Le Morte d’Arthur

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When King Uther Pendragon saw Igraine, the beautiful and chaste duchess of Cornwall, he fell in love with her. Since the obstacle to his desires was Igraine’s husband, King Uther made war on Cornwall, and in that war the duke was killed. By means of magic, King Uther caused Igraine to become pregnant, after which the couple married. The child, named Arthur, was raised by a noble knight, Sir Ector. After the death of King Uther, Arthur proved his right to the throne by removing a sword from an anvil that was imbedded in a rock. From the Lady of the Lake, he received his famous sword, Excalibur. When the independent kings of Britain rebelled and made war on the young king, they were defeated. Arthur ruled over all Britain. He married Guinevere, the daughter of King Leodegrance, who presented the Round Table and a hundred knights to Arthur as a wedding gift. Merlin the magician was enticed by one of the Ladies of the Lake into eternal imprisonment under a rock.

Five foreign kings invaded Arthur’s realm and were defeated after a long war. To show his gratitude to God for his victory, King Arthur founded the Abbey of the Beautiful Adventure at the scene of his victory.

Sir Accolon was the lover of Morgan Le Fay, enchantress sister of King Arthur. After she procured Excalibur from Arthur by black magic, Sir Accolon fought Arthur and nearly overcame him; only when their swords were accidentally exchanged in the fight, was the king able to defeat Accolon.

King Lucius of Rome sent ambassadors to Britain to demand tribute of King Arthur. When Arthur refused to pay, he was promised aid in war by all the knights of his realm. In the war that followed, the British defeated Lucius and conquered Germany and Italy. Arthur was crowned Emperor of Rome.

Back in England, Sir Launcelot, a knight of the Round Table and Queen Guinevere’s favorite, set out on adventures to further his and his queen’s honor and glory. After many long and arduous adventures, all of them triumphant, Sir Launcelot returned to Camelot, the seat of King Arthur, and was acclaimed the first knight of all Christendom.

Elizabeth, queen of King Meliodas of Liones, died in giving birth to a son, who was named Tristram because of the sad circumstances surrounding his birth. Young Tristram was sent to France with his preceptor, Gouvernail, where he was trained in all the accomplishments of knighthood. When the king of Ireland demanded tribute from King Mark of Cornwall, Sir Tristram defended the sovereignty of King Mark, his uncle, by slaying the Irish champion, Sir Marhaus, but he was wounded in the contest. He was nursed by Isolde, princess of Ireland. Tristram and Isolde fell in love and promised to remain true to each other. Later, King Mark commissioned Sir Tristram to return to Ireland to bring back Isolde, whom the king had contracted to marry. During the return voyage from Ireland to Cornwall, Tristram and Isolde drank a love potion and swore undying love. Isolde married King Mark, and Sir Tristram later married Isolde La Blanche Mains, daughter of King Howels of Brittany. Unable to remain separated from Isolde of Ireland, Tristram joined her secretly. At last, fearing discovery and out of his mind for love of Isolde, Tristram fled into the forest. In a pitiful condition, he was carried back to the castle, where a faithful hound revealed his identity to King Mark, who then banished him from Cornwall for ten years. The knight went to Camelot, where he won great renown at tournaments and in knightly adventures. King Mark heard of Tristram’s honors and went in disguise to Camelot to kill Tristram. Sir Launcelot recognized King Mark and took him to King Arthur, who ordered the Cornish sovereign to allow Sir Tristram to return to Cornwall. In Cornwall, King Mark attempted unsuccessfully to get rid of Tristram, but Tristram managed to avoid all the traps set for him, and he and Isolde escaped to England and took up residence in Castle Joyous Guard.

An old hermit prophesied to King Arthur that a seat that was vacant at the Round Table would be occupied by a knight not yet born—one who would win the Holy Grail.

After Sir Launcelot was tricked into an affair with Elaine, the daughter of King Pelles, the maid gave birth to a boy named Galahad. Some years later, a stone with a sword imbedded in it appeared in a river. A message on the sword stated that the best knight in the world would remove it. All the knights of the Round Table attempted to withdraw the sword without success. Finally, an old man brought a young knight to the Round Table and seated him in the vacant place at which the young knight’s name, Sir Galahad, appeared magically after he had been seated. Sir Galahad withdrew the magic sword from the stone and set out, with Arthur’s other knights, in quest of the Holy Grail. During his quest, he was joined part of the time by his father, Sir Launcelot. Sir Launcelot tried to enter the Grail chamber and was stricken for twenty-four days as penance for his years of sin. A vision of Christ came to Sir Galahad; he and his comrades received communion from the Grail. They came to a Near-Eastern city where they healed a cripple. Because of this miracle, they were thrown into prison by the pagan king. When the king died, Sir Galahad was chosen king; he saw the miracles of the Grail and died in holiness.

