Le Morte d'Arthur

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Le Morte d'Arthur
AuthorThomas Malory
CountryKingdom of England
LanguageMiddle English
SubjectMatter of Britain
GenreChivalric romance
PublisherWilliam Caxton

Le Morte d'Arthur (originally spelled Le Morte Darthur, ungrammatical[1] Middle French for "The Death of Arthur") is a 15th-century Middle English prose reworking by Sir Thomas Malory of tales about the legendary King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table—along with their respective folklore. In order to tell a "complete" story of Arthur from his conception to his death, Malory compiled, rearranged, interpreted and modified material from various French and English sources. Today, this is one of the best-known works of Arthurian literature. Many authors since the 19th-century revival of the legend have used Malory as their principal source.

Written in prison, Le Morte d'Arthur was first published in 1485 at the end of the medieval English era by William Caxton, who changed its title from the original The Whole Book of King Arthur and of His Noble Knights of the Round Table (The Hoole Booke of Kyng Arthur & of His Noble Knyghtes of the Rounde Table). Until the discovery of the Winchester Manuscript in 1934, the 1485 edition was considered the earliest known text of Le Morte d'Arthur and that closest to Malory's original version.[2] Modern editions under various titles are inevitably variable, changing spelling, grammar and pronouns for the convenience of readers of modern English, as well as often abridging or revising the material.



The exact identity of the author of Le Morte d'Arthur has long been the subject of speculation, owing to the fact that at least six historical figures bore the name of "Sir Thomas Malory" (in various spellings) during the late 15th century.[3] In the work the author describes himself as "Knyght presoner Thomas Malleorre" ("Sir Thomas Maleore" according to the publisher William Caxton). This is taken as supporting evidence for the identification most widely accepted by scholars: that the author was the Thomas Malory born in the year 1416, to Sir John Malory of Newbold Revel, Warwickshire, England.[4][5]

Sir Thomas inherited the family estate in 1434, but by 1450 he was fully engaged in a life of crime. As early as 1433 he had been accused of theft, but the more serious allegations against him included that of the attempted murder of Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, an accusation of at least two rapes, and that he had attacked and robbed Coombe Abbey. Malory was first arrested and imprisoned in 1451 for the ambush of Buckingham, but was released early in 1452. By March he was back in the Marshalsea prison and then in Colchester, escaping on multiple occasions. In 1461 he was granted a pardon by King Henry VI, returning to live at his estate. Although originally allied to the House of York, after his release Malory changed his allegiance to the House of Lancaster. This led to him being imprisoned yet again in 1468 when he led an ill-fated plot to overthrow King Edward IV.[4] It was during this final stint at Newgate Prison in London that he is believed to have written Le Morte d'Arthur.[6] Malory was released in October 1470, when Henry VI returned to the throne, but died only five months later.[4]


A 14th-century Polish fresco at Siedlęcin Tower depicting Lancelot fighting the evil knight Turquine in a scene from the French Vulgate Cycle

As Elizabeth Bryan wrote of Malory's contribution to Arthurian legend in her introduction to a modern edition of Le Morte d'Arthur, "Malory did not invent the stories in this collection; he translated and compiled them. Malory in fact translated Arthurian stories that already existed in 13th-century French prose (the so-called Old French Vulgate romances) and compiled them together with Middle English sources (the Alliterative Morte Arthure and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur) to create this text."[7]

Within his narration, Malory refers to drawing it from a singular "Freynshe booke", in addition to also unspecified "other bookis".[8] In addition to the vast Vulgate Cycle in its different variants, as well as the English poems Morte Arthur and Morte Arthure, Malory's other original source texts were identified as several French standalone chivalric romances, including Erec et Enide, L'âtre périlleux, Perlesvaus, and Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion (or its English version, Ywain and Gawain), as well as John Hardyng's English Chronicle.[9] The English poem The Weddynge of Syr Gawen is uncertainly regarded as either just another of these or possibly actually Malory's own work.[10] His assorted other sources might have included a 5th-century Roman military manual, De re militari.[11]


