ETA: What follows is a lark, not a real announcement of any sort just in case you got here via Google. This is NOT Malory’s story. Malory did NOT write a Tale of Sir Marrok. This is just me having a bit of fun. I feel obliged to add this caveat, because after four years, this blog post still gets more hits than anything else on my blog and I would really hate for somebody to try to write a research paper on Malory’s Tale of Sir Marrok based on something they read here.
Scholars of medieval literature, denizens of Renaissance fairs, and countless Monty Python fans everywhere were thrilled at the unexpected discovery of “The Tale of Sir Marrok” in 2007. The manuscript pages were found buried in a bag of vintage 19th century cereal box tops sold as part of an estate lot in an online auction. They were purchased by the British Museum and subjected to rigorous analysis (scholars were particularly interested in scribal marginalia that read “John Lettou is a dolted daffe”). The pages have been typeset and printed here for the first time. The discovery of the tale should allow for greater critical understanding of Malory’s sources and his choices in redaction and serve to fill in a longstanding gap in the story of one of the knights of the Round Table.
“The Tale of Sir Marrok” is a werewolf story, as we might expect from Sir Marrok’s brief mention in “Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere,” when we learn that he is one of the knights who attempts to heal Sir Urry (Cooper 464). Sir Marrok is known as “the good knight that was betrayed by his wife, for she made him seven year a werewolf” (Cooper 464). The healing of Sir Urry, as previous scholars have noted, appears to be Malory’s own, and its brief mention of Sir Marrok indicates that the knight’s character was in no way damaged by his temporary status as a werewolf (Cooper xx, 464); indeed, he is one of Arthur’s chosen bodyguards with Bors, Kay, and Lancelot in the battle against Lucius the Emperor of Rome prior to his transformation (Caxton V.8), and one of the elect Round Table members after his recovery of his human form.
With its closest known analogue in Marie de France’s “Bisclavret,” Malory’s version emphasizes many of the motifs that characterize his redactions. “The Tale of Sir Marrok” illustrates the importance of loyalty to one’s lord as well as Malory’s consistent disapproval of women who “try to impose their desires by force or blackmail” (Cooper xiv), ending as it does in the punishment of the unfaithful wife. The episode further develops the persistent motif of “mistaken identity” (Cooper xiii) to an almost absurdly literal conclusion: Sir Marrok, stripped of his clothing, is stripped of all outward vestiges of humanity and indeed of his very identity. And in its depiction of a society threatened not because of sexual sin but because it is “split from within by warring factions” and “personal rivalries” (Cooper xii), “The Tale of Sir Marrok” illustrates how the integrity of the Round Table fellowship can be maintained even in the face of conjugal deceit and betrayal.
There exists a strong case for placing “The Tale of Sir Marrok” after, or perhaps within, the Sir Gareth episode within Le Morte Darthur as a whole. The source is undoubtedly French, unlike the bulk of the Sir Gareth material, but with its comparatively transparent moral stance (the good triumph, the bad are punished, and nobility and loyalty win out in the end) it sits more comfortably in the folkloric Gareth segment than it would in the allegorical Christian Grail quest segments or the more morally ambiguous earlier sections. The tale, like the French lays and romances which doubtless influenced it, deals with a single episode, and while it contains narrative threads that link it to surrounding material, it is set in a time when various other adventures are occurring “simultaneously offstage” (Cooper 542), notably the wedding feast of Gareth and Lyonesse at Michaelmas.