There was great rejoicing in Camelot after the questing knights returned. Sir Launcelot forgot the promises he had made during the quest and began to consort again with Guinevere. One spring while traveling with her attendants, Guinevere was captured by a traitorous knight, Sir Meliagrance. Sir Launcelot rescued the queen and killed the evil knight. Enemies of Launcelot reported Launcelot’s love for Guinevere to King Arthur. A party championing the king’s cause engaged Launcelot in combat. All members of the party except Mordred, Arthur’s natural son, were slain. Guinevere was sentenced to be burned, but Sir Launcelot and his party saved the queen from the stake and retired to Castle Joyous Guard. When King Arthur besieged the castle, the pope commanded a truce between Sir Launcelot and the king. Sir Launcelot and his followers went to France, where they became rulers of that realm. King Arthur invaded France with the intent of overthrowing Sir Launcelot. In Arthur’s absence, Mordred seized the throne of Britain and tried to force Guinevere to become his queen. Guinevere escaped to London, where she took refuge in the Tower. Hearing of Sir Mordred’s actions, King Arthur returned to England and in a great battle drove the usurper and his false knights back to Canterbury.

At a parley between King Arthur and Sir Mordred, an adder caused a knight to draw his sword. This action brought on a pitched battle in which Mordred was killed and King Arthur mortally wounded. On his deathbed, Arthur asked Sir Bedivere to cast Excalibur back into the lake from which the sword had come. Sir Bedivere hid the sword twice but was reproached by the king each time. Finally, Sir Bedivere threw the sword into the lake, where it was caught by a hand and withdrawn under the water.

King Arthur died and was carried on a barge down the river to the Vale of Avalon. When Sir Launcelot returned from France to avenge his king and queen, he learned that Guinevere had become a nun. Sir Launcelot retired to a hermitage and took holy orders. Sir Constantine of Cornwall was chosen king to succeed King Arthur.

Critical Evaluation:

The authorship of Le Morte d’ Arthur is controversial, because more than one “Thomas Malory” exists who could have written the work. Many believe the author was most probably the unusual Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel. The strange circumstances of his life contributed significantly to the shape and meaning of his masterwork. Born about 1400, he served with Richard Beauchamp, the earl of Warwick, was knighted in 1442, and was elected a member of Parliament in 1445. After that, Malory turned to a life of irresponsible violence and spent most of his last twenty years in prison until his death in 1471. It was during his imprisonment that Malory composed, translated, and adapted his great rendering of the Arthurian material. Malory lived in the active fifteenth century, just a little past the age of chivalry and at a time when the elegance and leisure of that age had to be rationalized. That accounts for many of the differences between his vigorous narrative and the story’s contemplative, ruminative antecedents in chivalric literature.

Malory is the most influential of all Arthurian writers. He was the source and delight of Edmund Spenser and the main wellspring of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (1859). First printed by William Caxton in one volume in 1485, Le Morte d’Arthur has been consistently popular since, except during the Augustan period of the early eighteenth century. Caxton’s printing is the source of all extant versions except a manuscript discovered in 1934 in the Fellows’ Library of Winchester College. The Winchester manuscript, which seems generally more reliable than Caxton, not only made the identity of the author more certain but also showed that Caxton had condensed the original.

Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur is itself a condensation, adaptation, and rearrangement of earlier materials. It is based primarily on the French Arthurian Prose Cycle (1225-1230) known as the Vulgate, a conglomeration of courtly stories of Lancelot that are ostensibly historical accounts of the court of Arthur and stories of the quest for the Holy Grail. Eugène Vinaver, the foremost editor and critic of Malory, has explained that the differences between the Vulgate and Malory’s narrative are good indicators of the nature of Malory’s achievement.

