December 2018 – King Arthur building the legend contd

By | January 13, 2019

The session:

Continued Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte DArthur”

1/.  This was finished in 1469 or 1470 and was printed by Caxton in 1485 (the first of our sources to make it into print).  The setting of the tale is fifteenth century, and Arthur is portrayed very much as a fifteenth century figure.

2/.  Malory lived at the time of the Wars of the Roses and he was greatly concerned about the damage that civil unrest was doing to England, and the danger, as he saw it, that the entire country was about to collapse in ruin.  He portrayed Arthur as the strong king who came to the rescue when the country stood in similar peril in the past; and as the sort of king that England needed in his own time.

3/.  According to Malory, Arthur fought a long and bitter civil war before he could secure the crown and the kingdom, but then Malory tells us that this security did not last.  According to the Cistercian monks, in their reworking of the Arthurian material (the Vulgate Cycle) Arthur’s glory faded because of sexual sin.  According to Malory, Arthur’s court was destroyed because of infighting and treachery amongst his own knights – Malory’s message to his readers being that England is in the same danger now; and if civil unrest could destroy the mighty King Arthur, it will certainly do the same to us.

4/.  Malory used most of the source materials that we have looked at so far, but then he added a lot of extra details and embellishments of his own.  In fact, most of the elements that are associated with the Arthurian legends actually made it into print courtesy of Thomas Malory.  So we have the sword that Arthur draws from the anvil, to prove that he is the rightful heir to the throne; the magical Otherworld sword Excalibur that is given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake; Arthur’s court at Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table; and Arthur’s act of incest with his half-sister Morgause that results in the birth of Mordred who is destined to destroy both Arthur and his kingdom.