Malory called the entire work The Hoole Booke of Kyng Arthur & of His Noble Knyghtes of the Rounde Table, but William Caxton changed the title to that commonly known today, which originally only referred to the final volume of the work (full title The Noble & Joyous Boke Entytled Le Morte Darthur Notwythstondyng It Treateth of the Byrth Lyf and Actes of the Sayd Kynge Arthur; Of His Noble Knyghtes of the Rounde Table, Theyr Merveyllous Enquestes and Adventures Thachyevyng of the Sanc-Greall and in the Ende the Dolourous Deth; And Departynge out of This Worlde of Them Al). Caxton separated Malory's eight books into 21 books; subdivided the books into a total of 507 chapters; added a summary of each chapter and added a colophon to the entire book.[12]

The first printing of Malory's work was made by Caxton in 1485. Only two copies of this original printing are known to exist, in the collections of the Morgan Library & Museum in New York and the John Rylands Library in Manchester.[13] It proved popular and was reprinted in an illustrated form with some additions and changes in 1498 and 1529 by Wynkyn de Worde who succeeded Caxton's press. Three more editions were published before the English Civil War: William Copland's (1557), Thomas East's (1585), and William Stansby's (1634), each of which contained additional changes and errors (Stansby's being notably poorly translated and highly censored). Thereafter, the book went out of fashion until the Romanticist revival of interest in all things medieval.

The Winchester Manuscript[edit]

Winchester College headmaster Walter Fraser Oakeshott discovered a previously unknown manuscript copy of the work in June 1934, during the cataloging of the college's library. Newspaper accounts announced that what Caxton had published in 1485 was not exactly what Malory had written.[14] Oakeshott published "The Finding of the Manuscript" in 1963, chronicling the initial event and his realization that "this indeed was Malory," with "startling evidence of revision" in the Caxton edition.[15] This manuscript is now in the British Library's collection.[16]

Malory scholar Eugène Vinaver examined the manuscript shortly after its discovery. Oakeshott was encouraged to produce an edition himself, but he ceded the project to Vinaver.[15] Based on his initial study of the manuscript, Oakeshott concluded in 1935 that the copy from which Caxton printed his edition "was already subdivided into books and sections."[17] Vinaver made an exhaustive comparison of the manuscript with Caxton's edition and reached similar conclusions. Microscopic examination revealed that ink smudges on the Winchester manuscript are offsets of newly printed pages set in Caxton's own font, which indicates that the Winchester Manuscript was in Caxton's print shop. The manuscript is believed to be closer on the whole to Malory's original and does not have the book and chapter divisions for which Caxton takes credit in his preface. The manuscript has been digitised by a Japanese team, who note that "the text is imperfect, as the manuscript lacks the first and last quires and few leaves. The most striking feature of the manuscript is the extensive use of red ink."[18][19]

In his 1947 publication of The Works of Sir Thomas Malory, Vinaver argued that Malory wrote not a single book, but rather a series of Arthurian tales, each of which is an internally consistent and independent work. However, William Matthews pointed out that Malory's later tales make frequent references to the earlier events, suggesting that he had wanted the tales to cohere better but had not sufficiently revised the whole text to achieve this.[20] This was followed by much debate in the late 20th-century academia over which version is superior, Caxton's print or Malory's original vision.[21]



Like other English prose in the 15th century, Le Morte d'Arthur was highly influenced by French writings, but Malory blends these with other English verse and prose forms. The Middle English of Le Morte d'Arthur is much closer to Early Modern English than the Middle English of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (the publication of Chaucer's work by Caxton was a precursor to Caxton's publication of Malory); if the spelling is modernized, it reads almost like Elizabethan English. Where the Canterbury Tales are in Middle English, Malory extends "one hand to Chaucer, and one to Spenser,"[22] by constructing a manuscript which is hard to place in one category. Malory's writing can be divisive today: sometimes seen as simplistic from an artistic viewpoint, "rambling" and full of repetitions,[23] yet there are also opposite opinions, such as of those regarding it a "supreme aesthetic accomplishment".[24] Because there is so much lengthy ground to cover, Malory uses "so—and—then," often to transition his retelling of the stories that become episodes instead of instances that can stand on their own.[25]

Setting and themes[edit]