The primary structure of the Vulgate is episodic, and its narrative movement is largely backwards. Episodes prepare for and elucidate other episodes that may chronologically have preceded them. The work did not grow by accretion; its shape is a reflection of an alternative aesthetic. The result is a web of themes in which forward movement of the narrative is subordinated to the demonstration and clarification of the dominant ideals of the work. Malory took this source, added matter from the fourteenth century English Alliterative Morte d’Arthur and, to a lesser extent, from the Stanzaic Morte, and fashioned a new kind of fictional structure. The result is not simply condensation but a disentanglement of the elements of the narrative and a recombination of them into an order, an emphasis, and a significance entirely alien to the sources.

Vinaver has identified two primary ways in which Malory transformed the structure of the narrative. First, certain episodes are formed into self-contained units, almost short stories, by detachment from their context and the excision of extraneous detail. In the Vulgate, for example, the incidents grouped together by Malory as the story of the Knight of the Cart appeared long before the Grail quest; Malory puts them long after and organizes them as an exemplum of Lancelot’s noble ideals rather than as a prefigurement of his amatory commitment, thus giving the episode a different significance by omission and diminution. Malory’s second mode of transformation is to fashion a coherent narrative from bits and pieces scattered throughout his sources. In the story of the Fair Maid of Astolat, he organizes disparate details into a sequential form.

The most striking change in the sources is Malory’s imposition of a consistently forward chronological movement. The courtly digressions and the significant configurations of explanatory episodes are gone. Instead, there is a straightforward narrative that alters both the tone and meaning of the original. Malory had no comprehension of or sympathy for the tradition of courtly love that permeated his sources. Where its vestiges cannot be omitted, Malory translates them into something more compatible with his genius. Therefore, Lancelot is no longer the “knight of the cart” because of courtly self-debasement for the beloved but because of a dedication to chivalric ideals. The elegance and controlled artificiality of his antecedents are changed by Malory into directness and moral earnestness. Lancelot becomes a Christianized, somewhat sentimentalized figure who is a model of the moderation that leads to supernatural rewards. Similarly, in the story of Pelleas and Ettard, Malory makes Pelleas’ behavior more practical than courtly. After Ettard’s infidelity, Malory substitutes the poetic justice of her death and Pelleas’ happiness for the courtly self-abnegation demonstrated by Pelleas in the Vulgate.

Sometimes Malory’s fiction suffers from the tension between his sources and his rendering of them. As E. K. Chambers has noted, characters are not always sustained on the same level of the narrative. Moreover, not all the courtly and mysterious elements are completely rationalized into the new intention. Some undecipherable oddities result. Le Morte d’Arthur remains, however, a vigorous and compelling narrative full of the spirit of adventurous knighthood. As Vinaver has shown in detail, Malory has substituted outdoor images for courtly affectation, the real English countryside for the conventional French, vigorous speech for conventional dialogues, and direct, human relationships for the elaborate rituals of courtly love. All of this is accomplished in a blunt and lively prose that is the antithesis of the intricacies of the French sources and perfectly suited to Malory’s more direct structure and more forthright moral attitude.

Bibliography:

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.

Places Discussed

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Camelot

Camelot. King Arthur’s primary residence and most important seat of power, home of the Round Table. Malory identifies Camelot as Winchester, though his sources had offered a range of other locations, mostly in southern England. William Caxton, for example, Malory’s first editor and publisher, writes an important preface to the work in which he concedes that the Round Table is indeed kept at Winchester but claims that Camelot itself is in Wales. Descriptions of the city and of the castle are as vague as those of its geographical location, and the image of Camelot seems to have been a rather fluid one, which each generation of writers and readers would visualize in terms of the cities and castles most familiar to them, whether from observation or from reading other romances.

Forest

Forest. Generic setting for many of the adventures of Arthur’s knights. The forest functions as the site of conflict and disorder in opposition to the civilized order and decorum represented by Camelot. By the end of the epic, Camelot itself has declined into a state of chaos and hostility. These forests function both as empty stages upon which the errant knights encounter perils (frequently in the form of other wandering knights) and as enchanted worlds in which the supernatural emerges more readily than in the comparatively realistic world of the court. Characters like Lancelot and Tristram go to the forest when they are driven temporarily mad. Although the forests are depicted as wildernesses where the laws of society are suspended, they are somewhat paradoxically well provided with abbeys, hermitages, and priories at which the knights can obtain food and lodging and hear mass. The forest also contains numerous massive castles built literally in the middle of nowhere.

