Talk given by: Danielle Howarth, PhD Medieval Studies, University of Edinburgh
'The Once and Future Trees: Arboreal Imagery and Identity in Malory’s Morte Darthur'
In her discussion of Le Morte Darthur in Greenery: Ecocritical Readings of Late Medieval English Literature, Gillian Rudd states that it is “remarkable how little [Malory] has to say about [trees]”, given that forests are the most common setting in the text (80). This statement could be applied to most Middle English romances, but – as with other romances – it is also the case that the relative invisibility of trees in Le Morte Darthur renders their occasional visibility all the more striking. I propose that this occasional visibility can be seen to open up spaces in Le Morte Darthur for the marginalised – particularly the feminine and the non-human – to hold some authority, even if only briefly. In this paper I will focus on one such instance of arboreal visibility: the depiction of the Tree of Life in Malory’s version of the “Sangrail” narrative. As Percival’s sister tells the story of how Eve took a branch from the Tree of Life and grew it outside Eden, only for it to be harvested by Solomon’s wife to make three spindles, she provides a counter-narrative to the anthropocentric, misogynistic discourses that infuse the text. Through an exploration of this episode, I will shed some light on the ways in which trees are integral to the interlacing narratives of Le Morte Darthur, and romance literature more generally, even though they exist in the shadows of the narrative.
Join us for a drink and a chat afterwards at Ushers!