Ars Electronica


Ars Electronica
Performing Art (Music Piece)
An Interpretation of Le Morte d’Arthur
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

Artist’s Remarks

While brainstorming ideas for this creative assignment, I decided to go back to what I do best and love most: music. It is especially fitting considering many of the medieval texts we have studied in this semester, like the romances and lais, were themselves performed orally or to music. In pondering how best to bring across themes such as forbidden love, treachery, danger, death, magic, and religiosity which I see in Le Morte d’Arthur, I decided that what could best capture all these elements was a musical impression. Thus, this piece is meant to capture some main themes of Le Morte d’Arthur, not create an exact soundtrack for it. I say it is medieval-inspired because I have done my best to adhere to medieval music forms, theory, practice, and instrumentation1 – these I will further elaborate on later. The piece tracks the rough development of Le Morte d’Arthur from the birth of Arthur to his demise, as well as that of the Round Table. While it would have been nice to include all twenty-one books of Le Morte d’Arthur, due to time constraints I will only be focusing on a few. With this in mind, I have selected enough of Le Morte d’Arthur to fit a piece of approximately five and a half minutes.

The piece is structured into five sections, each around one minute in length. Their titles are “Arthur’s Birth and Coronation,” “The Fight,” “The Sangrail,” “Romance,” and “Death of Camelot,” respectively. It is entitled Ars Electronica because it has been programmed, played, and recorded on an electronic keyboard instrument called the Electone.2 It is also a wordplay on ‘Ars Nova,’ a style of music which flourished in France in the 14th century, about which a treatise was written by Phillip de Vitry.3 My choice of the Electone is both symbolic and practical: first, it has three keyboards – one for right hand, one for left and one for the foot, much like the medieval positive organ.4 In that sense, it is an electronic organ, the modern-day counterpart to its medieval cousin. More importantly, the Electone’s versatility enabled me to programme and fine-tune the sound settings such that they resembled medieval instruments as closely as possible. Its multiple keyboards also allowed me to play three or more different instruments at the same time.

A Note on Medieval Styles

This piece posed a particular challenge for me as I had never encountered medieval music before.  In my classical musical training, we were schooled extensively in Renaissance and Baroque, but nothing earlier than that. As such, I embarked on my own quest of researching medieval music. One of the first things that stood out to me was the lack of regular metre or bar-lines. At that time, the modern system of time signatures which we use today had not been invented yet, so the music had specific rhythmic patterns but not bar-measures, per se.5 Thus, in my music I tried to replicate the free-flowing, meandering nature of medieval music.6 Another feature of note is the use of ornaments7 at liberty, in an almost improvised manner.8 I too have tried to follow that kind of ornamentation in my music. Medieval music also uses modes instead of the musical ‘keys’ we are familiar with today.9 Hence, I have used exclusively Gregorian modes in my composition as well.

1. Arthur’s Birth and Coronation

For the first part of this section, Arthur’s birth theme, I chose the most basic Medieval instrument available: the human voice. I used the Dorian mode10 and minor chords to give it a sombre feel. This recalls the grim circumstances of his birth: using Merlin’s help to disguise himself as Igraine’s husband the Duke of Cornwall, Arthur’s father Uther had tricked Igraine into going to bed with him, only hours after the real Duke’s death in battle. The sombreness of the music represents both the solemness of death and the graveness of treachery. I have chosen the lower male voices to add to the heavy atmosphere, making it sound like a mass.11 This adds a layer of irony: holy music being played for a child born out of trickery, the very violation of Christian and knightly values. In line with Uther’s trickery towards Igraine, I have added my own twist in the music – according to the usual Dorian mode, the B flat note is used instead of B natural. Up until the end of the first part, I consistently used B flat to prime listeners to expect the B flat every time; however, at the ending cadence of the first part, I jump to a B natural, changing the chord from a minor-key G chord (G, B flat, D) to a major-key G chord (G, B natural, D). It is a plot twist of sorts which then leads into the second part of this section, Arthur’s coronation theme. The tone and beat of the theme are celebratory, both to celebrate Arthur’s success in proving his worth through pulling the sword out of the stone, and as an exaltation of his virtues. This theme is also written in the Ionian mode12, which is known as the “pure” mode because of its lack of accidentals13. This is to show that, despite the treacherous circumstances of his birth, Arthur turned out to be noble and good. Thus, the ‘purity’ of the key is an allusion to Arthur’s purity; it is meant to symbolize his knightly virtue. The instrumentation also changes to a mixture of organ and voice. According to medieval thought, wind instruments were said to “arouse or exasperate amorous spirits, and to an extent move them to the sweetness of [religious] devotion.”14 Since the organ consisted of a multitude of windpipes, it was deemed the only instrument allowed for church use. Seeing as Arthur was christened before he took the throne, the use of the organ adds to atmosphere of holiness and jubilation, signaling the ascension of a noble and worthy king. Inspiration for this part was drawn from Gaude Felix Francia, the 1226 conductus for King Louis of France’s coronation and anointment.15

2. The Fight

In this section I used the medieval ivory horn and tubular trumpet. Although medieval brass instruments used only plain tones (no vibrato),16 I was unable to remove the preset vibrato in the sounds I used on the Electone. I chose these instruments because they are strong and stately, symbolic of the kind of bravado knights display in fights. The tone is authoritative and demanding, mimicking knights engaged in combat. This section features a layering of voices in polyphony – a feature that started to take root only in the late medieval period.17 The trumpet comes in first, followed by the horn in inversion, then subsequently both play in a pattern of interweaving melodic lines. The lines weave in and out of each other, crossing and clashing, representing the conflicts Arthur and his knights had with other kingdoms over the course of the book, such as Arthur’s campaign against Rome. I have also added a flute in the background, which appears at unexpected intervals and flits up and down uncontrollably. This represents the unpredictable magical interference of Merlin, Nineve and Morgan le Fay – one never knew when or where they might strike or choose to help. Even if they were not part of the main action, these magical characters were often lurking on the sidelines, much like the flute does here. Moreover, the flute adds to the sense of destabilization reminiscent of conflict. Additionally, I used the Locrian mode18,  which contains a diminished interval between B and F. This diminished interval creates a highly dissonant sound, thus I have extensively exploited it, along with big melodic leaps, to represent the chaos of battle.

3. The Sangrail

This section represents the various knights’ quest for the Sangrail, as instructed by Arthur. I once again used the organ, as well as the harmonically “pure” Dorian mode19 to symbolize the holy nature of this quest. The tempo is quick and the mood more upbeat, to mirror the excitement of going on a quest-adventure. However, although the melody ends on the mode’s tonic ‘C,’ there is an unexpected crescendo added, which suggests that all is not what it seems and there is danger lurking ahead. As we know, many knights did not come back from the quest for the Sangrail, and the crescendo is supposed to represent this.

4. Romance

This section interprets both Tristan and Isolt, and Lancelot and Guinevere’s stories. Even though they are slightly different, I see a parallel between both in that both are a story of a forbidden love, held on through trickery and deceit, that ends inevitably in tragedy. In this section I have used the pan flute and harp: both have associations with amorous Greek figures – the pan flute with the fertility god Pan, and the harp with the virtuosic lover Orpheus. Furthermore, both have a mild, sweet tone which gives the music an air of tenderness, otherworldliness, and delicacy, which is how romance characters often describe the feeling of falling in love. Specifically, the harp plays a series of soft arpeggiated chords much like a dance, and the two pan flutes dance with each other in polyphony. The higher flute represents the females like Isolt and Guinevere, while the lower pan flute represents the males like Tristan and Lancelot. The way the flutes communicate with each other is reminiscent of lovers’ embraces and intimate conversations. However, keeping in mind that these were forbidden romances, the sweetness does not last long: the mode quickly changes from the joyous Mixolydian20 mode to the more ominous, minor-sounding Phrygian21 mode. The music slows down menacingly, and the harp breaks its strumming pattern to play a flush of notes, foretelling the tragedy to befall these lovers.

