Malory, Sir Palomides, and Race


Malory, Sir Palomides, and Race


Heather Blatt, Florida International University


To try to counter the evolutionary model of history, and engage students in the Morte d’Arthur and the space it creates for POC, I assign students the Book of Tristram in Helen Cooper’s modernization of the Morte (Oxford UP, 1998). The edition is rather notable for abridging the book; many of the abridgments center on episodes involving Sir Palomides, the Saracen knight. In effect, it’s an edition that supports white supremacist ideology, and it does so because of choices made by the modern editor. The third day of discussing it I divide them into groups and give them the excerpted passages (from Janet Cowen’s unmodernized edition).

Here are the prompts I use, drawn from my lesson plan:

One of the things I want to discuss this week is the way we tend to erase blackness in particular from representations of the Middle Ages, creating a representation of the Middle Ages today that is commonly represented as an overwhelmingly white, homogenous historical period.

First, Helen Cooper, who edited our version of Malory, presents an excerpted version of the “Book of Tristram.” As identified by brackets—and write these pages down—Cooper excerpted passages starting on p. 222, 229, 234, 236, 246, and 272.

Look up her descriptions of each of those excerpts. What subject matter do the majority of these excerpts have in common? Notice that this erasure of blackness ripples out: it affects what readers of the actual source material (like you, like filmmakers and novelists and Hollywood scriptwriters) get access to.

(5min) Assemble into your groups [I give each group an excerpt]. You’ll need a time-keeper, a discussion leader, a note-taker, and a presenter.

(15m) Task: Read the excerpts and evaluate: What does the excerpt add to our understanding of Sir Palomides? What does it add to how the Arthurian narrative that Malory crafts engages with Saracen identity? (If any groups finish early, I give them a second excerpt.)

(15m) Each group, briefly describe what happens in your (first) excerpt.

(10m) For all: What are the consequences of Cooper’s omission of these passages?

(10m minimum) How do these omissions affect our understanding of Palomides, of Saracens in Arthurian narrative, of blackness in the Middle Ages? What are our responsibilities, as scholars and readers, when we encounter work like this? What can we do?


Type of course: Upper Level; In-Person
Time required: about 60 minutes in class minimum (I use the full 74 minutes afforded by my teaching schedule), plus out of class reading beforehand


Heather Blatt, Florida International University, “Malory, Sir Palomides, and Race,” Teaching the Middle Ages in Higher Ed, accessed May 29, 2020,

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