A 14th-century "Round Table" at Winchester Castle, Malory's Camelot

Most of the events take place in a historical fantasy version of Britain and France at an unspecified time (on occasion, the plot ventures farther afield, to Rome and Sarras, and recalls Biblical tales from the ancient Near East). Arthurian myth is set during the 5th to 6th centuries, however Malory's telling contains many anachronisms and makes no effort at historical accuracy–even more so than his sources. Earlier romance authors have already depicted the "Dark Ages" times of Arthur as a familiar, High-to-Late Medieval style world of armored knights and grand castles taking place of the Post-Roman warriors and forts. Malory further modernized the legend by conflating the Celtic Britain with his own contemporary Kingdom of England (for example explicitly identifying Logres as England, Camelot as Winchester, and Astolat as Guildford) and, completely ahistorically, replacing the legend's Saxon invaders with the Ottoman Turks in the role of King Arthur's foreign pagan enemies.[26][27] Although Malory hearkens back to an age of idealized vision of knighthood, with chivalric codes of honor and jousting tournaments, his stories lack mentions of agricultural life or commerce. As noted by Ian Scott-Kilvert, characters "consist almost entirely of fighting men, their wives or mistresses, with an occasional clerk or an enchanter, a fairy or a fiend, a giant or a dwarf," and "time does not work on the heroes of Malory."[28]

According to Charles W. Moorman III, Malory intended "to set down in English a unified Arthuriad which should have as its great theme the birth, the flowering, and the decline of an almost perfect earthy civilization." Moorman identified three main motifs going through the work: Sir Lancelot's and Queen Guinevere's affair; the long blood feud between the families of King Lot and King Pellinore; and the mystical Grail Quest. Each of these plots would define one of the causes of the downfall of Arthur's kingdom, namely "the failures in love, in loyalty, in religion."[29]

Volumes and internal chronology[edit]

The holy island of Mont-Saint-Michel where Arthur slays an evil giant in one of the only few supernatural elements of the Roman War story

Prior to Caxton's reorganization, Malory's work originally consisted of eight books:

  1. The birth and rise of Arthur: "From the Marriage of King Uther unto King Arthur (that reigned after him and did many battles)" (Fro the Maryage of Kynge Uther unto Kynge Arthure that regned aftir hym and ded many batayles)
  2. Arthur's war against the resurgent Western Romans: "The Noble Tale Between King Arthur and Lucius the Emperor of Rome" (The Noble Tale betwyxt Kynge Arthure and Lucius the Emperour of Rome)
  3. The early adventures of Sir Lancelot: "The Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot of the Lake" (The Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake)
  4. The story of Sir Gareth: "The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney" (The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkeney)
  5. The legend of Tristan and Iseult: "The Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones" (originally split between The Fyrste Boke of Sir Trystrams de Lyones and The Secunde Boke of Sir Trystrams de Lyones)
  6. The quest for the Grail: "The Noble Tale of the Sangreal" (The Noble Tale of the Sankegreall)
  7. The forbidden love between Lancelot and Guinevere: "Sir Launcelot and Queen Guenever" (Sir Launcelot and Quene Gwenyvere)
  8. The breakup of the Knights of the Round Table and the last battle of Arthur: "The Death of Arthur" (The Deth of Arthur)

Moorman attempted to put the books of the Winchester Manuscript in chronological order. In his analysis, Malory's intended chronology can be divided into three parts: Book I followed by a 20-year interval that includes some events of Book III and others; the 15-year-long period of Book V, also spanning Books IV, II and III (in that order); and finally Books VI, VII and VIII in a straightforward sequence beginning with the closing part of Book V (the Joyous Gard section).[30]


Book I (Caxton I–IV)[edit]

"How Arthur by the mean of Merlin gat Excalibur his sword of the Lady of the Lake", illustration for Le Morte Darthur, J. M. Dent & Co., London (1893–1894), by Aubrey Beardsley

Arthur is born to the High King of Britain (Malory's "England") Uther Pendragon and his new wife Igraine, and then taken by Sir Ector to be secretly fostered in the country after the death of Uther. Years later, the now teenage Arthur suddenly becomes the ruler of the leaderless Britain when he removes the fated sword from the stone in the contest set up by the wizard Merlin, which proves his birthright that he himself had not been aware of. The newly crowned King Arthur and his followers including King Ban and King Bors go on to fight against rivals and rebels, ultimately winning the war in the great Battle of Bedegraine. Arthur prevails due to his military prowess and the prophetic and magical counsel of Merlin (later replaced by the sorceress Nimue), further helped by the sword Excalibur that Arthur received from a Lady of the Lake. With his throne secure, Arthur marries the also young Princess Guinevere and inherits the Round Table from her father, King Leodegrance. He then gathers his chief knights, including some of his former enemies who now joined him, at his capital Camelot and establishes the Round Table fellowship as all swear to the Pentecostal Oath as a guide for knightly conduct.