5. Death of Camelot

In the final section, the music evokes not only Arthur’s death, but the dissolution of the Round Table with it. The music is modelled after a mourning mass – it is chordal organ music which is slow, stately, and grave. Unlike the earlier sections where there is a high degree of ornamentation, this section pulls back some of the ornaments to deliver a plainer line, reminding us of the solemnity of Arthur’s death. All the chords used are minor chords, with the exception of F, adding to the somber tone. The harmonic chord structure is also symbolic: I have used a pattern called the circle of fifths22 to represent the knights of the Round Table. The original circle of fifths for this mode should be B minor → F# minor → C# minor → G# minor → D# minor (enharmonic to Eb)23 → Bb minor → F → C minor → G minor → D minor → A minor → E minor → B minor. However, before the music even has a chance to reach E minor, I break the circle by going to a different chord, suggesting the breakdown of the Round Table. Although the circle of fifths is a pattern only developed during the Baroque era, I chose to make a creative departure from medieval music theory just this once, for the symbolic character of the circle.

At the end, the music resolves from dissonant chords to the tonic of the Hypodorian mode24, A minor. The Hypodorian mode is also known as the “natural minor” mode for its highly minor-sounding character, thus adding to the gloomy mood of the finale. I also added tolling church bells to add to the sense of death and finality in this last section. With this, Arthur and his Round Table are no more.


Diagram of the eight medieval modes, taken from Companion to Medieval and Rennaisance Music, p.255.


Diagram of the circle of fifths, taken from classicFM website25


1 Nigel Wilkins, “Instruments and their Music,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music,  451-474.

2 For more information, refer to

3 Fuller, “A Phantom Treatise of the Fourteenth Century? The Ars Nova; Ars nova: French and Italian Music in the Fourteenth Century.”

4 Case Western Reserve University Early Music Instrument Database, “Organ (Medieval).”

5 John Caldwell, “Rhythm and Metre,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, 718-746.

6 An example would be Joseph Payne’s transcription of the 15th century manuscript Praeambulum super D, here played by Catalina Vicens on a 15th century church organ:

7 Musical embellishments like trills, mordents and turns.

8 Cambridge History of Medieval Music.

9 Liane Curtis, “Mode,” Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music, 255-264.

10 Mode which spans mostly white keys from D to D, with the exception of B flat. Refer to Annex for diagram of all the modes.

11 Such as the Kyrie mass, exemplified in this performance by Oxford Camerata:

12 The mode that spans the white keys from C to C.

13 Flats, sharps or any alterations to the note.

14 Case Western Reserve University Early Music Instrument Database, “Organ (Medieval).”

15 Peter M. Lefferts, “Tonal Organization in Polyphony, 1150–1400,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, 747-773; Refer to this performance of Gaude Felix Francia:

16 Cupeiro, “Medieval Horn,”; Case Western Reserve University Early Music Instrument Database, “Trumpet (Medieval).”

17 Peter M. Lefferts,“Tonal Organization in Polyphony, 1150–1400,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, 747-773; Roman Hankeln, “Liturgy and Plainchant, 1150–1570,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, 774-800.

18 Mode which starts on B.

19 Refer to section ‘Arthur’s Birth and Coronation’ above for explanation.

20 Mode that spans the white keys from G to G.

21 Mode that spans white keys from E to E.

22 A pattern where the music moves through chords which are a fifth apart from each other until it comes back to the starting chord (Refer to Annex).

23 Enharmonic notes are notes which share the same pitch but have different letter names; # means sharps and b means flats.

24 The mode that spans the white keys from A to A.



Case Western Reserve University College of Arts and Sciences. “Flute (Medieval).” Early Music Instrument Database. Case Western Reserve University. Accessed May 2, 2022.

Case Western Reserve University College of Arts and Sciences. “Harp (Medieval).” Early Music Instrument Database. Case Western Reserve University. Accessed May 2, 2022.

Case Western Reserve University College of Arts and Sciences. “Organ (Medieval).” Early Music Instrument Database. Case Western Reserve University. Accessed May 2, 2022.

Case Western Reserve University College of Arts and Sciences. “Trumpet (Medieval).” Early Music Instrument Database. Case Western Reserve University. Accessed May 2, 2022.

Cupeiro, Abraham. Medieval Horn. YouTube, 2021.

Everist, Mark, and Thomas Forrest Kelly. The Cambridge History of Medieval Music. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Fuller, Sarah. “A Phantom Treatise of the Fourteenth Century? The Ars Nova.” Journal of Musicology 4, no. 1 (1985): 23–50.

Knighton, Tess, David Fallows, and Liane Curtis. “Mode.” Essay. In Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music, 255–64. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Machaut, Guillaume de. Guillaume De Machaut: La Messe De Nostre Dame – Kyrie. YouTube, 2009.

Malory, Thomas, and Helen Cooper. Le Morte D’arthur. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Marshall, Kimberly. “Medieval Organ Music.” Vox Humana, October 14, 2018. 

MasterClass. “Medieval Era Music Guide: A Brief History of Medieval Music – 2022.” MasterClass. MasterClass, December 7, 2020. 

Vicens, Catalina. Medieval Organ C.1425-1430 Ostönnen / Praeambulum Super D. YouTube, 2017.


[Featured Image]

Mal Mariée: Dance as a Medium for Resistance


Mal Mariée: Dance as a Medium for Resistance
Performing Art (Dance)
An Interpretation of “Laüstic
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)


Unfortunately, the quality of this video has been reduced due to site limitations on file size. To watch this video at a higher resolution, please click on the following link:

Mal Mariée: Dance as a Medium for Resistance – CLAIRE ZHAI HUAN TING (’24)

Artist’s Remarks

“Laüstic” is a poem that retells the experience of entrapment, encapsulated by the term Mal Mariéea literary trope that appeared commonly in Medieval Romance. It refers to an unhappily married woman, under the constant surveillance and control of her husband. This piece of work seeks to pay tribute to the experiences of struggle of the female protagonist, and to explore dance as a medium for resistance, transposed to a modern setting. The definition of the body as a “complex, contradictory, and ever changing cultural site of ‘discursive intercourse’ which is constructed dialogically by the dancer and her audiences” (Reed, 519) equips movement with the tools to not only replicate experiences from the past, but also to inject new meaning into the endeavors and actions of characters. In this project, dance is examined as a channel for non-verbal communication, a physically situated activity that yields implicit meaning, and finally as a means for agency in the form of embodiment, therefore reflecting its capacity for resistance.

