The Role of Nobility in Sir Thomas Malory’s "Tale of Sir Gareth"

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The value of nobility in the middle ages can hardly be questioned. The majority of nobles lived a life of luxury, having riches beyond the wildest dreams of commoners. When one thinks of medieval knights, nobility is often comes to mind, but did knights have to be members of the noble class? Sir Thomas Malory’s “The Tale of Sir Gareth” examines this question and presents an interesting view as to the true value of a knight. Malory uses the actions of important characters to reveal his opinion that the nobility of a knight was secondary to his integrity, courage, and benevolence. Many characters in Malory’s world view nobility as an absolute must and even a synonym for being a knight. Sir Kay is a telling example of this. In the beginning of this tale, Sir Kay chastises Beaumains, saying “were he of noble birth he would have asked for a horse and for armor. No! He is nothing but a great loafer born of serving wench” (Malory 138). In this refusal of Beaumains’ potential, Sir Kay makes clear where he stands on knighthood. By making this statement, Sir Kay effectively equates being a knight with being of noble birth. In fact he doubts Beaumains so much that he challenges Beaumains to combat. In this sequence, Sir Gareth, who is still known as Beaumains, swiftly defeats Sir Kay even though he has neither shield nor spear (Malory 140). Beaumains then awards Sir Kay’s horse, a symbol of knighthood, to his dwarf as if to say his dwarf would make a better knight than Sir Kay (Huber 50). These events make Sir Kay seem to be a lowly, laughable knight whose opinion matters little. By demeaning Sir Kay in this manner, Malory makes a statement, effectively saying Sir Kay is wrong about what qualities a knight should have. Aside from the lowly Sir Kay, there are other characters whose actions reveal their stance on the qualifications for knighthood. Upon defeating the notorious Red Knight, Sir Gareth (known publicly as Beaumains still) meets his prize, Lady Lyoness. Like


Cited: Malory, Thomas, Sir. ¬Le Morte d’Arthur. Ed. and trans. Keith Baines. New York: Signet Classic, 2001. Pp. 137-169. Huber, Emily Rebekah.: 'Delyver me my dwarff! ': Gareth 's dwarf and chivalric identity. Arthuriana (International Arthurian Soc. - North American Branch) (16:2) [Summer 2006] , p.49-53.

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