The narrative of Malory's first book is mainly based on the Prose Merlin in the version from the Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin (possibly on the manuscript Cambridge University Library, Additional 7071[31]).[9] It also includes the tale of Balyn and Balan (a lengthy section which Malory called a "booke" in itself), as well as other episodes such as the hunt for the Questing Beast and the treason of Arthur's sorceress half-sister Queen Morgan le Fay in the plot involving her lover Accolon. Furthermore, it tells of begetting of Arthur's incestuous son Mordred by one of his other royal half-sisters, Morgause (though Arthur did not know her as his sister); on Merlin's advice, Arthur then takes every newborn boy in his kingdom and all but Mordred, who miraculously survives and eventually indeed kills his father in the end, perish at sea (this is mentioned matter-of-fact, with no apparent moral overtone).

Malory addresses his contemporary preoccupations with legitimacy and societal unrest, which will appear throughout the rest of Le Morte d'Arthur.[32] According to Helen Cooper in Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte D'arthur – The Winchester Manuscript, the prose style, which mimics historical documents of the time, lends an air of authority to the whole work. This allowed contemporaries to read the book as a history rather than as a work of fiction, therefore making it a model of order for Malory's violent and chaotic times during the Wars of the Roses. Malory's concern with legitimacy reflects 15th-century England, where many were claiming their rights to power through violence and bloodshed.

Book II (Caxton V)[edit]

The opening of the second volume finds Arthur and his kingdom without an enemy. His throne is secure, and his knights including Griflet and Tor as well as Arthur's own nephews Gawain and Ywain (sons of Morgause and Morgan, respectively) have proven themselves in various battles and fantastic quests as told in the first volume. Seeking more glory, Arthur and his knights then go to the war against (fictitious) Emperor Lucius who has just demanded Britain to resume paying tribute. Departing from Geoffrey of Monmouth's literary tradition in which Mordred is left in charge (as this happens there near the end of the story), Malory's Arthur leaves his court in the hands of Constantine of Cornwall and sails to Normandy to meet his cousin Hoel. After that, the story details Arthur's march on Rome through Almaine (Germany) and Italy. Following a series of battles resulting in the great victory over Lucius and his allies, and the Roman Senate's surrender, Arthur is crowned a Western Emperor but instead arranges a proxy government and returns to Britain.

This book is based mostly on the first half of the Middle English heroic poem Alliterative Morte Arthure (itself heavily based on Geoffrey's pseudo-chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae). Caxton's print version is abridged by more than half compared to Malory's manuscript.[33] Vinaver theorized that Malory originally wrote this part first as a standalone work, while without knowledge of French romances.[34] In effect, there is a time lapse that includes Arthur's war with King Claudas in France.

Book III (Caxton VI)[edit]

"How Sir Launcelot slew the knight Sir Peris de Forest Savage that did distress ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen." The Romance of King Arthur (1917), abridged from Malory's Morte d'Arthur by Alfred W. Pollard and illustrated by Arthur Rackham

Going back to time before Book II, Malory establishes Sir Lancelot, a young French orphan prince, as King Arthur's most revered knight through numerous episodic adventures, some of which he presented in comedic manner.[35] Lancelot always adheres to the Pentecostal Oath, assisting ladies in distress and giving mercy for honorable enemies he has defeated in combat. However, the world Lancelot lives in is too complicated for simple mandates and, although Lancelot aspires to live by an ethical code, the actions of others make it difficult. Other issues are demonstrated when Morgan le Fay enchants Lancelot, which reflects a feminization of magic, and in how the prominence of jousting tournament fighting in this tale indicates a shift away from battlefield warfare towards a more mediated and virtuous form of violence.

Lancelot's character had previously appeared in the chronologically later Book II, fighting for Arthur against the Romans. In Book III, based on parts of the French Prose Lancelot (mostly its 'Agravain' section, along with the chapel perilous episode taken from Perlesvaus),[9][36][37] Malory attempts to turn the focus of courtly love from adultery to service by having Lancelot dedicate doing everything he does for Queen Guinevere, the wife of his lord and friend Arthur, but avoid (for a time being) to committing to an adulterous relationship with her. Nevertheless, it is still her love that is the ultimate source of Lancelot's supreme knightly qualities, something that Malory himself did not appear to be fully comfortable with as it seems to have clashed with his personal ideal of knighthood.[38] Although a catalyst of the fall of Camelot, as it was in the French romantic prose cycle tradition, the moral handling of the adultery between Lancelot and Guinevere in Le Morte implies their relationship is true and pure, as Malory focused on the ennobling aspects of courtly love.

