Posted February 26, 2008on:
The most terrible irony in all the Idylls is that there is no real cause for this loss of humanity. As Northrop Frye says, “Tragedy’s ‘this must be’ becomes irony’s ‘this at least is’ ” (p. 285). Jacob Korg also argues that there is no real cause, that the kingdom “unaccountably” (p. 10) dissolves. He goes on, however, to ascribe this causelessness to an overriding “fatalism,” a tragic principle, I would suggest, that is unrelated to ironic action. Instead of the convincing reasons given in tragedy we have a multiplicity of reasons, all inadequate. There are no resounding causes for the fall and no important forces at work against Arthur; he is defeated by triviality. His greatest enemy, in fact, is the natural process of oversimplification, The balance he tries to maintain between the physical and the spiritual, for instance, is destroyed on one side by Tristram and the naturalists, and on the other by the well-meaning search for the Grail. The failure is not one of morality but a pathetic failure of understanding; the world is lost not because it is evil but because it is stupid. [154/155]
Arthur is magnificently heroic, but there is about him the ironic shadow of the relentless and ludicrously ineffective pedagogue whose star pupils misunderstand: the king’s grandest and simplest words are presented by a good-hearted reporter, Percivale, whose only comment is, “So spake the King: I knew not all he meant” (“The Holy Grail,” l. 916). The entire poem mixes the heroic and the preposterous, the grand and the trivial. The final effect is not to deny the importance of Arthur and Camelot, but rather to insist on both the greatness and the impossibility – even the absurdity – of this dream. The dream is shattered for no particular, or at least no important, reason; most men did not even realize what it was: “the wholesome madness of an hour,” according to Tristram (“The Last Tournament,” l. 670).
Kincaid, James R. “Introduction to Idylls of the King.” Tennyson’s Major Poems: The Comic and Ironic Patterns. 1975 Yale University Press. 28 Mar. 2001 http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/tennyson/kincaid/ch8.html
See, that’s exactly what I was getting at with far less eloquence.
On a completely unrelated note I think I finally got rid of a pesky undergrad who’d picked up the annoying habit of following me everywhere since early February. He was ok looking with a great German accent and all but he was always hanging around my regular haunting spots all the time and we always had to meet up every day and even when I was sick he kept texting me with soup-making offers which was sweet but I can’t even escape you when I’m locked in my room, jesus, am I your first real live girl or what? And now when I was in the middle of juggling work and personal interests in about a million Firefox tabs he couldn’t seem to get that I was busy and would make the most pathetic attempts to subtly get my attention and write stupid notes in garbled Jamaican patois. So I gave him the glare and ignored him for 2 hours (that’s right! that’s how long he sat there idling–doesn’t he have work to do?). I think he finally got it.
Just wanted to get that off my chest.