Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473
Sir Thomas Malory, knight, adventurer, and soldier, composed this series of tales during nearly twenty years of imprisonment (ca. 1450-1471) and rendered into English the varied 13th century French stories of Merlin, Arthur, Camelot, the knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail. In so doing, he created a national treasure and a narrative central to English literature.
The work is filled with action in battle, passion in love, and wisdom in governing. At its center is an event that marks the beginning of the Round Table’s breakup, the Quest for the Holy Grail. Galahad and Percival achieve the Grail Quest; Lancelot, because of his unworthiness, does not; Bors returns with Lancelot to tell the tale, and the fellowship loses two of its best knights, Galahad and Percival. Then follows Gawain’s accusation against Queen Guinevere in “The Poisoned Apple,” and the dissolution of the fellowship accelerates until the final battle, in which Arthur is mortally wounded.
Magic and the supernatural pervade the work from its outset, when Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, through the mystic adventures of the Grail, to the mysterious passing of Arthur, who some say shall yet come again.
Malory combines heroic and epic elements to celebrate England’s golden age of chivalry, national ideals of unity, power, and civility, and the high code of knightly conduct.
Adderley, C. M. “Malory’s Portrayal of Sir Lancelot.” Language Quarterly 29, nos. 1-2 (Winter/Spring, 1991): 47-65. Charts the progress of the love between Lancelot and Guinevere and argues that, although the Round Table fails collectively, there remain individuals who excel in virtue and prowess.
Field, P. J. C. The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory. Cambridge, England: D. S. Brewer, 1993. A convincing biography of Sir Thomas Malory that illustrates his political career during the Wars of the Roses and his several imprisonments.
Lumiansky, R. M., ed. Malory’s Originality: A Critical Study of “Le Morte D’Arthur.” Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1964. Consists of eight chapters, each of which deals with a different one of Malory’s “tales.” The object of the book is to show that the tales are interdependent and the work is therefore single and unified.
Moorman, Charles. The Book of Kyng Arthur: The Unity of Malory’s “Morte Darthur.” Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965. Moorman argues that the success of the Round Table depends on the integration of love, chivalry, and religion. It fails as a result of adultery, feuding, and the failure to find the Holy Grail.
Vinaver, Eugène. “Sir Thomas Malory.” In Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, edited by Roger Sherman Loomis. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1959. An ideal starting point for understanding Malory scholarship. Vinaver sets forth clearly his idea that Le Morte d’Arthur is not one book but a series of eight separate tales.