Since the end of the Middle Ages, literary critics have deplored what they saw as the credulousness of Arthurian romance’s original audience. They have assumed that, thanks to the ignorance and obscurantism of this time, this audience believed that Merlin had cast spells, that Arthur had ruled over Camelot, that Lancelot had loved Guinevere, and that the Holy Grail existed. Even in recent years, followers of Max Weber have assumed that, before the Protestant Reformation and the “disenchanted world” it brought about, people made no clear distinction between fiction and fact. This book shows that all the supposedly modern objections critics have raised about romance had already been raised in the Middle Ages, including in the romances themselves. Arthurian texts are filled with skeptics who express doubts about Merlin, Arthur, Lancelot, and the Holy Grail, often in language very similar to that used by later complainants. Yet these texts rebut these skeptics, showing their refusal to believe in the magnificence of Arthur’s court to reflect the failure of their imagination. Contrary to those readers, medieval and modern, who insist that everyday reality is the only reality, romance asks us to recognize and appreciate life in its extraordinary aspect.
Keywords: Arthurian romance, fiction, disenchantment, Max Weber, Middle Ages, Camelot