Facing the giant(s) : Arthur’s battle with the Giant of St. Michael’s Mount in medieval chronicle and romance.


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Arthur’s battle with the Giant of St. Michael’s Mount is a frequent feature of Arthur’s campaign to conquer Rome in Arthurian texts following the Brut tradition from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae to Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur. Although the episode appears to be a divergence from the overall plot and pace of the texts, it is far more than a simple detour. Instead, the battle between Arthur and the Giant allows the texts to focus specifically on Arthur and his roles as warrior, Christian, and king. In facing the Giant of St. Michael’s Mount, Arthur consistently finds himself confronted with challenges to his martial skill, to the genuineness of his faith, to his sovereignty and authority as a king, and ultimately to his use of that power. As medieval texts in the Brut tradition place Arthur in conflict with the Giant of St. Michael’s Mount, they interrogate Arthur’s power and judge his success or failure in relation to how he uses that power in the battle with the Giant, in the military campaign against the Roman Empire which frames that battle, and throughout the entirety of his reign as a king of Britain. For Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, the encounter with the Giant reveals an Arthur who has shifted his focus from defending the Christian faith to serving his own imperial ambitions. For Laȝamon’s Brut, the Giant’s plea for mercy recenters the conflict in a legal rather than a martial framework, revealing Arthur to be a successful, law-giving king. The Alliterative Morte Arthure draws parallels between Arthur and the Giant, centering its focus on the feasts they host to demonstrate their predilections for excess and Arthur’s failure to balance magnificence with temperance. Finally, in his Le Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory shifts the conflict between Arthur and the Giant from matters of sovereignty to sexual desire, specifically competing desires for Guenevere, foreshadowing Lancelot’s inappropriate desire for Guenevere with its disastrous consequences for the Round Table.