In a setting where communication between the lovers was restricted, and eventually denied, dance as a form of non-verbal communication evades surveillance, and subverts the mal-mariée trope. In the poem, the lovers’ opportunity for communication is constrained to talking at the lady’s bedroom window (“Laüstic”40). The fact that it is the only time where “she speaks to him and he to her”, shows the fleeting nature of their mutual companionship, heightened by the reciprocal phrasing of the line (“Laüstic“, 42). Despite the short physical distance between the lovers given that “he lived close by” (“Laüstic“, 28), the absoluteness of the obstacle they faced in communication became a defining feature of the relationship. This barrier in communication is evoked through movements that explore the idea of distance – tracing the length from one shoulder to the end of the arm, measuring distance within the space of two palms, gauging height from body to ground, closing the space between two elbows etc. As love relationships are characterized by “loving speech” and proclamations of love, the lack of freedom to interact intimately with each other as lovers takes on symbolic significance (“Laüstic”56). Furthermore, the “great care and secrecy” with which the lovers had to approach their relationship is represented by the cautious steps and instability of movement (“Laüstic”30), connoting the precarious quality of their communication, almost like trying to navigate around the “nets”, “snares” and “traps” meant to capture the nightingale (“Laüstic”96). The moment that the dancer loses balance and falls to the ground mimics the moment that the nightingale gets caught in the trap (“Laüstic”96), the suddenness of the movement mirroring the rupture in the secrecy of communication between the lovers. Yet, at the same time, the dance conveys the agony of the lovers in trying to establish a private space to connect with each other, baring open the challenges of distance and surveillance faced. In doing so, it serves as a “system of signs that expresses ideas”, where the “evolutionary value of dance lies in its effectiveness as a mode of nonverbal communication” (Blacking, 89-91). By perceiving dance as “dynamically embodied action” and a form of “talk from the body” (Warburton, 68), it can be argued that the denial of communication between the lovers is restored by movement that seeks to remember and communicate their suffering, thereby doing their torment justice. 

In accompaniment to the dance, it is also important to recognize the space in which the movement is presented, where in this poem, it calls attention to the tension between containment and release. Dance does not occur in a vacuum, but is a “situated activity” that “takes place in the context of a real-world environment” (Warburton, 67). Such an understanding is particularly key to this interpretation of “Laüstic”In one scene, the background of concrete and stone represents the “great high wall of dark-hued stone” (“Laüstic”38), where the harshness of the material, the angular lines that it creates, and the small space that it delineates visualizes the insurmountable confines that the lady is subject to. The unforgiving material leaves the dancers’ revolt in vain, where merely fists and mental will prove insufficient to overcome physical imprisonment. Yet, the dancer’s movements of pushing against stone with the weight of her body, falling and catching herself, attempts to draw her own space with her limbs, and at times sharp movements, reflects the desire of the lady to assert her command and independence against the control of her husband. As the dancer emerges from the shadows and progresses towards the brightness, we see the motion of reaching towards the light source and the yearning to escape the feeling of being stranded and rooted to continued misery. Here, the fluidity of the movements is contrasted to the roughness and disrepair of the peeling wall, showing a silent resistance in the face of rugged and unrelenting forces. 

The tension between containment and release is further expressed through the contrast between the idyllic setting of summer, and the inability of the lovers to consummate their love. Despite the merriment and carefree nature of the surroundings, where weather had made the “fields and forests green”,  and “gardens, orchards, bloom again”, the lovers remained subject to the control and fury of the husband (“Laüstic”58-62 & 92). This is represented by the shifting locations from within walls to nature without artificial confines, reflecting the transient quality of freedom as each state is impermanent. In one particular scene, the melding of concrete and brick flooring with the greenery and open skies encapsulates the lady’s predicament – the sustained narrative of entrapment as opposed to the brief moments of respite at nighttime where she is able to reunite with her lover (“Laüstic”68). It depicts the experience of being tempted with freedom while never really having that option and perpetually being circumscribed within the unyielding confines of the Mal Mariée trope. These instances reflect that “space is not an inert backdrop for movement, but is integral to it, often providing fundamental orientation and meaning” (Reed, 523). In line with the intentions of this work, space informs movement by making the subject conscious of the implications of her movement quality, not in isolation, but in tandem and association with the surroundings that it inhabits. 

Finally, this work examines the embodiment of resistance in dance, a way of remembering the weight that the story of “Laüstic” holds. By perceiving dance as “an expression and practice of relations of power and protest, resistance and complicity” (Reed, 505), we may recognize how movement is not one-dimensional and simply replicative in nature, but complex and “simultaneously productive and reproductive” (Reed, 521). Such a view is outlined by John Blacking, who argued that although “ritual may be enacted in the service of conservative and even oppressive institutions”, “the experience of performing the nonberbal movements and sounds may ultimately liberate the actors” (Reed, 521). This agency is already evident in the verbs connoting the lady’s intentions to “act now” and “make known to him this vicious tale”, rather than simply submitting to her fate (“Laüstic”132-134). The legacy of her message is ultimately symbolized by the reliquary, where it takes on not only figurative significance, but also physical embodiment of the seizure of freedom, carried by the weight of the nightingale’s body and the stones within the reliquary (“Laüstic”149-152). Here, the “reflection and resistance of cultural values” is situated in the nightingale and reliquary as an embodiment of both the acquiescence of the eventual failure to secure the liberty to love (Reed, 521), and the resilience of the protagonist in demanding that her story be told and remembered for its tragedy. The dancer’s leveled lifting of the reliquary (represented by the glass jar) carries a sense of reverence for a story that has survived time and space (“Laüstic”156-160), where the trail of falling sand and the tracks left on the ground mirror the memory and imprint left behind by “Laüstic”. At the very end of the film, the movement of the clasped hands, and the final release is reminiscent of the message of resistance exemplified by the nightingale being set free, despite its corporeal death. Hence, we may see dance “not as a retreat but rather as a means of remembering” (Reed, 526), explored through its channels for embodiment and thus resistance.


Blacking, John. 1982. “Movement and Meaning: Dance in Social Anthropological Perspective.” Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research 1, no. 1 (April): 89-99.

Reed, Susan A. 1998. “The Politics and Poetics of Dance.” Annual Review of Anthropology 27:503-532.

Warburton, Edward C. 2011. “Of Meanings and Movements: Re-Languaging Embodiment in Dance Phenomenology and Cognition.” Dance Research Journal 43, no. 2 (Winter): 65-83.

In Memoriam


In Memoriam
Performing Art (Instrumental Piece)
An Interpretation of “Laüstic
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

Artist’s Remarks

Music, to me, is a universal storyteller that evokes powerful emotions which words cannot describe. Similarly, love is a nebulous and subjective concept, often also indescribable. The Lais by Marie de France is a collection of poems that explore different forms and boundaries of love and suffering. “Laüstic”, in particular, connects love and music in the form of birdsong; the song of a nightingale represents the connection between two distant lovers. I thus decided to reimagine “Laüstic” from The Lais as a 3-minute orchestral piece. I chose to write it as an orchestral piece to allow for more fluidity, conventional flexibility and elaborate nuances which enhance the emotion and imagery exhibited by the music. This piece is titled In Memoriam as it is written in memory of the life and death of the nightingale in the poem, and concomitantly, the love it represents. Initially, the nightingale flies freely albeit in the distance, then it gets trapped and murdered, yet is remembered forever after. The stages of the nightingale’s life in the music parallel stages of the relationships between characters in the poem. The structure of the piece also mimics the poem’s, as it moves from describing love in the private sphere to the invasion of the public sphere into the private to quash that love. The emotion of the piece hence intensifies suddenly after a calmer beginning to reflect the tragic narrative of the poem. The piece is written in the key of A minor to communicate tragedy, predominantly using the harmonic minor scale, where the seventh scale degree is raised to create a stronger pull towards the tonic or root note. This strong pull is intended to evoke the emotion of unfulfilled desire and longing exhibited throughout the poem.

