.48 Cohen writes that 'Arthur's dismemberment of the giant of Mont St Michel signals his political coming of age, his readiness to assume the heavy mantle of world-class heroism and be numbered among the Nine Worthies'. (49) By slaying the giant of St Michael's Mount, Arthur has definitively overcome the challenges of the rival kings at his coronation.
At the end of the story, Arthur demonstrates a desire to continue the expansion of his empire, but the Round Table knights protest at the thought of leaving their homes again for an extended period of time:
Sir kynge, we beseche the for to here us all. We are undir youre lordship well stuffed, blyssed by God, of many thynges; and also we have wyffis weddid. We woll beseche youre good grace to reles us to sporte us with oure wyffis, for, worship be Cryste, this journey is well overcome. (50)
Unlike the giant of St Michael's Mount, Arthur lives among a community of knights who keep his imperialist tendencies in check. Through their protestations, Arthur assents to return home: '"Ye say well", seyde the kynge, "for inowghe is as good as a feste, for to attemte God overmuch I holde hit not wysedom. And therefore make you all redy and turne we into Ingelonde".' (51) This incident supports the perception of the Round Table as a virtuous and temperate community. Arthur's participation in that community proves his own virtue and temperance, and saves him from the monstrous significance of the beard coat and its implications of unbridled imperialism. By weaving beards and their meanings into the early parts of his narrative, Malory marks King Arthur's development into a worthy ruler and also establishes the Round Table as an ideal chivalric community.
(1) Mark Albert Johnston, Beard Fetish in Early Modern England: Sex, Gender, and Register of Value (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), p. 35.
(2) Zehava Jacoby, 'The Beard Pullers in Romanesque Art: An Islamic Motif and Its Evolution in the West', Arte Medievale, 1 (1987), 65-83 (p. 65).
(3) L. O. S. A. Serrano, 'De Habitu Clericorum, obra inedita del presbitero cordobes Leovigildo (siglo IX), publicada segun un manuscrito visigodo, unico que se conserva', Boletin de la Real Academia de la Historia, 54 (1909), 496-518 (pp. 508-09): 'Audiens beatus Petrus quod in nomine apostolorum ausi fuerant qui ex iudeis ad fidem pervenerant gentibus inponere onera legis ... ut sit notum omnibus fidelibus non sub lege sed sub gratia Domini nostri Jhesu Christi oportet fore; et tunc radens barbem ac in rotundibilitatem comam.' Unless otherwise noted, translations are the author's own.
(4) Quotations from the Bible are taken from The New American Standard Bible (Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1995).
(5) Guibert de Nogent, The Deeds of God Through the Franks: A Translation of Guibert de Nogent's 'Gesta Dei per Francos', trans. Robert Levine (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1997), p. 93.
(6) Giraldus Cambrensis, The Topography of Ireland, trans. Thomas Forester (Cambridge, Ontario: Parentheses, 2000), p. 70.
(7) William ofTyre, A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, trans. E. Babcock and A. C. Krey (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943), p. 479.
(8) II Samuel 10. 4-5.
(9) Edward P. Colbert, The Martyrs of Cordoba (850-859): A Study of Sources (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 1962), p. 145.
(10) Ali Asgar Alibhai, 'Hair, Honor, and Humility' (seminar paper presented at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, May 2006). I would like to thank Ali Asgar Alibhai for sharing with me his unpublished research on the role of beards in military combat. His work on the topic inspired this article, and his insights have been a great source of help.
(11) Thomas Keightley, The Crusaders, or Scenes, Events, and Characters from the Times of the Crusades (London: Elibron Classics, 2004), p. 209.
(12) La Chanson de Roland, ed. and trans. Gerard J. Brault (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1984), lines 214-16. Subsequent line references will be cited in text.
(13) Cantar de mio Cid, online edition, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services at the University of Texas at Austin (2014) <http://miocid.wlu.edu/?v=nor> [accessed 21 May 2014], 16v, 748-773, line 768.
(14) Cantar de mio Cid, [21.sup.v], 1000-1024, line 1011: 'i bencio esta batalla, por o ondro su barba.'
(15) Cantar de mio Cid, 57r, 2815-2840, lines 2832-33: 'par aquesta barba que nadi non messo, | non la lograran los ifantes de Carrion.'
(16) Cantar de mio Cid, [65.sup.v], 3269-3295, lines 3280-90.
(17) Geoffrey Chaucer, 'The Miller's Tale', in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), p. 75, line 3737.
(18) Thomas Malory, Works, ed. Eugene Vinaver, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 153, lines 28-29.
(19) Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Lewis Thorpe (London: Penguin Classics, 1966), p. 240.
(20) Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), p. 37.
(21) Cohen, p. 37.
(22) Cohen, p. 153.
(23) Larry D. Benson, Malory's Morte Darthur (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), pp. 49-52.
(24) Larry D. Benson, ed., King Arthur's Death: The Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthure (Kalamazoo: TEAMS/Western Michigan University Press, 1994), lines 998-1004.
(25) Norris J. Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, 5 vols (NewYork: Garland, 1992-96), IY (1993), 183.
(26) Malory, Works, p. 11, lines 16-19.
(27) Malory, Works, p. 11, lines 19-22.
(28) Robert H. Wilson, 'The Rebellion of the Kings in Malory and in the Cambridge Suite du Merlin', Texas Studies in English, 31 (1952), 13-26 (p. 13).
(29) Marilyn Corrie, 'Self-Determination in the Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin and Malory's Le Morte Darthur', Medium Aevum, 73 (2004), 273-89 (p. 285).
(30) Jonathan Passaro ('Malory's Text of the Suite du Merlin', Arthurian Literature, 26 (2009), 39-75) argues that the Cambridge manuscript itself is likely to have been Malory's source manuscript, while P. J. C. Field ('Malory's Source-Manuscript for the First Tale of Le Morte Darthur', Arthurian Literature, 29 (2012), 111-19) challenges this conclusion, arguing that the 'common ancestor' source manuscript theory cannot be discarded.
(31) Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail, I (1992), 216.
(32) Robert H. Wilson, 'The Cambridge Suite du Merlin Re-examined', Texas Studies in English, 36 (1957), 41-51 (pp. 46-47).
(33) Joan Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 181.
(34) Derek G. Neal, The Masculine Self in Late Medieval England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), p. 128.
(35) Malory, Works, p. 36, lines 26-40.
(36) Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail, IY, 183.
(37) Malory, Works, p. 47, lines 4-15.
(38) Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail, IY, 183.
(39) Wilson, 'Rebellion of the Kings', p. 18.
(40) Malory, Works, p. 119, lines 25-32.
(41) Malory, Works, p. 120, lines 24-37.
(42) Malory, Works, p. 121, lines 1-5.
(43) Malory, Works, p. 120, lines 40-43.
(44) Dorsey Armstrong, Gender and the Chivalric Community in Malory's 'Morte d'Arthur' (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003), p. 17.
(45) Armstrong, p. 17.
(46) Cohen, Of Giants, p. 38.
(47) Malory, Works, p. 121, lines 43-44.
(48) Malory, Works, p. 123, line 1.
(49) Cohen, p. 71.
(50) Malory, Works, p. 145, line 43-p. 46, line 3.
(51) Malory, Works, p. 46, lines 4-6.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2014|
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