*Glastonbury

*Glastonbury. Small English town that is the site of one of the most ancient British Christian communities and a major Benedictine abbey. Glastonbury is cited in a number of Arthurian contexts. By the early twelfth century it became the place to which Guenevere is taken when she is kidnapped. In 1190 to 1191, the monks of the monastery announced that they had found the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guenevere in their cemetery under a cross bearing an inscription that conveniently identified them. Caxton’s preface to his edition of Malory also locates his sepulchre there. A legend was soon popularized that the religious site had been founded by Joseph of Arimathea, who is supposed to have brought the Holy Grail to the Isle of Avalon, putatively located near Glastonbury. At the end of Malory’s work, Sir Bedivere, the only survivor of the final battle between Arthur and Mordred, becomes a hermit in a chapel beside Glastonbury. Lancelot and seven other knights join him as hermits, and Lancelot dies there.

*Salisbury

*Salisbury. Town in southern England that is the site of the climactic battle between the forces of Arthur and his nephew/son Mordred, in which the Knights of the Round Table are virtually all killed. Arthur himself is mortally wounded and sent off in a mysterious barge to the vale of Avalon to be healed.

Avalon

Avalon. In most versions of the legend, the magical valley or island to which Arthur is taken after his final battle to be healed, and from which he shall one day return to lead the English people again. Malory himself does not support this part of the story.

*Rome

*Rome. Arthur’s military campaign against the Roman emperor Lucius, which results in Arthur’s being named emperor of Rome, makes up one of the few sustained military operations in the work and one of the few in which Arthur himself is a primary participant. Notable among the battles along the way is Arthur’s combat with a giant at La Mont-Saint-Michel. Popular legend claimed that Britain had been founded by (and named after) Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas, who had paved the way for the founding of Rome after fleeing Troy. This cultural myth of the translatio imperium saw the history of the world as a progress west from Troy to Rome to England, the third great world power after the empires of Greece and Rome.

Joyous Gard

Joyous Gard. Lancelot’s castle in England, usually located in the northern part of the country, perhaps in Northumberland. He brings Guenevere here for protection after rescuing her from Arthur’s knights when she is about to be executed for treason. Arthur and Gawain besiege the castle to recover her, but even though the pope intervenes to impose peace, the alliance of Lancelot with Arthur’s court is effectively ended. Lancelot renames the castle Dolorous Gard after his split with Arthur. Lancelot is taken there for burial after his death at Glastonbury. Malory locates the castle and the associated town in Alnwick or Bamburgh.

*Tintagel Castle

*Tintagel Castle. Castle in which Arthur is conceived by his father, Uther, and his mother, Ygerna, at that time the wife of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall. Tintagel is also the primary castle of King Mark in the legend of Tristram. Ruins in the area have suggested to some that there may have been a historical basis for the location of a stronghold there.

Logres

Logres. One of the names for Arthur’s realm. A near-synonym for England for Malory and other English writers, much less precisely located for most French writers. Depending upon the context, Logres may comprise large expanses of Europe, up to and including the Roman Empire, to which Arthur lays claim and then conquers. It also covers such imaginary countries as Lyonesse, the home kingdom of Tristram, who typifies the internationalism of Arthurian legend: He is born in Lyonesse, raised in Cornwall, educated in France, married in Brittany, and serves in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, besides being one of Arthur’s knights in Camelot.

Historical Context

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A Time of War
Life in fifteenth-century England was certainly turbulent during the period in which Malory was writing Le Morte d'Arthur. The century began with Henry V deciding to invade France. Henry found ways to justify his choice, claiming a hereditary entitlement to France and a desire to unite Europe under a Christian flag. These righteous claims allowed Henry to claim God's endorsement of this attack. As it turns out, Henry had need of God. Miserable weather and rampant dysentery hampered his invasion, but eventually Henry achieved great victories and succeeded in his quest to unite France and England. Henry emerged from these battles as a legend, having defeated the French at Agincourt, against almost impossible odds. The heavily armored French army, which was weighted down in the muddy field, quickly fell victim to the English archers, who deftly stayed out of the mud as they attacked from a distance. As a result, the French sustained thousands of lost lives and the English only a few. Henry gave credit to God, for having been party to the English victory. More importantly, Henry's exploits assumed a level more often associated with myth, and certainly reminding his people of the earlier British Legend, King Arthur, whose exploits on the battlefield were also legendary. To seal the comparisons, Henry also died soon after his victories, although not in battle as Arthur had, but of the dysentery that had plagued his men during the earlier campaign.

