The repetition, variation, and parataxis of episode types in Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur.


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Malory scholars have debated for years over the structure of the Morte d'Arthur, from arguments over its narrative unity to the ways in which editors attempt to divide it into readable sections. By and large, because the task of structural analysis is overwhelming, they focus on smaller portions of the work by noting the existence of a series of thematic patterns and choosing one to discuss in detail. Bonnie Wheeler’s 1993 essay “Romance and Parataxis and Malory” departs from this focus on thematic patterns by concentrating instead on the rhetorical pattern of paratactic episodes that structure Malory's work (110). In this case, parataxis refers to Malory’s tendency to place episodes in the Morte d’Arthur side by side in no particular order or hierarchy. This absence of narrative hierarchy poses a problem for structural critics, whose goal is to identify that very hierarchy: how does one identify the narrative hierarchy in a text which purportedly has none? One answer lies in the rhetorical strategy of dilatatio – the multiplication and variation of a text’s structural elements. Malory’s use of dilatatio links his paratactic episodes through the "conjunction" of their repeated and shared narrative structures. In addition, the purpose of dilatatio is to heighten the rhetorical effect of a text, and Malory’s use of it highlights major thematic patterns throughout his work. In this dissertation, I explore five cases of dilatatio in Malory’s Morte d’Arthur which are linked paratacticly by their narrative structures, and I examine their respective rhetorical effects. Identifying the repeated narrative structures within the Morte allows the reader to attempt an answer to the question of how to perform structural analysis on a work that resists hierarchical structure. In addition, my dissertation offers a novel way of reading episodes in Malory's text as a combination of separate rhetorical and thematic patterns while still arguing for the unity of the work. It presents Malory's work as a contradictory text whose ambiguity compels readers to decide for themselves which values to espouse and which ones to eschew.



Malory. Narrative structure. Dilatatio. Parataxis.