I am currently teaching a course Medieval Literature at The Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College, and I am having a great time exploring these texts. Among the texts we are studying are Beowulf, Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, and Le Morte D’Arthur. Many themes and historical circumstances connect these works, but for the purposes of this post, I am concerned with the mysterious nature of their authors.
Beowulf is an old English poem, probably written during the 800s or 900s A.D. and is arguably the oldest piece of English literature. That is a scholarly debate and interesting, but it is not my main point here. The works deals with a warrior hero and is set in ancient Scandinavia. The poet is usually called “the Beowulf poet.” We have neither a clear idea nor evidence to indicate who he might have been. That he was educated is clear, but was he a member of the clergy or nobility or someone else? We don’t know.
Howard Pyle from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (1903)
We also do not know the identity or background of the person who was the poet of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. An argument can be made about the approximate area of Britain from which he originated, but even that is scholarly supposition. We simply do not know who this writer was.
On first glance, a different situation might seem to be the case with Le Morte D’Arthur, since an author’s name is attached to the work: Sir Thomas Malory. There is, however, a problem because there were at least seven people who claimed that name at that time, and we cannot be certain which one, if any, wrote the work. Ah the interest of the literary mystery!
Given that uncertainty surrounding the identities of these three writers, I thought I would issue an invitation to these three unknown authors to dine at a pub with me and see who arrives. Who do you think might be there? Who might choose to sit and dine with me and discuss their writings?