Le Morte d'Arthur

by Thomas Malory

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How does Mordred deviate from the code of chivalry in Le Morte d'Arthur?

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Mordred's actions are in direct violation of the code of chivalry.

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The chivalric code dates from the Dark Ages of Britain, and was recorded in writing in the eighth century AD. Because this code was in use during the time of the Emperor Charlemagne, it is known as Charlemagne's Code of Chivalry. The medieval document known as the "Song of Roland" mentions the seventeen rules by which a knight was expected to live his life. Of these seventeen items, twelve rules apply to chivalry as opposed to combat, which demonstrates the importance of this code of behavior and ethics. The four specific concepts of chivalry emphasized by the Order of the Knights of the Round Table in the legend of King Arthur were Honor, Honesty, Valor and Loyalty. The seventeen rules described in the "Song of Roland" can be applied to the events in Le Morte D'Arthur. Mordred is generally disloyal and dishonorable because of his disrespectful behavior towards King Arthur.

Mordred, the son of Arthur, is conceived in an act of deception when the witch Morgause, his half sister, seduces him by tricking him into thinking that she is his wife Guinevere. Mordred, like Arthur, is brought up in secret and told that he has a rightful place in the kingdom. But his sense of entitlement (encouraged by his mother, who despises Arthur) is misplaced. In his arrogance he fails to "refrain from the wanton giving of offense," one of the seventeen rules of chivalry. He also shows greed in wanting to rule the kingdom and its wealth, therefore violating the rule of chivalry that states a knight must "despise pecuniary reward."

The main rule of chivalry violated by Mordred is his failure to "serve the liege lord in valor and faith" (liege is another word for king). He also fails to "obey those placed in authority." Mordred believes he has a right to the crown, but because he is of illegitimate birth, Arthur cannot grant him the right to the throne (even though Arthur has no other children). Mordred refuses this ruling and is determined to take Camelot by force, deliberately disobeying his king and betraying the code of honor.

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