Sir Thomas Malory and the Cultural Crisis of the Late Middle Ages is an original inquiry into the psychology of the famous knights of Arthurian Romance - Lancelot, Tristram, Galahad - and the impact of the Round Table on their lives. Robert Merrill argues that the development of the Round Table mirrors the effort of medieval Catholicism to assert its doctrines as reality and the path to personal and social fulfillment and that Malory regarded such a political program as inherently tragic.
Using current research in cognitive psychology and sociology, Merrill traces the way in which medieval institutions were innovated and maintained. Malory's romance depicts the process of conflict reduction, identity formation, and optimization, but at the same time it shows how these social goals create crises in individual lives. Personal well-being comes not to depend upon stable social structures, as medieval political theory held, but rather on the potential for individuals to vandalize and modify institutions.
Malory and Cultural Crisis is an important exploration of the personal and social tensions in the late Middle Ages that led to the Protestant Reformation. Merrill is the first to articulate their presence in Arthurian Romance literature.