During Malory's lifetime, English life had been marked by dissention and war. The monarchy squandered the country's wealth by waging wars, when what England needed was an emphasis on recovery and stability. Except for the brief period of glory that the English found with Henry V, there had been little to cheer the people during the past hundred years or more. The Peasant's Revolt of 1381, which had been caused by the imposition of a Poll tax, had offered no lasting lessons for the monarchy. The revolt has been squashed in less than a month and it had failed as a social revolution, and so the problems that had led to the revolt were ignored. The Peasant's Revolt had been about much more than the Poll tax. There had been a shortage of laborers, and thus a shortage of food since the last serious outbreak of plague in the middle of the fourteenth century, which killed a third of England's population. The people were starving, and the aristocracy's solution was to raise taxes and fight among themselves for the crown. In short, the medieval period was a time of social unrest and disorder. In spite of severe economic conditions, the Hundred Years War raged in the background, until finally the French drove the English from their territories. Back in England, the aristocracy were more involved with the getting and keeping of land and wealth, rather than the social revolution that the country so desperately needed.

Late Medieval Life
As an adult, Henry VI established Eton College and King College, Cambridge. These actions revealed the king's interest in education. But education served the aristocracy and not the people. To add to the problems, the king's relatives had been engaging in almost constant feuds since the date of his birth, finally erupting into civil war in 1453 with the birth of Henry's heir. This event led to a war that would last thirty years. During this period, the crown shifted several times between the Yorkist faction and the Lancastrians. Each side of the war had both their dissenters and their supporters, but both of these groups were quick to shift their allegiance if it appeared that the battle had been lost or, perhaps, won. During all this fighting, there was little change for the English peasant. The feudal system of life offered little benefit to anyone, except the aristocracy. The peasant owned neither himself nor his property. Absolute control resided with the landowner, who simply increased demand of his workers when he needed additional capital outlay, as owners frequently did. There were no accommodations for illness or death. As the poor suffered, the wealthy became even richer. This condition culminated in another peasant's revolt in 1450 and the peasant's march on London. Although there was some small blood shed during this revolt, there was little practical change. The influence of the Hundred Years War and the English civil wars led to increased lawlessness. There were many thefts, more than in any other period. Merchants were dishonest, selling shoddy goods and cheating their customers. The law was corrupt, with bribery too commonplace to ignore. The seas were filled with pirates and the highways with robbers. Greediness and a desire for even more money motivated much of what passed for English society. There was little to stop the common criminal, except the efforts of those citizens who retained some core of decency.

In spite of all this corruption, many people, mostly those who were poor and who lived as peasants, maintained the honesty and goodness that sustained England through this period. For the people of the late medieval period, the Catholic Church was the center of their lives. Its teaching guided all their actions, and its rules provided people with a pattern upon which to base all behaviors. The teachings of the church and its masses were in Latin, which few except the most learned could understand. Thus, the church held a position of authority that could not be challenged. Its representatives were charged with interpreting the word of God to the people, who trusted in their clergy. The people relied on the church to provide their moral compass, and although there was much corruption in the church, its authority still helped to maintain order. The Catholic Church still maintained a strong hold on England at the beginning of the sixteenth century. But the fist stirrings of the Reformation were being felt in Europe, and by the early sixteenth century, the Catholic church's rule in England had ended.

The end of the fifteenth century marked the end of the medieval period in England. The sixteenth century brought with it the first of the Tudor kings and a period of relative peace following the civil wars that had plagued England during much of the preceding century. Although it was still present in smaller, yearly outbreaks, the threat of the Black Death, plague, had finally decreased. In short, England at the beginning of a new century had become a good place to live. The first of the Tudor kings, Henry VII, formed alliances with neighboring countries and trade flourished in London. The cloth for which English sheep were so famous became an important commodity for trade in Europe. But the coming of trade changed the face of England. Instead of a country largely composed of an agrarian culture, England, and especially London, became an important center of trade. Land for agricultural use was enclosed, and displaced rural families fled to the larger cities, where crowding, unemployment, and plague were a greater problem. The feudal order was ending, as well, as knights on horseback, who became obsolete after Henry V, proved that there was a more efficient way to win a battle. Literacy increased, too, as moveable type made books and other printed material more available and as more people learned to read.