In Memoriam begins with a light flute melody accompanied by subtle undertones of strings to introduce the nightingale. The high tones of the flute are intended to form an image of a bird flying high in the distance. This section has a three-beat rhythm (3/4) indicating movement and wavering stability. It also establishes the distant yet dynamic relationship between the married woman and her neighbour, the knight. From 00:00 to 00:07 of the piece, I played an ascending, then descending flute melody, reminiscent of a bridge going over an obstacle. This was to reflect how the lovers manage to somewhat overcome the “great high wall of dark-hued stone” (38) between them. The increased ambience and reverberation effects imitate the sound of a large hall, thus exacerbating the feeling of distance. These first few seconds establish the secret and distant connection between the lovers that the free-flying nightingale represents. The overall sombre melody also foreshadows the tragic turn of future events.

The next section is introduced by bar chimes that create a transition into an enchanted, magical and dream-like space, mirroring the poem’s description of summer. This section exhibits the lovers’ time together with a syncopated and playful rhythm played by the harp to evoke the joyful emotion of their love. The soft and peaceful tones of the harp are also evocative of a lullaby, as the lovers saw each other at night as they listened to the nightingale’s song. The undertones from the synth are intended to create an ethereal and dream-like soundscape to reflect the magical and otherworldly quality when the “moon shone” as the lovers met (69). The effect of the background synth strings is a feeling of simultaneous distance and immersion, similar to how their love is physically distant, yet intimate and secret from the public. This is coupled with nature sounds I recorded from a forest to reflect the natural descriptions of summer and birdsong in the poem, and the association of nature with love and desire. The chord progression of this section is Am, G, F, G. This simple palindromic progression is intended to reflect the reciprocative relationship of the lovers as they “could toss tokens to each other, throw little gifts, lover to lover” (43-44). This section also has a 4-beat rhythm (4/4) unlike the first section. I wanted to create a sense of irony that their fleeting time together has the most stable time signature of the song. This is to parallel how Marie criticises the constructs of courtly love and the jealous husband trope in the poem. The tone of the poem seems to support the secret and unlawful relationship between the wedded woman and her bachelor neighbour, while painting her husband as the villain despite being legally in the right. The husband is referred to as a “spiteful boor” (116) while the neighbour is directly contrasted as “not a boor” (148). Hence, the sweet and short interactions between the lovers imply that their relationship is more stable and healthy than that of the woman and her husband, as he controls and guards her. Yet, this idyllic and enchanting relationship is only a transient fantasy. The changing time signature shows that events are ever-changing, and warns against getting comfortable with a false sense of secret stability. True enough, the end of this private fantasy is signified by the sound of descending bar chimes.

The middle section leading up to the climax of the piece encapsulates entrapment. The combination of percussion and random, spasmodic and dissonant strings is intended to portray the nightingale flapping its wings desperately trying to escape being trapped. I used tritones, also known as the devil’s interval, to create the dissonant and unsettling atmosphere. This feeling of entrapment and being stuck reflects how the lovers are also trapped – they never meet physically and will never do so. The jealousy and selfishness of the husband has also trapped the wife. The sudden, loud cracking  sound created by several drums played consecutively imitates the violent and sickening snapping of the bird’s neck by the husband. The former bass drum beats resemble a heartbeat, which stops suddenly at the snap to symbolise the death of the nightingale and coinciding heartbreak of the wife. This heartbreak is a reimagination of the visual image of literal heartbreak in the poem when the dead nightingale “bloodied her breast” (119).

The death of the nightingale and the lovers’ relationship invite mourning. The high E note sustained by the strings creates a ringing effect to hold the tension and prolong the discomfort. The multi-layered amplification of the dead nightingale, created by the elaborate wrapping in lines 135-137, is represented by the several layers of strings that follow. The use of a “reliquary” (149) to carry the nightingale’s corpse suggests a religious significance much more precious than before. The added volume from all the strings being played simultaneously and the descending bassline create a dramatic, yet grand and reverent sound that intensifies. The dissonant E7/#9 chord, played at 2:07, also includes a tritone and reminds listeners of the previous horrific violence that the wife still has to live on with despite the grand new significance of the bird’s memorial.

The last part of the song is a repeat of the melody of the flying nightingale played at the beginning. However, it is played an octave lower using a flute organ to mimic the mourning at a funeral or memorial. The muted tone of the flute organ emphasises concealment, as the nightingale is now inaccessible, like their private love. At the end, the flute organ fades out and slows down to create the sense of eternal continuity, as the knight “carried it with him everywhere” (156). Although “the vessel [was] sealed” (155), symbolising a closed chapter of unattainable love, this love remains a literal and emotional burden he will always bear. The nightingale will be remembered forever, and with it, the love that never took flight.

Poetry and song in “Laüstic” glorify relationships in an unrealistic way, as the nightingale’s song romanticises the lovers’ unconsummated love. The Nightingale represents an idyllic fantasy that gets destroyed by reality and the public sphere. In Memoriam encapsulates the message that secret relationships in the private sphere do not last, and that idyllic fantasies are unsustainable. Yet, because this love ended so tragically, memories of it transformed to take on a newly elevated, greater significance. The memory of a relationship with a loved one, alongside the heavy burden of its loss, is carried forever.



The Green Knight: The Limitations of Human Capacity


The Green Knight: The Limitations of Human Capacity
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

Artist’s Remarks

In ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,’ the Green Knight taunts the Arthurian court by using his grandeur to emphasize their shortcomings and haunts Sir Gawain, who comes to fear his mortality at the Green Knight’s hands. As I carried the Pearl poet’s Green Knight in my mind across the weeks, I realized that his existence is a direct challenge to the limitations of human capacity. I hoped to capture this aspect of the Green Knight’s existence in physical recreation. I have created a model out of crushed papers, fallen leaves, and green plastic bags in my creative interpretation. His armor is made of leaves painted over in green to cast them as “evergreen,” and as per the description in the text, the Green Knight remains shoeless. He is beheaded, holding his head – wrapped in green plastic – by his side. He has a red braid around his waist and decapitated head. My creative decisions in making this model (whom I affectionately call “man”) are products of much deliberation. As this essay proves, my decisions document the dilemmas I faced as I worked within my own human capacity limitations. 

From the introduction of the Green Knight, he is set apart from the knights of the Arthurian court in how massive his stature is. The first descriptions of the Knight depict him as “a mountain of a man, immeasurably high, / a hulk of a human” (lines 137-138), placing him (literally) a head and shoulders above the other knights. To attempt to capture this “most massive man” (line 141), I set out to create a model as large and sturdy as I could make it. The model is big – I was indeed questioned by passersby, who noticed I was carrying a rather large (and green) model of a man back and forth from the Art Studio. However, I admit he is not as large as I would have liked him to be. Running into issues of storage, transportation, and resource shortages pointed me to the limitations of my own capacity. I also planned to make this model out of wood to give him the bulk and durability that his title as the “mightiest of mortals” (line 141) commands. However, a lack of resources and expertise led me to use crushed papers to construct the base – unfortunately, making my model extremely flimsy. Again, I faced limitations in what I was capable of creating. In this trial-and-error process, I realized that these were uniquely human problems that curtailed how large and sturdy I could make the model I created with my own hands. I doubt nature runs into such issues in creating features of the natural world. Thus, in this failed venture of recreating the physicality of the Green Knight, I paralleled the Arthurian knights in my realization that I could not recreate his build in the same way the knights could not match the Green Knight’s stature. 

