Medievalism in The Poem Christabel

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      Medieval Setting: Suitable for Supernatural. Sir Walter Raleigh says that 'romance' throws over us the 'magic of distance.' Ordinary events and experiences, if seen through the glamour of a distance of time or circumstances, assumes a charm which is defined as romantic. This is exactly what Coleridge has done in Christabel. Though we cannot exactly place the events of the poem in any, particular century, yet we are not far wrong in associating them with that vaguely defined extent of period known as the middle Ages. It is an age of chivalry, of bold barons and bad knights, of virtuous maidens and glamorous ladies, of courtesy, piety and witchcraft as well. We are required in the poem to look back through several centuries at this remote period. This distance from our own times lends a glamour to the characters and incidents of the tale.

      Details of Medieval Setting and Characters. The setting is definitely medieval. We have a Norman castle with its moat, its tourney court and its great gate "ironed within and without, where an army in battle array has marched out", a feudal baron with a retinue, a lady who steals out at midnight into the moonlit wood to pray for her betrothed knight; a sorceress who pretends to have been carried off on a white palfrey by five arm men, and who puts a spell upon the maiden. Pages, grooms, bards and heralds lend a medieval atmosphere to the poem.

      Foreboding Dreams. Christabel's dream which leads her to pray in the woods is a medieval touch. Bracy's dream is also very much in the medieval tradition. It is commonly believed in that age that good and wise people get knowledge about the presence of evil spirits before hand through dreams. Bracy's dream is symbolical. In his dream he has seen Sir Leoline's favourite dove m the grip of a green snake, coils round its body, and the dove fluttering and uttering fearful moans. The dove symbolizes Christabel and the green snake. Geraldine. Regarding his dream to be a real one, lie decides:

With music strong and saintly song
To wander through the forest bare,
Last aught unholy loiter there.

      But Sir Leoline fails to understand the real significance of the dream and identifies the dove with Geraldine, and the green snake with those warriors who has seized her.

      Age of Chivalry. In the poem Christabel the medieval atmosphere is strengthened by the mention of Sir Leoline's chivalry. It is a tradition in the middle Ages to offer help and chivalry to a woman in distress. Christabel in the same way, offers help and her father's chivalry to Geraldine who is seized by five warriors and left there all alone in the midnight.

      In the medieval times women are held in high esteem and it is regarded very mean and cowardly to harm them. Men of honour hates such people. When Sir Leoline listens to the sad story of Geraldine he becomes very angry and even forgets his age. He plans to proclaim it far and wide that those warriors who has thus wronged her are base and wicked men. And if they dare deny this charge he will himself fight with them and kill them. Tournaments are very common in those days when great warriors use to come to show their valour and skill, and fight a duel to prove their truth and honour.

      Superstitions and Piety of the Age. We have its faith and its superstition too. The poem is steeped in the simple faith of the Roman Catholics, their entreaties and supplications of Jesu, Maria, their prayers to the saints and their belief in guardian spirits who will listen and aid those who call upon them. There are the superstitions about the gate being guarded by good angels, about animals detecting the presence of evil by instinct. About the ghosts of the dead walking about in the hour of midnight, etc. These again contribute to the old-world atmosphere of the tale.

      Medieval Art. Sir Leolione's castle is appropriately decorated in medieval style. It has courts, halls and chambers and flights of stairs. Carved figures of angels adorn Christabel's chamber. The floor is carpeted with rushes. It is the setting of the Middle Ages.

      Subdued Light Helps Evoke Distant Past. The absence of strong colours selves to throw a mist over the events of the story. The light is everywhere subdued. As Dr. Bradley has analysed it: "The air, in Shelley's phrase, is woven out of moon-beams' and they are not the beams that lit the bay. A thin grey cloud is spread on high, and, though there is a full moon, it looks small and dull. In its light Geraldine's silken robe, itself colourless, shines shadowy and though the gems entangled in her hair glitter wildly, they flash no tints. The light in the hall, as the flame flickers for a moment from the white ashes, shows no gorgeous hues of tapestries on the wall, it just glimmers on the boss of the shield in a murky niche. The car even work in Christabel's chamber is faintly seen by the light of a silver lamp."

      Archaisms. In the poem there is hardly a single word which is not perfectly simple, and yet the whole phrasing is full of the antique. Take such words as 'yestermorn' phrases as 'right glad they were', 'with sick assay,' to say nothing of the constant succession of phrases in the style of the old ballads, like "All in the middle of the gate," "Did thus pursue her answer meet". It will be obvious that these constant echoes of old fashion phraseology, never jarring because never too obscure, are basic to the charm which the poem exerts over every reader with some taste.

      Conclusion. The medieval setting makes the supernatural events seem probable. Distancing of the atmosphere gives an aura of reality. It is a major method of inducing a willing suspension of disbelief in the reader.

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