English 65B/165B: Arthurian Literature
Malory's Morte D'Arthur Balin

I. Balin, or The Knight with the Two Swords

A. Like the author Malory, Balin a knight-prisoner

1. Only he, "a passing good man without villainy, treachery, or treason ... and of a gentle strain of father and of mother side," can pull out the sword from its sheath, sent by Lady Lyle of Avalon.
2. By contrast, Arthur, who as youth had no trouble pulling out the sword of the stone, is, like his knights and those of his enemy Rions of North Wales, unable to draw the sword.

B. Asked to return the sword to the maiden, he refuses and is warned that he will slay "the best friend ye Have and the man ye most love in the world,' to which he responds: "I shall take the adventure."

1. Adventure is the proper activity of knights, but often they have no idea what they are getting themselves into. They must entrust themselves to chance and fate. Though Malory's Arthurian world is nominally Christian, the story is strongly fatalistic.
2. The story of Balin foreshadows themes and patterns which will be crucial late in the Morte. His story deals with inexorable destiny and senseless slaughter. His fatal encounter with his beloved brother points forward to Lancelot's unwitting killing of Gareth.
3. The closeness of names, Balin/Balan, like that of Chrétien's Yvain/Gawain, signals the mimetic rivalry between the brothers, and foreshadows the eventual struggle between Arthur and Modred.

C. The women in the Morte and in Balin

1. The queens in their castles have a different ontological status from the damsels who inhabit the forests of adventure, where magic resides.
2. The women who roam the landscape are not usually the object of the quest, but the means to the achievement of it.
3. The otherness of the female gives rise to the ambivalence of their roles:
a. The sinister handmaiden of the Lady Lyle of Avalon does first good service, then proves deceptive and malevolent.
b The benevolent Lady of the Lake who gave Arthur his sword (I.24) becomes malevolent in demanding Balin's head.
c. Part of the confusion is due to the plot-driven events of the early books. Increasingly toward the end of the work character becomes more important (Guenevere emerges as a complex, striking character).

II. Pelleas and Ettard

A. In Book IV, from which this tale is taken, Gawain, the former flower of chivalry, an impetuous and vengeful character, foreshadowing his role later in the Morte.
B. A tale of perversity, signaled by the choice of the lady for the dwarf instead of the knight (pp. 42-43).
C. Here is a real cad, violating his troth and the trust and confidence of Pelleas and taking advantage of his role as mediator to seduce the Pelleas's loved one.