Virginity, sexuality, repression and return in the ‘tale of the sankgreal’
© Contributors 2011. All rights reserved. One of Malory's aims throughout the Morte Darthur is what Donald Hoffman calls ‘the diminution of the marvellous’ - a progressive shutting-out of sex and magic in favour of the creation of a space for homosocial chivalry. In the ‘Tale of the Sankgreal’, the story of the quest for the Holy Grail is indeed dominated by what may be read as their opposites: virginity and Christian spirituality. However, sex and magic repeatedly find their way back into the text in disguised and not-so-disguised forms. In adapting the thirteenth-century allegorical romance La Queste del Saint Graal, Malory remains largely faithful to the detailed plot of the original. However, he freely manipulates its values, shifting the story's meaning from an exploration of Christian life which uses the images and tropes of Arthurian knighthood, to an examination of the extent to which this knighthood can be considered compatible with Christian faith. Among other alterations and condensations, he incorporates almost all of the French text's focus on the sexual purity of the Grail Knights Galahad, Percivale and Bors, but decontextualizes it by removing much of the exegesis provided by various hermits and recluses. This serves to concentrate the references in the ‘Sankgreal’ to the Grail Knights' virginity to the point of shrillness, ironically keeping sex (via the trangressions of Bors and Launcelot) at the forefront of the reader's mind. It also raises questions regarding the knights' gender identity through their decreased participation in the violent one-on-one encounters and ‘ado’ that provide the measure of masculinity in other parts of the Morte.