The otherworldliness of the Green Knight lies in the striking feature of his greenness. This sets him distinctly apart from the other knights as the green hue demarcates him as a being not of the human realm but instead of natural earthen powers beyond human imaginaries. I used leaves in my model of the Knight’s armor to embody his extraordinary abilities. These leaves browned over the time I created the model, presenting me with a dilemma. Browning is normal for leaves, but in my pursuit to recreate the Green Knight in all his glory, I was left unsure of what to do. Was I to leave the browning leaves and lose the unique greenness of the character I was trying to bring to life? Or was I to paint over the leaves in green to honor his greenness and compromise my desire to incorporate wholly natural elements into my model? Leaving the leaves untouched and unpainted betrays the “entirely emerald green” (line 150) depiction of the Green Knight, but it would represent the strength of nature over man’s will. Human desire has to adjust around the state of nature: I could not alter the state of the leaves naturally unless I were to obtain evergreen leaves (another limitation of my capacities). This particular scenario seemed to parallel the absolute power the Green Knight yields by being a representation of the natural forces of the earth – the “force of [his] fist would be a thunderbolt” (line 201). I, however, chose to paint over the leaves, believing that not recreating the green tint of the Green Knight would be a higher opportunity cost. This desire to stay true to the Green Knight’s tint allowed me to find an answer to the question the Pearl poet poses: “what did it mean that human could develop this hue?” (line 234). The greenness is such a marvelous characteristic that it indeed acts as a distinguisher from the other humans of the Arthurian court for the Green Knight to have developed it. 

Unsettlingly, despite the features that make the Green Knight distinctly not human, his existence as the ‘knight’ who is ‘green’ portrays him as a human. This makes his existence paradoxical – he is a symbol of elemental forces, yet only ever referred to as a man or human. He might be a “mountain” but is still a “man”; a “hulk” but still a “human.” This paradox seems uncomfortable in that his supposed humanity exacerbates Gawain and the other Arthurian knights’ shortcomings in comparison to him. By being a human and still yielding such power in his immortality despite being beheaded, the limitations of the human condition are further exposed. I hoped to capture this disturbing dichotomy by using leaves to depict the “veritably verdant” (line 161) quality of the knight while using pieces of a green plastic bag as the model’s sleeves and pants. Plastic waste is a human creation that serves to destroy wildlife and natural habitats. Even placing the plastic beside the leaves seemed strange – I was juxtaposing an emblem of nature beside a token of the destruction that humanity is capable of. Meditating on this, I realized I wanted to nuance this dichotomy further. I took artistic liberty to include a braided red chain around the model’s waist to depict the holly sprig the Green Knight holds as a symbol of eternal life. The model is also headless – his head lies attached to his hand, wrapped in green plastic with the same red string tied around it. I particularly enjoyed the irony in this image: the plastic seems to be suffocating the knight’s head, mirroring dark and gruesome images of modern-day murders, in much the same manner that humanity is destroying the environment. The shoelessness of the model – the only depiction of vulnerability the Green Knight bears in the story – adds to the sense of hopelessness and fragility of the human condition. However, the red strings symbolize the eternal life of the Green Knight. Understanding his immortality against his portrayal as a human being allows for a deeper appreciation of his otherworldly powers far beyond human capacity. Creating these layers of paradoxes to emphasize the Green Knight’s powers above that of humanity proved to be a humbling parallel to Gawain’s fear in facing his mortality in his challenge with the Green Knight.

Ultimately, I believe this reflection has become a record of the questions I grappled with in trying to create this knight. There was a lot I wanted to do but could not end up doing, or I had to choose to do something over another. Mostly, it was out of my capacity to bring to life my ideas precisely as I envisioned them. At the end of this project, I now realize that this, in itself, is a lesson I’ve learned from the Green Knight. Embarking on this project led me to deep meditation on the limits of human capacity. In the same way that the Green Knight epitomized the shortcomings of Sir Gawain by constantly reminding him – taunting him even – of his mortality as a human, I now see that creating this model has taunted me with my own limitations as a human attempting to recreate the true essence of the mystical being of the natural world that is the Green Knight. 


Armitage, Simon, trans. (2009) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. W.W. Norton & Company.

The Green Knight


The Green Knight
Textile Art (Embroidery)
An Interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

Artist’s Remarks

“A text is a weave of knowing and not-knowing.”1 As stated by critic Geraldine Heng with regards to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the narrative is full of unanswered questions. The Green Knight is a mysterious character both known and unknowable. His first appearance is a shock to Arthur’s court, and though we eventually glean some insight as to his origins, there still lurks questions, such as: why does Morgan le Fay hate Guinevere? How does Guinevere react? The binaries of knowing and not-knowing form a compelling narrative.

With the text described as a “weave,” I was inspired to embroider. In fact, various narratives refer to embroidery as a medium for communication. For instance, in the Middle English Breton Lai Emare, Emare’s luxuriously embroidered robe plays a central role in the narrative. The robe depicts different pairs of lovers. With its images of true loves, the robe becomes representative of a “gallery of ideals,” integral to the romance of the story.2 Embroidery was a common pastime for women in the Medieval period, akin to a symbol of status. Embroidered items were often created with expensive materials like silk, silver or gold, and given as presents to promote the political interests of the family. A valuable gift, embroidery was a medium of communication, signalling friendly intentions and furthering alliances.3 In embroidery, various stitches are used; the split stitch was popular in Medieval England, and so I mainly used this stitch, as seen in the border and leaves.4

Regarding the Green Knight, what struck me was the ambiguity of what he represented. While at first an ominous appearance in Arthur’s court, by the end of the tale, we learn he is the friendly lord who welcomed Gawain into his court. In fact, the Green Knight possesses many paradoxical qualities, seen in lines 151-220, expounding his appearance in excruciating detail. He is green and supernaturally strong, yet appears human at the same time. He appears offering symbols of peace (the holly sprig) and of violence (the axe). He could be good or evil. As such, I decided to focus on embroidering just the Green Knight, although in the narrative, he enters Arthur’s court on his green horse. Moreover, I kept his face empty, in order to underscore the mystery of his identity—Arthur’s court knows nothing about the Green Knight’s origins when he first arrives.

The most striking aspect of the Green Knight is, as his name suggests, that he is entirely green. Specific shades of green are mentioned; he is the green of nature, be it “forest-green” or “grass-green” (lines 220 and 235). To highlight the greenness of the knight, I decided to use green cloth for the background, overtly highlighting the green-ness of the Green Knight and the overall piece. The only parts of the piece that are not green are the gold accents and the items he wields.

In this piece, I tried to depict the contrast between the humanity of the Green Knight and his supernatural appearance, where he appears like a force of nature. The Green Knight is directly associated with nature, his garments “embroidered as it was with butterflies and birds,” lending a sense of delicateness to the Green Knight, in line with his meticulously groomed appearance (line 166). To make these animals more obvious, I embroidered butterflies around the knight, as though following him—emphasising the idea that the Green Knight is aided by the power of nature, and is thus stronger than normal knights. I also used green felt for the armour, creating a texture that reminded me of moss, as though elements of nature are literally being used to protect him. On top of the mossy armour, I used embroidery thread to stitch leaves and vines, explicitly highlighting the Green Knight’s connection to nature. Similarly, the Green Knight’s cape has felt leaves attached on top, as though they are natural extensions of the cloak.

