Arthur's Unrealism: Monty Python, Gawain and the Green Knight, and the Destruction of

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Arthur's Unrealism: Monty Python, Gawain and the Green Knight, and the Destruction of


It may be that ideals are necessary for humanity. Without idealized images, codes of behavior, even idealized objects, mankind would have difficulty functioning. There would be a lack of context or criteria with which to judge objects that may be termed less than ideal. However, the problem with idealized images is that they can never be described fully, and certainly never attained. An example is the contemporary ideal of feminine beauty, which has led to countless problems such as depression and psychological dietary disorders among women who perceive themselves to be "inadequate." The more culturally emphasized an ideal is, the more ordinary people are made to feel inadequate.

This has led to a trend common to all centuries, that of puncturing ideals by showing them to be less than what they are supposed to be. In art and literature we see manifestations of this mechanism. It is a protective mechanism in a sense, for it prevents total absorption in the ideal, forcing us to see it for what it is, a benchmark and not a realistic goal. Even in the works where men and women achieve the ideal, it is usually accomplished by supernatural means, for a concomitant of the ideal is that it cannot truly exist in the natural and hence imperfect world. Examples of such mechanisms range from the colloquialism "out of this world" to describe the superlative to the common mythological pattern of the religious leader being the son of a god.

One of the most enduring myths in the Western world is that of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Regardless of the origins of the tales, the fact is that by the time they had been filtered through a French sensibility and re-exported to England, they were representations of not one but several ideals. Courtly love and chivalry and the various components thereof, such as martial prowess, chastity, bravery, courtesy, and so on, were presented as the chief virtues to aspire to, and the knights as role models. Arthur's eventual fall is precisely because of having failed at some level to fulfill these ideals in his life.

The Arthurian cycle shows a sporadic awareness of the impossibility of mere humans fulfilling all the ideals that Arthur and his court represent. The story of Lancelot and Guenevere, Merlin's imprisonment by Nimu‘, and numerous other instances testify to the recognition of this tension between the real and the unrealistic.

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