The Move to the Renaissance
Fifty years before Malory's death, and after Henry V's early death, his heir became his infant son, Henry VI, and control of the government lay in the hands of the infant's uncles. The plotting and fighting that resulted eventually led to civil war. There are clear comparisons to Arthur's death, which led to the dissolution of the Round Table and the end of that period of greatness in England's prehistory. With Henry V dead, the period of England' s greatness was also diminished. England lost the newly won France and did not emerge as a stable and strong country again until Richard III's defeat at Bosworth Field in 1485, when Henry VII, the first of the Tudor kings, would bring England back to that former glory. But Thomas Malory could not predict that the world outside his prison would change so drastically as he sat writing in his prison in 1469. Instead, what awaited England was the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the English Renaissance, which could only come about with the end of war and the establishment of peace.

Literary Style

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Character
The actions of each character are what constitute the story. Character can also include the idea of a particular individual's morality. Characters can range from simple stereotypical figures to more complex multi-faceted ones. Characters may also be defined by personality traits, such as the rogue or the damsel in distress. Characterization is the process of creating a lifelike person from an author's imagination. To accomplish this the author provides the character with personality traits that help define who that person will be and how that person will behave in a given situation. Most of the characters in Malory's epic are derived from characters who appeared in his sources. But, Malory has also changed some of the characters, giving them more depth, such as Launcelot, who is transformed from a minor character in the sources to a major character in Malory's epic.

Epic
An epic is a long narrative poem that presents characters and events of high position. There may be a central heroic figure, as in the case of Arthur in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur . There is frequently a muse who inspires the writer to create a work that is inspired and magnificent in its scope. The epic most frequently recounts the origins of a nation or group of people. Le Morte d'Arthur recounts the story of King Arthur, but it also establishes a history for the English people, providing a source of national pride. Epics usually share certain features: a heroic figure who is imposing in his greatness; a vast setting or great nation; heroic deeds; supernatural forces, such as miracles, gods, or angels; elevated diction and style; and an objective narrator. Le Morte d'Arthur is not an epic in the tradition of The Odyssey, instead fitting more loosely into the genre of the romantic prose epic.

Fiction
Fiction is any story that is created out of the author's imagination, rather than factual events. Sometimes the characters in a fictional piece are based on real life, but their ultimate form and the way they respond to events is the creation of the author. In Le Morte d'Arthur, the story is purported to be historical and real, but actually it is based on a series of legends and folktales and has little basis in actual facts. Although the actual story is not taken from Malory's imagination, it is taken from the imaginations of his sources, and thus, it retains its fictional basis.

Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a device in literature to create expectation and tension in the story. This device is one way to build anticipation and keep the reader interested in the story, or even worried about a character's future or well-being. There is much foreshadowing in Malory's epic, primarily through the use of prophesy, which predicts death and destruction.

Genre
Genres are a way of categorizing literature. Genre is a French term that means "kind" or "type." Genre can refer to both the category of literature such as tragedy, comedy, epic, poetry, or pastoral. It can also include modern forms of literature such as drama, novels, or short stories. This term can also refer to types of literature such as mystery, science fiction, comedy or romance. Le Morte d'Arthur is a romantic epic.

Plot
This term refers to the pattern of events. Generally plots should have a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion, but they may also sometimes be a series of episodes connected together. Basically, the plot provides the author with the means to explore primary themes. Students are often confused between the two terms; but themes explore ideas, and plots simply relate what happens in a very obvious manner. In Le Morte d'Arthur, Malory has expanded on the original sources, which were really just a series of legends, to create a chronologically based plot, which covers events over a duration of many years. The plot depicts the birth of Arthur, his succession to the crown, and the formation of the Round Table. The plot also depicts the many adventures of the knights, particularly the quest for the Holy Grail. But the themes include adherence to the knightly code of behavior that Arthur institutes and devotion to king and God.

Romantic Epic
A romantic epic is a long narrative poem that combines the medieval romance and the classical epic. The poets who created romantic epics used many of the features of the classical epics but combined these features with stories of love and both romantic and religious. Malory deviates slightly from the conventional, substituting prose for verse. Malory also combines the Grail Quest with romantic courtly love to add dimension to the romantic epic.

