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Arthur’s refusal to eat: ritual and control in the romance feast

Byrne, A. ORCID: (2011) Arthur’s refusal to eat: ritual and control in the romance feast. Journal of Medieval History, 37. pp. 62-74. ISSN 0304-4181

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.jmedhist.2010.12.009


Arthur's refusal to begin feasting before he has seen a marvel or heard a tale of adventure is a recurring motif in medieval romance. Previous comment on this ritual has suggested that the source for such a taboo on eating may be found in earlier narratives in the Celtic languages. This paper argues that, although the ritual almost certainly originates in pre-chivalric society, romance authors adapted and developed it to reflect the courtly-chivalric preoccupations of their own world. Arthur's ritual gesture may be seen as a means of containing and controlling both interior moral threats and exterior physical peril, and is intimately connected to the courtly conception of the feast. This study draws on the evidence of religious writing and courtesy manuals and explores some highly-developed treatments of the motif in romance in order to suggest that literary engagements with Arthur's refusal to eat have much to say about contemporary ideas of ritual and reality as mediated through the symbolically-charged arena of the medieval feast.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies (GCMS)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:52251

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