Sir Thomas Malory’s prose achieves the impression of simplicity, while comprising words beautifully arranged. His narrative has the quality of realism, even in his most fanciful scenes. He is also a master of naturalistic dialogue. For these reasons, he serves as the model for later writers of English prose, his work behind only, perhaps, the King James version of the Bible.
Malory presents himself as a translator of the French Arthurian romances. A chief source for his own writing might have been the twelfth century romances of Chrétien de Troyes, who introduced the separate legend of the Holy Grail into the Arthurian tales. The French romancers also contributed the concept of courtly love. In short, the Arthurian legend had been growing and evolving for centuries before Malory sat down to write Le Morte d’Arthur.
The historical Arthur, if he had existed, is said to have been a Celtic chieftain named Artorius who resisted the Anglo-Saxon invasion in the early sixth century. One contemporary historian describes a great British victory at the Battle of Mons Badonicus (Mount Badon) around 500, but he makes no mention of Artorius. In the ninth century, Nennius places the battle somewhat later (516) and states that a person named Arthur had commanded against the invaders. By the next century, Arthur’s legend had grown considerably. In the twelfth century, Welshman Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote Historia regum Britanniae (c. 1136; History of the Kings of Britain, 1718), a work that makes Arthur into a great romantic figure. Geoffrey’s Anglo-French translator first mentions the Round Table, and soon Arthurian tales were appearing in Old French.
In Merlin, an early thirteenth century verse romance, a version is introduced wherein Arthur wins his crown by drawing a magic sword from a stone. By Malory’s day, Arthur and his knights are medieval heroes projected back into an ancient Britain. In 2004, the film King Arthur...
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