Book IV (Caxton VII)[edit]

"'Lady,' replied Sir Beaumains, 'a knight is little worth who may not bear with a damsel.'" Lancelot Speed's illustration for James Thomas Knowles' The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights (1912)

The fourth volume primarily deals with the adventures of the young Gareth ("Beaumains") in his long quest for the sibling ladies Lynette and Lioness. The youngest of Arthur's nephews by Morgause and Lot, Gareth hides his identity as a nameless squire at Camelot as to achieve his knighthood in the most honest and honorable way.[39] While this particular story is not directly based on any existing text unlike most of the content of previous volumes, it resembles various Arthurian romances of the Fair Unknown type.[40]

Book V (Caxton VIII–XII)[edit]

A collection of the tales of Sir Tristan of Lyonesse, Sir Dinadan, Sir Lamorak, Sir Palamedes, Sir Alexander the Orphan (Tristan's young relative abducted by Morgan), "La Cote de Male Tayle", and a variety of other knights. After telling of Tristan's birth and childhood, its primary focus is on the doomed adulterous relationship between Tristan and the Belle Isolde, wife of his villainous uncle King Mark. It also includes the retrospective story of how Sir Galahad was born to Sir Lancelot and Princess Elaine of Corbenic, followed by Lancelot's years of madness.

Based mainly on the French Prose Tristan, or a lost English adaptation of it (and possibly also the Middle English verse romance Sir Tristrem[41]), Malory's treatment of the legend of the young Cornish prince Tristan is the centerpiece of Le Morte d'Arthur as well as the longest of his eight books. The variety of episodes and the alleged lack of coherence in the Tristan narrative raise questions about its role in Malory's text. However, the book foreshadows the rest of the text as well as including and interacting with characters and tales discussed in other parts of the work. It can be seen as an exploration of secular chivalry and a discussion of honor or "worship" when it is founded in a sense of shame and pride. If Le Morte is viewed as a text in which Malory is attempting to define the concept of knighthood, then the tale of Tristan becomes its critique, rather than Malory attempting to create an ideal knight as he does in some of the other books.

Book VI (Caxton XIII–XVII)[edit]

"The Holy Grail, covered with white silk, came into the hall." The Grail's miraculous sighting at the Round Table in William Henry Margetson's illustration for Legends of King Arthur and His Knights (1914)

Malory's primary source for this long part was the Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal, chronicling the adventures of many knights in their spiritual quest to achieve the Holy Grail. Gawain is the first to embark on the quest for the Grail. Other knights like Lancelot, Percival, and Bors the Younger, likewise undergo the quest, eventually achieved by Galahad. Their exploits are intermingled with encounters with maidens and hermits who offer advice and interpret dreams along the way.

After the confusion of the secular moral code he manifested within the previous book, Malory attempts to construct a new mode of chivalry by placing an emphasis on religion. Christianity and the Church offer a venue through which the Pentecostal Oath can be upheld, whereas the strict moral code imposed by religion foreshadows almost certain failure on the part of the knights. For instance, Gawain refuses to do penance for his sins, claiming the tribulations that coexist with knighthood as a sort of secular penance. Likewise, the flawed Lancelot, for all his sincerity, is unable to completely escape his adulterous love of Guinevere, and is thus destined to fail where Galahad will succeed. This coincides with the personification of perfection in the form of Galahad, a virgin wielding the power of God. Galahad's life, uniquely entirely without sin, makes him a model of a holy knight that cannot be emulated through secular chivalry.

Book VII (Caxton XVIII–XIX)[edit]

The continued story of Lancelot's romance with Guinevere. Lancelot completes a series of trials to prove being worthy of the Queen's love, culminating in his rescue of her from the abduction by the renegade knight Maleagant (this is also the first time the work explicitly mentions the couple's sexual adultery). Writing it, Malory combined the established material from the Vulgate Cycle's Prose Lancelot (including the story of the Fair Maiden of Ascolat and an abridged retelling of Chrétien de Troyes' Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart) with his own creations (the episodes "The Great Tournament" and "The Healing of Sir Urry").[42][43]

Book VIII (Caxton XX–XXI)[edit]

