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CameLot - Stratford Festival

CameLot - Stratford Festival

The Origins of Arthurby

The Origins of Arthurby Shira GinslerNo one knows for sure if a real-life counterpart tothe legendary King Arthur ever existed, thoughhe is presented as a historical personage insome early chronicles.A Welsh poem written around the year 600contains our first known mention of him: a glancingreference in which another soldier is praised forhis valour, “though he was not Arthur.” He appearsagain in Welsh writings over the next five hundredyears, always cast as a great warrior.His first appearance in the work of an Englishwriter is in William of Malmesbury’s Gesta RegumAnglorum (Deeds of the Kings of Britain), publishedin 1125. Twelve years later, Geoffrey of Monmouthincluded Arthur in his History of the Kings ofBritain, and in 1155 Robert Wace’s adaptation ofMonmouth’s account – Roman de Brut – added theRound Table to our stock of Arthurian lore.Chrétien de Troyes, writing at the end of thetwelfth century, brought Arthur out of the realmof putative history into that of romance. It was hewho added to the story the element of chivalry:the medieval code that holds knights to a standardof religious, moral and social behaviour. In thethirteenth century, two Germanwriters contributed furtherto the legend: Wolfram vonEschenbach with Parzifal, andGottfried von Strassburgwith Tristan, both of whichwere used in the nineteenthcentury by Richard Wagneras the bases for operas.An anonymous poem,Sir Gawain and the GreenKnight, appeared in thefourteenth century, and in1485 William Caxton printedSir Thomas Malory’s Le Morted’Arthur, which melded all theprior works about King Arthurinto an epic romance unifiedby consistent themes,particularly the creation ofan ideal society based onStatue of King Arthur, designedby Albrecht Dürer and cast byPeter Vischer the Elder, 1520sselfless virtue, with theRound Table as a symbolGustave Doré's 1868 illustration of Merlyn and Arthur for Tennyson’sIdylls of the King.of equality and brotherhood.In the Victorian era, Alfred, Lord Tennyson largelyfollowed Malory in his twelve-poem cycle Idylls ofthe King, published between 1856 and 1885, butit was from a twentieth-century prose version ofthe story – T. H. White’s tetralogy The Once andFuture King, published in 1958 – that the creators ofCamelot drew their immediate inspiration. Writingfrom an anti-war stance, White scrubbed Arthur’smilitary exploits from the page and made him agreat political thinker who creates the perfectsociety by translating his tutor’s moral lessons into asystem of just governance.Based primarily on the third and fourth booksof White’s tetralogy, The Ill-Made Knight and TheCandle in the Wind, Camelot nonetheless owes adebt to all those prior centuries of literary tradition –and perhaps ultimately to some warlike Welshmanwhose name first became renowned a millenniumand a half ago.5

Ideas and InsightsArcelorMittal Dofasco applauds the artists, artisansand staff behind every outstanding experience at theStratford Shakespeare Festival.To Sing of CivilizationPeople sometimes suppose that the musical formimplies lightness or superficiality: that a musical,by its nature, cannot venture into the same seriousterritory as a play. This idea seems to me to beparticularly mistaken in the case of Camelot, amusical of truly classical power.Camelot centres on a love triangle betweenextraordinary people who pursue extraordinaryvisions of themselves: to be a king, to be a queen,to be the greatest of all knights. The participantstruly love each other in their different ways, but thehuman part of them that falls in love conflicts withthe ideals they hold: they have to negotiate thetruth of who they are with who they want to be.The larger theme embodied in this storyis civilization itself and how we deal with thefundamental challenge presented to it by humannature. The integrity of Arthur’s realm dependsupon the rule of law that he has himself established;the dilemma he faces is whether to flout that lawfor the sake of love and friendship. And far fromtrivializing this theme, the musical form actuallyraises the stakes. Music, like the other arts, is itselfa civilizing element in human life – and the dreamof civilization, the “big idea” of Camelot, is built intothis musical’s score: everybody sings about it.We live in a time when fundamental questionsabout the rule of civil law are very much in ourminds. Is it the best way to govern? During theBush administration in the United States, we sawa heated debate about the use of torture: could itbe acceptable if it yielded information that couldprevent a terrorist act? Arthur would say no. ButPellinore would be arguing with him: do we wait forsomeone to commit a terrible crime before we act?I think the story of Camelot has endured,both as a legend and as a musical, because itacknowledges the difficulty of such questions, andadmits the limitations of innocence and idealism,while still offering us the opportunity to believe that,in the end, it is civilization that we will choose.costume Designs For King Arthur and Guenevere by Mara BlumenfeldGary GriffinDirector6

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