However, at the same time, the Green Knight is human. Though the characters do not know it yet at this juncture, the Green Knight is an alternate identity of Sir Bertilak. After all, the knight is dressed like a wealthy lord who is familiar with the clothes and customs of the time: “baubles and gems” are “arrayed so richly around his costume” (line 162). Interestingly, the word “costume” suggests that the ‘Green Knight’ is a mere illusion; underneath the clothes is a completely human being. To emphasise the human side of the Green Knight, green sequins were added to the cloak to represent the “baubles and gems.” Gold thread helps signify the status of the Green Knight: he appears in Arthur’s court as a grand figure dressed “richly” in human finery meant to impress. Furthermore, for the Green Knight’s hair, woolier thread is used to add more texture and make the hair appear more similar to human hair, despite being green.

Tellingly, the reactions of those at Arthur’s court emphasises the human-ness yet unnatural-ness of the Green Knight. The Green Knight is an oddity: although described as “weird” and “otherworldly,” characters note the Green Knight is still “flesh and bone,” ascribing human qualities to him (lines 196-198). This underscores the inability of the characters to categorise the Green Knight. Instead, the Green Knight appears to be symbolic of some connection between humanity and nature. He could even possibly represent a harbinger of death; after all, he looks so strong to the point that “it seemed no man there might / survive his violent blow” (lines 201-202). I tried to show the prowess of the Green Knight by making him appear imposing. His arms are outstretched, creating the impression of a large towering figure.

The Green Knight is also divine-like, aligning with the religious undertones of the narrative. Christ’s human yet divine nature is comparable to the Green Knight’s human yet supernatural nature. The Green Knight suddenly appears on New Year’s day, when Arthur is waiting for a marvellous story. Critics have pointed out it as though the Green Knight is playing out “an inversion of the Easter phase of Jesus’s ministry, a violent death and resurrection that threatens to bring death without hope of redemption or resurrection to Gawain.”As such, I took the liberty of adding a gold cross around the neck of the Green Knight, implying his connection to Christianity.

Finally, I depicted the items the Green Knight is holding, in order to present the dichotomy of violence and peace that he offers Arthur’s court. The text describes him as holding “in one hand a sprig of holly” (line 206). The holly symbolises the Green Knight’s peacefulness, as he explicitly states: “Be assured by this holly stem here in my hand / that I mean no menace” (lines 265-266). As one of the few non-green items the Green Knight carries, I wanted to emphasise it by using bright red; hence, I used red sequins for the berries. This helps draw one’s eye to the sprig of holly, signalling the Green Knight’s peaceful intentions.

However, in his other hand, the Green Knight holds “the mother of all axes,/ a cruel piece of kit” (lines 208-209). The menacing look of the axe is also seen through the line: “broad-edged blade brightly burnished” (line 212). Although the Green Knight tells Arthur’s court that if he wanted conflict, his “sword and spear would be here,” the axe still remains ominously visible, and later becomes the vital element to his proposed game (line 269).


Heng, Geraldine. “Feminine Knots and the Other Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” PMLA, vol. 106, no. 3, 1991, pp. 500–14, 

Mortimer J. Donovan, “Middle English Emare and the Cloth Worthily Wrought,” in Larry D. Benson, ed., The Learned and the Lewed: Studies in Chaucer and Medieval Literature, Harvard English Studies 5 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), p. 339.

3 Diener, Laura Michele. “Sealed with a Stitch: Embroidery and Gift-Giving among Anglo-Saxon Women.” Medieval Prosopography, vol. 29, 2014, pp. 1–22,

4 See for a tutorial.

5 Besserman, Lawrence. “The Idea of the Green Knight.” ELH, vol. 53, no. 2, 1986, pp. 219–39,


Armitage, Simon. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008.

Besserman, Lawrence. “The Idea of the Green Knight.” ELH, vol. 53, no. 2, 1986, pp. 219–39,

Diener, Laura Michele. “Sealed with a Stitch: Embroidery and Gift-Giving among Anglo-Saxon Women.” Medieval Prosopography, vol. 29, 2014, pp. 1–22,

Heng, Geraldine. “Feminine Knots and the Other Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” PMLA, vol. 106, no. 3, 1991, pp. 500–14, 

Mortimer J. Donovan, “Middle English Emare and the Cloth Worthily Wrought,” in Larry D. Benson, ed., The Learned and the Lewed: Studies in Chaucer and Medieval Literature, Harvard English Studies 5 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), p. 339.



Literary Art (Short Story)
An Interpretation of The Mabinogion
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

The first thing she remembers is feeling her feet. It felt strange, she’s never had feet before. She feels a rustling, something soft, she can’t quite see yet. A delicate feeling, like if she were to move just a bit more, she could destroy everything. Not that she could move – none of it is in her control, none of it will ever be. She feels a pair of hands, not hers, working their way up – with every inch a new feeling coursing through. She was never a child, but she feels like she is growing just like one. Slowly gaining consciousness, learning and evolving. She doesn’t really understand what’s going on, but it is not as though she can question it, not quite yet at least. She focuses on the feeling instead. Something tangible, not exactly comprehensible but maybe she could make sense of it, given time. A second set of hands joins the first, nimbly weaving its fingers through her hair or maybe the hands are weaving her hair. She isn’t sure. She has never been sure before. The hands feel masculine though she does not know how she knows this.

There’s a difference between the two sets. The first one is determined, working fast and with a purpose – there is no pleasure in the art, just a desired outcome. The magic is a little stronger – at least what she thinks is magic – the feeling is well-worn and precise. A sense of experience and wisdom emerges through every bout of careful energy that courses into her legs. She can sense the apathy, the clear sense of duty. Though the magic manifesting through the second set of hands is nearly identical, there’s a marked difference in the way the work – taking their time, savouring every new petal. There is something lascivious about the way these hands move across their masterpiece – her body. They work their way down slower – the magic less experienced, more brash, constantly returning back to completed areas to fix their mistakes. They linger uncomfortably on her chest, much longer than is proper. She tries to move them away, but her hands are unfinished, almost intentionally, as though the hands understand her intentions. This is not their first experience in impropriety. She feels everything. The pain and humiliation of the body these hands have besmirched. The tears and anguish. It shrivels something inside her. She can’t imagine not having a similar fate. She already lacks power over her body. The hands move on.

She feels everything. The rustling of the flowers – a different kind of daintiness to each of them – the oak, the most delicate despite coming from the strongest plant. It feels like a prophecy. She is meant to be beautiful. That is her purpose, it is clear. She could neither have a different purpose, nor want to. It’s her gift of gratitude for their craft. The delicate bean blossom is put gently between her thighs – a jolt of energy passing through her as every sensation gradually becomes more salient. Both sets of hands finally reach her face, each working on either half. She can feel the rest of her body, every curve, every plane, every corrected imperfection. She can hear muffled sounds – conversation. She can’t make out the words, but she can feel the emotions rolling off them in waves. There’s anger. At some grave injustice. It’s more muted in the older hands while the agitation emanating from the younger is pervasive enough to invade her whole body. She feels agitated, though she isn’t sure if any of these feelings are her own. There’s satisfaction. Because of her. Because of the outcome. She will serve well. The satisfaction is complemented by hubris and an overwhelming feeling of conceit. They get to play god. If they can do it once they can do it again. They finish fashioning her face and the finer details. Now is what matters. The final task. She hears a muffled sound, like air filling a vacuum and then a louder, less muffled sound. She feels air on her face. With every passing second, sounds get clearer and her vision isn’t cloudy anymore. She sees the hands. Well, not just hands. Two men, looking at her expectantly. She is not sure what to say. She remains silent.

