A study of Tennyson's Idylls of the King

Falconer, Marc Stuart (1993) A study of Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Masters thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

This thesis is a study of themes and genre in Tennyson's Idylls of the King. I have not attempted to present a survey of the body of critisicm on the cycle, nor have I attempted a comprehensive comparison of the poem with any of Tennyson's sources. The first chapter is based on A. Fowler's study of genres and I follow the implications of his work in my reading of the Idylls. Tennyson blends various generic strands in his cycle, in particular allegory, epic, dramatic monologue and the Alexandrian idyll, to create a complex psychological allegory of epic scope which both draws on traditional genres and extends them. I believe the Idylls should be read as a cycle and in the order in which Tennyson finally presented them; the ordering process is as much part of the creative process as the actual act of composition. I have adopted Priestley's sensible division of the twelve poems which he says "falls naturally into three groups of four, corresponding closely to the three acts of modern drama" (1960, p.252-254)" The second chapter begins the sequential examination of the first four "spring" and "summer" poems beginning with the symbolic The Coming of Arthur. This idyll begins Tennyson's Arthurian mythopoeia, creating a poetic kingdom of the mind. The "act" closes with the Geraint and Enid idylls, all four works in this section ending happily. The third chapter deals with the idylls which plot the corrupting and ever-widening influence of the adulterous relationship of Lancelot and Guinevere, one cause of the destruction of the institution of the Round Table. Other causes of the demise of Arthur's order are the pernicious influences of the evil Vivien and Modred and the meaningless and sterile spirituality that prompts the quest of The Holy Grail. The last four idylls chart the final collapse of Arthur's realm, the utter disillusionment of individual idealism - personified by Pelleas, an anachronistic spring figure who appears in Camelot's bleak and hostile winter - and the complete social decay which is demonstrated by the fiasco of The Last Tournament. The tragic denouement of the cycle, on both individual and social levels, is evident in Guinevere, in which Arthur's wretched and traitorous queen understands Arthur's vision, but too late to save Camelot from ruin. In the final framing idyll, The Passing of Arthur, Tennyson's myth is elevated to the level of universal significance, the Idylls of the King becoming "not the history of one man or one generation but of a whole cycle of generations" (Memoir, ii, p.127).

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Themes, Genre, Idylls of the King, Alfred Tennyson, Poetry, Allegory, Epic, Dramatic monologue, Alexandrian idyll, Arthurian mythopoeia, Idealism, Social decay
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > English
Supervisors:Hall, R.F.
ID Code:3805
Deposited By: Philip Clarke
Deposited On:24 Oct 2012 12:02
Last Modified:24 Oct 2012 12:02
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