Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sample Classification Paper, Option 2

Students, below appears an example of a classification paper, option 2, as discussed on the course website here. Please note that the example, when formatted appropriately for submission as a paper (which it is not as it appears on the blog), is at the short end of acceptable length for a shorter paper in ENG 101. Please note also that it is an example of how the argument should be made; I make no explicit claims about its truth value.

Good citizenship consists of participating in the structures of public order while being willing to set them aside in the moment to be able to serve the greater ends to which those structures are directed.  That is to say it involves following the "letter of the law" in most cases but being able to set aside that letter when it conflicts with the "spirit of the law."  It would seem to be embodied handily in such characters as the Malorian Sir Lancelot.  This is, however, far from the case.

It is true that, as Sir Thomas Malory depicts him, Sir Lancelot appears to be at the pinnacle of citizenry in King Arthur's court.  As a member of the Round Table, Lancelot is among the most privileged of knights in the entire chivalric world, one of an elite one hundred fifty out of the tens or hundreds of thousands of knights in the world.  Moreover, Lancelot is ranked as the greatest of the knights of the Round Table; "all the estates and degrees high and low said of Sir Launcelot great worship [sic]," and he is called "the most man of worship in the world" (228, 415).  That is to say that he has the most renown and enjoys the highest regard among his fellow knights.  Since in Malory's text, the knight is the pinnacle of human society, Lancelot is figured as a great among greats, the summit of society under the king.

There is some justification for his fame.  Even a cursory survey of the table of contents highlights Lancelot's extraordinary work as a knight.  For instance, in the sixth of Malory's books, Lancelot delivers prisoners unjustly held, slays a giant to free a castle, and ends what early twenty-first century America would term a domestic disturbance (8).  In the ninth, he delivers other knights unjustly imprisoned (11).  In the tenth, he serves as an officer of the court, bringing Arthur's subordinate lords to him for trial and judgment (13).  In the eleventh, he fights a dragon to save a lady, an act prototypical of most conceptions of knightly valor (16).  Through the eighteenth and nineteenth, he does even more to support his social structures by defending the queen in judicial combat.  In the eighteenth book, the queen, Guinevere, is falsely accused of poisoning a knight; Lancelot's martial redemption of her redresses both the falsity of the charges and preserves the royal household of Arthur, which emblematizes his kingdom as a whole (21).  In the nineteenth, he rescues Guinevere from imprisonment by Meliagraunce (22); by doing so, he asserts the dignity of the individual and the right to not be taken unjustly, both of which are commonly-held social structures.

In one of his most famous series of fights, however, he grievously contravenes the law, both in letter and in spirit, in which violation he proves himself a poor citizen instead of a good one.  For some time, Lancelot and Guinevere had felt but largely resisted an illicit passion; the two loved one another, but because of Lancelot's vows of fealty and Guinevere's of marriage, they had not acted upon it.  At length, though, they are caught in a compromising position, one which leaves little doubt as to the impropriety of their close regard for one another (453-54).  At this point, Lancelot has been caught in adulterous treason, for in violating the sanctity of the king's marriage, he has offended against the king to whom he is sworn; it is a grievous act and one wholly unworthy of any good citizen.  And he compounds his error; in making his escape from the scene at which he is caught, he slays a number of the knights gathered to duly and appropriately apprehend him (454); he resists a largely legal arrest, and slaughters his sworn comrades to do so, neither of which bespeaks good citizenship.  He repeats the slaughter when pulling Guinevere away from her legally prescribed punishment for her complicity in treason against Arthur, killing many other knights to whom he had once been a friend and fellow--among whom were unarmed non-combatants especially dear to him (458-59).  So he violates the law, interferes with justice, and commits murder; he may once have seemed to be a pillar of the community, but he fails in the end to uphold the social structures to which he is sworn.

That Lancelot demonstrably fails to act as a good citizen insofar as he fails to fully support the structures of public order for no reason but his lust--not to serve a greater good, but only his own private ends--calls for a re-evaluation of the regard in which his character is held.  Since he is often regarded as the pinnacle of chivalry, perhaps a re-evaluation of that code of conduct is also warranted.

Work Cited
~Malory, Thomas. Le Morte Darthur. Ed. Edward Strachey. New York: Macmillan, 1899. Google Books. Google, n.d. Web. 7 February 2012.

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