“Blodeuwedd,” the younger man gestures towards her.

She looks back, eyes blinking in confusion.

“Your name. It’s Blodeuwedd.”

“Blodeuwedd,” the word tastes foreign in her mouth, her tongue struggle to form the syllables.

“Let us take you to your husband, my nephew, Lleu Llaw Gyffes.”

She follows them slowly, placing one foot in front of the other – her ankles still too delicate to stand the full brunt of her weight. Her fate feels sealed. She feels a bout of indignation rising up – the indignation quashed by an obedience, the source of which she does not recognise. She looks to her left to see the younger man observing her fervently and suddenly she feels the obedience overwhelm every other emotion. She tries to grasp some amount of control – grappling with the foreign control on her mind. It is exhausting but she manages to steal back the helm. Triumphant, she forces what few words she can, out of her lips, “Could I know the names of my escorts?” She feels furiousness roiling in the younger man’s soul but before he can grab back control, the older man answers her.

“I am Math fab Mathowny, the king of this realm – Gwynedd. This is my nephew, the son of Don, Gwydion,” he has kindly eyes, putting Blodeuwedd at ease.

“Why am I here?”

“Do not ask questions that have already been answered. You have been made to serve as a wife to Lleu Llaw Gyffes. You have the noblest of purposes. You will be responsible for breaking the curse put on your husband by his mother Arianhrod. Bask in pride for your life’s value knows no end.”

She closes her eyes.

The next time she feels is when she lays her eyes on him – Gronw Pebyr, he informs her. It’s an overwhelming emotion, nothing like she’s ever felt before, especially not with Lleu. For his part, he seems to be overcome by the same emotions. She knows it is wrong. She’s learned it from the whispers of the ladies in waiting – furiously discussing the lives and loves of other royals. But when he tells her that the emotion they feel is love, she can’t wait to learn about this feeling. They lay together at night and she feels so much. She feels one set of hands working their way gently – casting a different sort of magic, but with the same outcome – building her up, breathing life into her. There aren’t many words, but she can feel the emotions rolling off him in waves. There’s want. An urgency, like this is the only moment they will get. There’s wonder. At her beauty, but it’s not just that – there’s something deeper than just carnal desire. Love, as he informed her. It’s almost intoxicating. It’s like, for once, she has been made for herself and not anyone else. She has control. Her body is hers and she is free to do with it as she pleases. It’s a kind of freedom. One that she is not willing to let go. The next day, as he prepares to depart, beside herself with emotion, she calls, “You will not go away from me tonight.” The next night is different. There’s still the urgency. To find answers. To continue their dalliance. To grasp tightly to the only thing she has sincerely felt since the day she was made. The plan is insidious, and most certainly evil. Affectionate nagging is what she calls it. Reconnaissance is what others would call it should they get wind of her plan. Even when he falls to Gronw Pebyr’s spear, she feels nothing. No remorse. All she feels is relief and a sense of liberty, uncommon in the life of a damosel.

The last time she feels is when fear overcomes her and her maidens, running for their lives, making for a court that resides in the clouds. Too slow, the younger set of hands catch up to her. Gwydion, she remembers. She shuts her eyes. Her body, yet again, vulnerable to this set of hands. She expects the feeling of helplessness from her first night to rise up but all she feels is pride. Pride that she defied her purpose. Pride that she served as more than just Lleu Llaw Gyffes’ wife. Pride that she will never she trapped again. If dying is what it takes, so be it. Wordlessly, she waits. Gwydion seems to understand her, “I will not kill you Blodeuwedd. It is my fault, I did not do better in your creation. You could have never known any better.” A sinking feeling starts rising, working its way to pure hysteria. She feels like she is drowning. Gwydion looks in satisfaction while the fear she lacked crashes over her like a wave, “No, what I am going to do is going to be even worse in your eyes. Like Lleu, I shall release you in the shape of a bird. Like the shame you have wrought him, you too will feel the humiliation – unable to ever show your face in the light of day. You will be despised by your kind. Never will you lose the name we gave you, Blodeuwedd.” This time, there are words, but she can feel no emotion in his voice – cold and calculated. She blinks and suddenly everything is much too large. The light is much too bright. She feels an unmistakable urge to hide. She feels trapped. She flaps her wings helplessly. The wind takes her. Free like a bird, is what they say. So why doesn’t she feel free?

Author’s Remarks

I decided to write from Blodeuwedd’s point of view to explore the concept of feminine agency. I thought it was a lot more pertinent to her story, as she had been created for the sole purpose of serving a man. She lacks an agency over her body and her destiny. The only time she is able to take it back is when she lays with Gronw Pebyr – which plays into the theme of love as a form of liberation for women in medieval literature.


[Featured Image]

The Distant Utopia


The Distant Utopia
Literary Art (Short Story)
An Interpretation of Le Morte D’Arthur
Medieval Romance: Magic and the Supernatural (YHU2309)

“Bedivere, take my sword,” said King Arthur in between heavy breaths, “and cast it into the waters…”

“My lord, your commandment shall be done,” said Sir Bedivere, head lowered. Slowly, he reached for the sacred sword, its golden hilt ever gleaming in the afternoon light, and tugged it under his belt. “I shall not be long.”

And he turned, mounted onto his horse and rode off, the image of the king laid against an ancient willow tree burned into his mind. Once or twice he glanced behind to ensure he could still see his king, that as though his glance could will the king to continue breathing. He had to make haste, for his king still needed him. The others were not around.

The lake, crystal clear, was a short path away from the willow tree. Sir Bedivere quickly dismounted and pulled the sacred sword. Lifting it high in the air, he halted.

This was Excalibur, said to have been forged by the fairies and imbued with miraculous powers. For the longest time it had been the symbol of his king, the symbol that held Britain together. He had witnessed its might and prowess in victories which secured the well-being of all under the sun. This was a gift, a bestowment of divine providence. The sword of promised victory. Sir Mordred might had fallen, but what of the enemies beyond who were plotting to cannibalise Britain once they heard word of his king’s defeat?

But this was King Arthur’s to wield, and his only. There could be no one else that was eligible. Perhaps the king’s decision was to ensure that the sacred sword would never be used for harm. His death shall seal the miracle away forever.

When Sir Bedivere returned to the king shortly, he reported the fulfillment of the order. King Arthur, seemingly in a trance, asked what was seen there.

“My lord, I saw a beautiful lake with rippling waves pushed by a gentle breeze.”

The king closed his eyes and opened them after a moment and smiled. “O foolish Bedivere, you did not do as I say… make your way back and carry out my commandment. Spare it not, and throw it in.”

“My apologies,” Sir Bedivere stood up at once. “I shall be on my way.”

Returning to the lake, Sir Bedivere retrieved the sacred sword from beneath a towering cypress. As he raised it up, he halted once again.

