What is a brief summary of the poem "Le Morte d' Arthur" by Alfred Lord Tennyson?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since the question asked for a particular author and literature by another author, my approach to the question will be to briefly look at both works covering the Arthurian legend.

Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Mallory was actually the first novel published in the English language in 1485.  It is considered the “the Bible” of thArthurian legends because it introduces all of the characters that became part of the Round Table and the world of Camelot.

Mallory’s story was divided into eight parts.  The story takes place in the fifth century in ancient England.  

The first book tells of the parents of Arthur and the deception involved in his birth. This story also includes the raising of Arthur by Merlin.

The second novella was the beginning of Arthur’s attempt at solidifying the English World. 

Lancelot and his tales are introduced bringing in the world of chivalry.

The tale of Sir Gareth epitomizes the Knights of the Round Table.

The legendary love story of Tristan and Isolde becomes part of the sad tales of the legend. 

The great quest that Arthur asked of his Knights was to find the Holy Grail. 

The beginning of the end for the Arthurian World was the love affair of Arthur’s best friend and his wife---Lancelot and Gwynevere. 

Finally, the story ends with the books title story: The death of Arthur which included the breaking apart of the Knights of the Round Table and the death of Arthur.   

Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote the Idylls of the King in the nineteenth century.    Using the Mallory book as his primary source, Tennyson took a different approach to the story by writing his version of the legends poetry employing iambic pentameter. 

Tennyson wrote twelve Idylls which begin with Arthur’s coronation and marriage, ending with Arthur going to Avalon to heal and await the time of his return. Many more characters are introduced and a new level of mysticism plays into the stories.

  • The coming of Arthur---The story begins with the coronation of Athur and his marriage to Guinevere.
  • Gareth and Lynette—this is a charming story of boy who steals the heart of the girl and marries her.
  • Enid—This is a story of love gone wrong through paranoia and obsession
  • Balin and Balan—this story sadly tells of two brothers killing each other.
  • Merlin and Vivian—Vivian tricks Merlin and imprisons him for life
  • Lancelot and Elaine—Elaine loves Lancelot but he does not return her love.  She dies and is placed on a funeral barge.
  • The Holy Grail---The cup that Jesus drank from represents the religious affiliation of the Arthurian world and Christianity.  The legend also began the downfall of the Round Table.
  • Pelleas and Ettare---Pelleas, a great knight, loves the wrong lady
  • The Last Tournament---the last tournament turns into a display of rudeness with chivalry sorely lacking
  • Guinevere---Guinevere finally rejects the offers of Launcelot.  Arthur forgives her. She spends the rest of her life in a convent.
  • The Passing of Arthur---The last terrible battle takes place between Mordred and Arthur.  Arthur kills Mordred. He is grievously wounded. 

...the King

Made at the man: then Mordred smote his liege

Hard on that helm which many a heathen sword

Had beaten thin; while Arthur at one blow,

Striking the last stroke with Excalibur,

Slew him, and all but slain himself, he fell.

These books define the wonderful legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.