Along with “Bisclavret,” Arthur and Gorlagon, the Lai de Melion, and Histoire de Biclarel, Malory’s “The Tale of Sir Marrok” treats his werewolf in a sympathetic light (Russell 176). While similar to “Bisclavret” in every major plot point, the tale differs in a few folkloric elements that are worth further examination in future scholarship. First, while the wife is punished, there is no concern on Malory’s part with the eventual fate of the wife’s children, who in the French “inherited” their unfaithful mother’s unfortunate facial injury; in “Bisclavret,” the wife loses her nose to the wolf’s teeth and her daughters are after born noseless. Second, as in “Bisclavret,” the traditional folkloric element of the wife’s being punished in some manner related to eating is absent (Bennett 70), though Malory, unlike Marie de France, retains the setting of a feast in which to relate the episode of the wife’s punishment. Rather than being constrained to change shape or to remain tied to her original husband and thus her punishment, Malory has the wife and new husband banished entirely and Sir Marrok returned to the fold of both humanity and Arthur’s court. Third, unlike the French material, Malory’s version retains the probably Irish feature linking the werewolf’s enchantment to his being struck on the body with a magical implement. In Malory’s version, however, the sapling of Arthur and Gorlagon, by which the unfaithful wife turns her husband into a wolf, is replaced by the staff of the Archbishop (Bennett 69), who destroys the enchantment permanently. This latter aspect in particular appears to be unique to Malory’s tale.
The Tale of Sir Marrok
In King Arthur’s court, there was a good and full manly knight hight Sir Marrok. He suffered from an enchantment so that he became a wolf betimes. When this happened, he would leave his wife, Dame Iris, and his curtilage and run about in the woods eating wild animals that he caught between his teeth.
This knight had a wife who was passing fair and full noble. But she was greatly sick at heart that her lord Sir Marrok went away from her and she knew not where. She would espy where he would go but could not discover him when he went into the woods. She deemed he had a paramour and was taken with fits of weeping when he was away.
But at the last she could not bide any longer. She went unto her husband and said, “My lord, I would know where it is you go when you depart from me for days, and but if you tell me, I may not endure.”
Sir Marrok was heavy of heart, for he feared much that should she know of the enchantment, she would doubt him and his love, and in sooth he was a good knight and true. “My lady, I dare not tell you of this matter, for it will bring great harm. In faith, it is not so that I keepeth no paramour, but I hold your love above any other lady’s. Be satisfied, and ask me no more.”
“Alas, I shall be shamed!” she said. She wept full sore and fell down upon the ground, and ever she pressed him to know where he stayed and how he lived when he was gone from her.
At last Sir Marrok was sore at heart for her weeping and coaxing, and agreed to tell her the whole case. “My lady, I am struck with an enchantment, and betimes I become a wolf and run in the forest, and eat wild food that I catch and drink what I may.”
And she was astoned and said, “It is a marvel!” Sir Marrok was sore afraid that she would betray him, but he abided her with faith. She asked of him, “How is it that you go in the woods, in the likeness of a wolf? Go you in your coat and mantle?” And he answered her, “No, I go only in my skin.”
And she pressed him further to ask how it was he came to go naked, and where hid he his clothes. He was full of foreboding, for if his clothes were lost he would remain forever in the shape of a wolf. But she wept and wailed and coaxed, and in the end Sir Marrok told her. He said, “In the wood there is a chapel, where once dwelt a holy man. The chapel door is broken now and no living man goes there. In the courtyard is a dry well, and in the well lies a stone with a hollow, and in the hollow I hide my clothes when I go about in the form of a wolf. Now, my lady, I have told you all, and take it upon yourself to keep my secret, for if my enchantment be known it shall be shame unto me, and if my clothes be lost I must bide forever in the shape of a wolf and be beyond the help of man.”
She then made her face to be still, but in her heart she was filled with wonder and dread. When Sir Marrok again left to go into the woods, she sent for a knight hight Sir Malin who had loved her long and served her, but by no means could he never get her love. She granted to him her love and asked of him a favor. Sir Malin swore to her to serve her as perfectly as he could, and she sent him in the woods to find the path that Sir Marrok took and to find the chapel with the stone in the well. She bade him get the clothes and hide them. And Sir Marrok then had to remain in the shape of a wolf because of his false wife and the traitorous knight Sir Malin.
When the people searched for him and could not find him, they thought him lost and dead in the forest. After this Sir Malin and Dame Iris were wed and seven years passed that Sir Marrok lived in the woods as a wolf.
It happened one day that King Arthur and his knights were hunting in that same forest where dwelt the wolf. They chased and hunted at all manner of venery and the hounds went loud through the forest. They came upon the wolf and barked and howled at him until they had him at bay and would have leapt on him and torn him. When the wolf saw the King ride up, he leapt forward and put his snout on the foot of the king, even in his stirrup, and made his bearing as if to beg for mercy.