Setting
The time, place, and culture in which the action of the play takes place is called the setting. The elements of setting may include geographic location, physical or mental environments, prevailing cultural attitudes, or the historical time in which the action takes place. The location for Le Morte d'Arthur is mostly Britain, but the time is understood to be many years earlier, perhaps as early as the six century, during the Anglo-Saxon period.

Compare and Contrast

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Fourteenth Century: In 1419, England's Henry V conquers all of Normandy, wining a battle at Agincourt, in which the heavily outnumbered English soldiers defeat the French. Henry's glorious win is considered as a sanction from God for having undertaken the war. Some scholars think that Henry's glorious exploits in battle serve for Malory's depiction of Arthur.

Late Twentieth Century: Neither the English nor the French are seen as great military forces, and indeed, both have fought on the same side all during this century. The twentieth century has not witnessed a military hero of the stature of either Henry or Arthur, although General Eisenhower perhaps comes closest.

Fourteenth Century: In 1428, the University of Florence begins to teach Greek and Latin literature, as a way to emphasize moral values. When this occurs, the early Greek and Roman epics, The Odyssey and The Aeneid are again taught. This results in a greater interest in the ancient epics and leads to the creation of many new epics within the next two hundred years, including Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, and John Milton's Paradise Lost. These authors were all interested in using the epic form to establish moral values and to promote the importance of religious faith as a positive influence.

Late Twentieth Century: Most modern authors have little interest in creating epics. Instead, many people use mass media as a moral compass and as a way to model behavior. However, the religious epics of Malory, Spenser, and Milton continue to be very popular as literature. In particular, sections from Malory's epic are often depicted on film as either romance or action entertainment.

Fourteenth Century: The Hundred Years War between England and France that began in 1377 continues throughout most of the century, only ending in 1453 with England's defeat. After the glorious victories of Henry V, there is little for the British to cheer about. In bringing a heroic figure such as Arthur to life, Malory once again offers the English a reason to remember their past glories and a reason to hope again that their country will find real glory on the battlefield.

Late Twentieth Century: During World War II, the British refuse to capitulate to the Germans, becoming one of the few European countries to withstand the force of the Axis. Although they are certainly outnumbered and suffer heavy losses during the Blitz, the British prove once again that they have the strength to survive, often calling upon a proud heritage to give the people continued hope for victory.

Fourteenth Century: Civil war, between the Yorkists (wearing white roses) and the Lancastrians (wearing red roses) lasts for thirty years. The War of the Roses, as it is called, tears at the fabric of England, whose resources are directed toward war rather than the improvement of the country. The civil war is particularly destructive as English soldiers kill English soldiers. Meanwhile, many people are starving and little developmental progress is made. Malory's epic clearly illustrates the destruction from murder and chaos that occurs when revenge and death take precedence over constructive actions.

Late Twentieth Century: Unlike England's experience with the War of the Roses, most nations have found that war is an economic boon, providing more employment and often leading to the development of technology that has peacetime applications. For instance, war has led to improvements in medicine and in airplane design. War also leads to increased production and an increase in the countries gross national product; accordingly, war can provide one way for a country to emerge from an economic depression.

Media Adaptations

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Knights of the Round Table, (1953 MGM, 106 min.) starring Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, and Mel Ferrer and directed by Richard Thorpe, was nominated for Academy Awards in Best Art Direction/Set Direction and Best Sound.

First Knight, (1995 Columbia, 134 min.) starring Sean Connery, Richard Gere, Julia Ormond, and John Gielgud and directed by Jerry Zucker was panned by the critics as unintentionally funny with a plot similar to a Harlequin Romance.

Camelot, (1967 Warner Brothers, 150 min.) starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, David Hemmings, Franco Nero, and Lionel Jefferies and directed by Joshua Logan, received Academy Awards for Best Art Direction/Set Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Score. This film also won Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor, Best Song, and Best Score.

King Arthur and His Knights, (1998 Greathall) narrated by Jim Weiss. Weiss is a storyteller whose work appeals to children. He uses song to tell several of the episodes from King Arthur's life.

Le Morte D'Arthur, (1998 Blackstone) narrated by Frederick Davidson, containing eleven (two-hour) cassettes, is a reading of selections from Malory's text.