The others were gone. Sir Lancelot was still away in exile, but many of the rest were not as fortunate. Sir Lucan, his brother, was dead as well. Although nowhere near the prominence of Sir Gawain and Sir Tristan, Sir Lucan was a loyal knight. For years he had been a mentor, friend, and confidant to Bedivere. He could still see the time when the round table was whole, when he and Lucan were both there, enjoying the festivities at Christmas, engaging in swordplay together, eyeing each other as they made a toast to the fellowship, their king, and their kingdom. Bedivere stared blankly at the water. The flickering light had begun to turn gold.

When Sir Bedivere dismounted and knelt before his king to report the fulfillment of the order, the latter asked once more what was seen there.

“My lord, I saw nothing but the moving waters and shifting waves.”

The king heaved a long sigh. “O Bedivere, you must enjoy teasing your king. It had been two long naps… Go, Bedivere, you have never yet questioned my orders… go forth and set my mind at ease, so that I may rest…”

Sir Bedivere’s head hung low. “My apologies, it will be done this time.”

After fetching the sacred sword from a beech’s hollow, he walked towards the water’s edge for the first time.

He could still hear Lucan’s laughter as they watched the court jesters. He could still see Lucan’s guts spilling out, tainting his polished armour, and the foam that gushed from his mouth. He could still see the last light leave Lucan’s eyes, and the thud sound that echoed within even Bedivere himself as his brother fell to the ground, never thence moving…

Bedivere’s grasp onto the handle tightened.

The image of his king’s better days flooded him. His courage, his uplifting speeches, his inspiring spirit, his battle prowess, his undying care for the people, and his kind smile… it was a smile that he had not seen in a very long time. It was all reduced to a worn-out figure by the willow, a tired man who desired peace and closure. He had to hurry, for he must not keep his king waiting.

With all his strength, Sir Bedivere hurled the sword far into the water. Just then  there came an arm and hand above the water that caught the sword, much to his surprise. It lingered for but a brief second before vanishing into the depths of the lake, the sword along with it. Thereafter Sir Bedivere returned to his king and reported what he had seen this time.

“Thank you, Bedivere,” replied Arthur.

“Did you have a good nap, my lord?”

Arthur smiled. The sunlight was dying away with every passing minute. The shadows of the woods were growing, reaching out towards the spot where they were, beckoning. The wind was benevolent. Its whispers reverberated across the grounds, the leaves circling and falling.

“Take me to the water,” he said, raising his arm, which Bedivere caught. Pulling the king onto his back, Bedivere straightened himself and began to trudge upon the path, a trail of blood trickling behind.

“Why do you not set me on the horse?” asked Arthur quietly, after a while.

“My apologies if I am transgressing,” said Bedivere between breaths and steps. “But I would like to take you there on my own.”

There was a chuckle amidst the deep coughing.

“Why are you always apologising?”

Bedivere felt his eyes grow hot. Was it the strain from carrying the king? Bedivere was not the strongest amongst the round table knights, in fact strength had never been his forte. He had a slimmer physique than most, and this walk towards the lake was certainly taking a much longer time than before. It was a shame that it should be so. Surely it would have been effortless for the likes of Gawain and Lancelot.

“I’m sorry sire,” his face looking away from the golden light. “I am not strong enough. I do not deserve to serve you.”

Arthur laughed again. The king had not been this at ease in a long time. “I am glad that you are here, Bedivere… therefore apologise no more. You do not owe me anything.”

“I owe you my life, sire,” said Bedivere. “Both Sir Lucan and myself. We have yet to repay you. And… all those times in court, I could have spoken up against Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred. I could have spoken more with Sir Lancelot and helped to stop him before it was too late…”

There was a pause. Their armour clunked as Bedivere pressed on.

“My lord?”

His heart skipped a beat.

“… Mmm,” muttered Arthur. “I was just thinking about the dream I had…”

“What kind of a dream was it?”

“There was a pair of kingfishers, a parent and child. They were flying… the little one was new to it, and it gave its all…”

The path was widening as they approached the water. A rose-coloured hue had been painted across the horizons. There was a little barge by the shore, with four hooded figures by its side. Somehow, Bedivere knew that was where they were bound. He could feel his legs becoming lighter.

“…but it could not catch up with its parent and fell behind…”

“We’re almost there, my lord,” said Bedivere, his voice shaking somewhat. There seemed to be a thin, white veil descending upon his vision.

“…by then it had savoured the feeling of flight that it kept going… until it was too tired and dropped, injuring itself…”

Bedivere’s steps came to a stop. The hooded figures were tall, fair maidens who were smiling serenely.

“Ah,” said Arthur finally. “I see my ride is here.”

With the help from the four maidens, Bedivere laid the king carefully into the little barge brimming with flowers. Although there were only the few of them there, a hymning was echoing round the lake, as though the woods themselves had begun to sing. Or was it the maidens? With each harmony, the surrounding air seemed to cool.

“I think I’m quite ready,” muttered Arthur.

Bedivere held onto Arthur’s hand.

“My lord, can’t – can’t I go with you?”

Arthur chuckled. Now that Bedivere looked at him again, it was as though Arthur had become younger, the beauty and vitality of his earlier days restored. The blood had vanished, and though Bedivere was unsure when it happened, Arthur was now clothed in robes, his armour nowhere to be seen. If anything, he seemed radiant even, and something about him now felt soothing; every breath he drew coaxed the air round them. The wind had been reduced to a faint breeze, and the waters were still.

“It is not yet your time, my friend,” said Arthur, his voice as steady as Bedivere remembered before Camlann. “I’m afraid this time my slumber shall last for a very long time… perhaps I will be dreaming the dream that I had my whole life.”

“But… there’s no one left. And what shall become of me, and of us all?”

The ethereal voices in the wind crooned on. Arthur reached out his hand and gave a pat on Bedivere’s shoulder.

“When the dream ends, the sleeper has to awaken,” said Arthur. “From here on it is your journey. You are worthy, remember that.”

The maidens stepped onto the little barge and looked towards the sunset. So did Arthur, who was now humming softly to the emanating harmony. They seemed to be waiting for something. It was then, from beyond the lake, came a faint strum of a harp.

“Live on,” said Arthur, as Bedivere gradually let go of his hands. The little barge began to drift as the waves returned, moving ahead without oars. “This is my final order to you, as a king. And my last request, as a friend.”

“This is farewell, at least for now.”

Arthur smiled. Once it left the bay, the little barge continued to glide silently across the lake towards the sundown.

Bedivere stood there and watched until it reached the very end of the golden horizon, where suddenly the skies became the waters that it was sailing on. At which point, he could see the silhouette of an island rising from the distant skies towards the earth. The lake waters remained relatively still and turned deep azure, as thousands of fireflies emerged, their twinkling in consonance with the fading song. The amber glow reminiscent of the days that were, as though nature itself was celebrating the union of the once and future king and his promised utopia. The good knight lingered for a great deal, enchanted by what he beheld with his eyes, until the heavens darkened. The mirage departed, he turned his back against the lake and looked behind no more.

Author’s Remarks

This short story expands on the sparsely outlined episode of King Arthur’s final moments in “The Death of Arthur” chapter. Bedivere and Arthur are given more characterisation, and the mood of the story is enhanced by playing with the setting and the inclusion of popular medieval motifs such as the prophetic dream and the harp (a nod to the Arthurian legend’s distant Celtic origins). The back-and-forth motions of Bedivere trying to carry out his king’s order and holding back are conflated with memories of the Round Table, which captures the nostalgia for the once-golden age and the bittersweetness towards its end and immortalisation.


[Featured Image]