“This is a most wondrous marvel!” said the King. “This beast has the humble bearing of a man and an intelligent mind. See that the dogs do not attack him, for I will take him under my protection and bring him to court.”
The knights rode back to court with the wolf following them, and he would not be departed from the King but showed such loyalty that all were in awe. They made provision for him to have food and drink, and at night the wolf slept with the other knights. In the day, the wolf would not leave the King’s side, and seemed to love him greatly, and all knew him to be a noble and gentle beast and some months passed in this manner.
It happened at the feast of Michaelmas, as the French book saith, there was the knight hight Sir Malin who had married the Dame Iris. This knight was cousin unto Sir Pesant of Inde. There were three days of jousts and revels, but this knight would none of them venture. After the first day, when the knights and ladies sat down to meat, the wolf went as was his custom to sit at the feet of the King. But when he saw Sir Malin, he made as if to attack him and put his teeth into Sir Malin’s thigh, and he began to drag him down. The King called out loudly and threatened him with a stick.
The King and all the people were greatly astoned, as never had they known the wolf to be anything but gentle and noble.
In the evening, the ladies of the court gathered around the Queen and with them was Dame Iris who had come to court with Sir Malin. The ladies asked to see the tame wolf they had heard of and the Queen had him brought into the chamber. At once the wolf leapt up and bit Dame Iris’s face and the ladies shrieked and wailed. The knights gathered to seize the wolf and made as if to kill him. But Sir Dinadan said to the King and the lords, “I warrant that this wolf has reason to bite at Sir Malin and at this Dame Iris. They must have done this wolf a great harm, for never have I known him to be anything but gentle and loyal to the King and to us people.”
Queen Guinevere turned to the lady Dame Iris, whose blood was running out from her face, and said, “Lady, what cause has this wolf to harm you?” Dame Iris, in fear and pain, told the court all the story of how she had betrayed her husband and had him to remain in the state of a wolf for all these seven years, and how that she married the knight Sir Malin.
Queen Guinevere called for clothing to be brought to the wolf Sir Marrok. He was changed back into his human form. They summoned the Archbishop who was present for the feast to see the wonder and pray for Sir Marrok to be released from his enchantment. Then the Archbishop struck Sir Marrok with his staff and he was cured of his enchantment. Sir Malin and Dame Iris were banished from the country, and Sir Marrok made great feats of arms and of prowess and increased his reputation for strength and loyalty in the court. Here endeth the Tale of Sir Marrok, the good knight who was betrayed by his wife, for she made him seven year a werewolf.
Bennet, R.E. “Arthur and Gorlagon, the Dutch Lancelot, and St. Kentigern.” Speculum 13 (1938): 68-75.
Caxton, William, A.W. Pollard, and Sir Edward Strachey, eds. Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory’s Book of King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table, Volume 1. By Sir Thomas Malory. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1903. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. 1999. 18 March 2007 < http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/Mal1Mor.html>.
Cooper, Helen, ed. and trans. Le Morte Darthur. By Sir Thomas Malory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Krappe, A. Haggerty. “Arthur and Gorlagon.” Speculum 8 (1933): 209-222.
Marie de France. “Bisclavret.” Trans. Judith P. Shoaf. 1996. 12 March 2007 <http://web.english.ufl.edu/exemplaria/marie/bisclavret.pdf>.
Russell, W.M.S., and Claire Russell. “The Social Biology of Werewolves.” Animals in Folklore. Eds. J.R. Porter and W.M.S. Russell. Ipswich: D.S. Brewer Ltd, 1978. 143-177.
N.B. This is a draft of an exercise written in response to a prompt. It is not highly polished and if you are wandering onto this via Google, it is absolutely unquoteable. It may very well contain an idiotic association, claim, or argument (or two). There is no “Tale of Sir Marrok.” I made this up. However, if you are interested in this werewolf-knight, you might find the bibliography useful, or at least enough to assuage the pangs of hunger for more information about Marrok — Malory, alas, gave us nothing else to consume.