Le Morte D'Arthur, (1997 Highbridge) narrated by Dereck Jacobi, contains six cassettes, and offers an abridgement of Malory's text.

Le Morte D'Arthur, (1963 Argo) is a dramatization starring Harry Andrews, William Squire, Joan Hart, and Tony White.

Le Morte D'Arthur: Launcelot and Guinevere, (1972 Caedmon) narrated by Siobhan McKenna, includes selections for Malory's story.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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SOURCES
Ascham, Roger, The Scolemaster, rev. ed., Thoemmes Press, 1996.

Caxton, William, "Caxton's Preface," in The Works of Thomas Malory, Vol. I, edited by Eugene Vinaver, Clarendon Press, 1947.

Kennedy, Edward Donald, "Malory's Guinevere: 'A Woman Who Had Grown a Soul,'" in Arthuriana, Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring, 1999, pp. 37–45.

Lewis, C. S., "The English Prose 'Morte,'" in Essays on Malory, edited by Walter Oakeshott, et. al., Clarendon press, 1963, pp. 7-28.

Saul, Mary Lynn, "Courtly Love and the Patriarchal Marriage Practice in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur,’’ in Fifteenth Century Studies, Vol. 24, 1998, pp. 50-62.

FURTHER READING
Archibald, Elizabeth and A.S.G. Edwards, editors, A Companion to Malory, D. S. Brewer, 1996.
This book is a compilation of essays that focus on several of the themes and ideas present in Malory's text.

Benson, L.D., "Le Morte d'Arthur," in Critical Approaches to Six Major Works: Beowulf through Paradise Lost, edited by R. M. Lumiansky and Hershel Baker, 1968, pp. 112-120.
This article is a discussion on the thematic unity of Malory's text, which uses as its example the story of Gareth.

Caxton, William, "Caxton's Preface," in The Works of Thomas Malory, Vol. I, edited by Eugene Vinaver, Clarendon Press, 1947.
This text is from the original preface that appeared in the 1485 publication of Malory's epic.

Cole, Harry, “‘Forgiveness as Structure:" The Book of Launcelot and Queen Guinevere,'" in Chaucer Review, Vol. 31, No.1, 1996, pp. 36-44.
This article examines the purpose and function of the section of Malory's epic that focuses on the story of Launcelot and Guinevere.

Fenster, Thelma S., editor, Arthurian Women: A Casebook, Garland, 1996.
This book is a compilation of essays that focus on the women in Malory's text.

Field, P. J. C., The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory, D. S. Brewer, 1993.
Field's book is an attempt to understand Malory and to establish the real identity of the author of this epic.

Gaines, Barry, Sir Thomas Malory: An Anecdotal Bibliography of Editions, 1485-1985, AMS Press, 1990.
Gaines' book is a discussion of many of the different editions of Malory's text that have appeared over the years. Gaines' book also includes books based on the Arthurian legends, as well as children's editions.

Kennedy, Edward Donald, "Malory's Guinevere: 'A Woman Who Had Grown a Soul,'" in Arthuriana, Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring, 1999, pp. 37–45.
This article argues that Guinevere, who also led to Launcelot's failure in seeking the Grail, was ultimately the reason his soul was saved.

Lewis, C. S., "The English Prose 'Morte,'" in Essays on Malory, edited by Walter Oakeshott, et. al., Clarendon press, 1963, pp. 7-28.
This essay examines several of what Lewis claims are key paradoxes in Malory's text.

Lynch, Andrew, Malory's Book of Arms, D. S. Brewer, 1997.
Lynch's book provides a narration and discussion of the combat sequences in Malory's text.

Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Bramwell House, 1962.
This edition of Malory's text has been translated into modern English, with the intent that the text be more accessible to the casual reader than previous editions.

Putter, Ad, "Finding Time for Romance: Medieval Arthurian Literary History," in Medium Aevum, Vol. 63, No.1, Spring, 1994, pp. 1-16.
Putter's article is a discussion of the historical basis of the Arthurian legend, using Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain.

Saul, Mary Lynn, "Courtly Love and the Patriarchal Marriage Practice in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur,’’ Fifteenth Century Studies, Vol. 24, 1998, pp. 50-62.
This article explores the historical basis of medieval marriage as depicted in Malory's text.

Bibliography

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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.

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