Arthur's final voyage to Avalon in a 1912 illustration by Florence Harrison

Mordred and his half-brother Agravain succeed in revealing Guinevere's adultery and Arthur sentences her to burn. Lancelot's rescue party raids the execution, killing several loyal knights of the Round Table, including Gawain's brothers Gareth and Gaheris. Gawain, bent on revenge, prompts Arthur into a long and bitter war with Lancelot. After they leave to pursue Lancelot in France, where Gawain is mortally injured in a duel with Lancelot (and later finally reconciles with him on his death bed), Mordred seizes the throne and takes control of Arthur's kingdom. At the bloody final battle between Mordred's followers and Arthur's remaining loyalists in England, Arthur kills Mordred but is himself gravely wounded. As Arthur is dying, the lone survivor Bedivere casts Excalibur away, and Morgan and Nimue come to take Arthur to Avalon. Following the passing of King Arthur, who is succeeded by Constantine, Malory provides a denouement about the later deaths of Bedivere, Guinevere, and Lancelot and his kinsmen.

Writing the eponymous final book, Malory used the version of Arthur's death derived primarily from parts of the Vulgate Mort Artu and, as a secondary source,[44] from the English Stanzaic Morte Arthur (or, in another possibility, a hypothetical now-lost French modification of the Mort Artu was a common source of both of these texts[45]). In the words of George Brown, the book "celebrates the greatness of the Arthurian world on the eve of its ruin. As the magnificent fellowship turns violently upon itself, death and destruction also produce repentance, forgiveness, and salvation."[46]

Modern versions and adaptations[edit]

Arthur being taken to Avalon in Alberto Sangorski's 1912 illustration for Tennyson's poem "Morte d'Arthur"

Following the lapse of nearly two centuries since the last printing, the year 1816 saw a new edition by Alexander Chalmers, illustrated by Thomas Uwins (as The History of the Renowned Prince Arthur, King of Britain; with His Life and Death, and All His Glorious Battles. Likewise, the Noble Acts and Heroic Deeds of His Valiant Knights of the Round Table), as well as another one by Joseph Haslewood (as La Mort D'Arthur: The Most Ancient and Famous History of the Renowned Prince Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table), both based on the 1634 Stansby edition. Soon afterward, William Upcott's edition directly based on the rediscovered Morgan copy of the first print version was published in 1817 along with Robert Southey’s introduction and notes including summaries of the original French material from the Vulgate tradition. It then became the basis for subsequent editions until the 1934 discovery of the Winchester Manuscript.

Modernized editions update the late Middle English spelling, update some pronouns, and re-punctuate and re-paragraph the text. Others furthermore update the phrasing and vocabulary to contemporary Modern English. The following sentence (from Caxton's preface, addressed to the reader) is an example written in Middle English and then in Modern English:

Doo after the good and leve the evyl, and it shal brynge you to good fame and renomme.[47] (Do after the good and leave the evil, and it shall bring you to good fame and renown.[48])
N. C. Wyeth's title page illustration for Sidney Lanier's The Boy's King Arthur (1917)

Since the 19th-century Arthurian revival, there have been numerous modern republications, retellings and adaptations of Le Morte d'Arthur. A few of them are listed below (see also the following Bibliography section):

  • Malory's book inspired Reginald Heber's unfinished poem Morte D'Arthur. A fragment of it was published by Heber's widow in 1830.[49]
  • Victorian poet Alfred Tennyson retold the legends in the poetry volume Idylls of the King (1859 and 1885). His work focuses on Le Morte d'Arthur and the Mabinogion, with many expansions, additions and several adaptations, such as the fate of Guinevere (in Malory, she is sentenced to be burnt at the stake but is rescued by Lancelot; in the Idylls, Guinevere flees to a convent, is forgiven by Arthur, repents and serves in the convent until her death).
  • In 1880, Sidney Lanier published a much expurgated rendition entitled The Boy's King Arthur: Sir Thomas Malory's History of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Edited for Boys,[50] an enduringly popular children's adaptation, originally illustrated dby Alfred Kappes. A new edition with illustrations by N. C. Wyeth was first published in 1917. This version was later incorporated into Grosset and Dunlap's series of books called the Illustrated Junior Library, and reprinted under the title King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (1950).[51]
  • In 1892, London publisher J. M. Dent decided to produce an illustrated edition of Le Morte Darthur in modern spelling, choosing a 20-year-old insurance office clerk and art student, Aubrey Beardsley, to illustrate the work. It was issued in 12 parts between June 1893 and mid-1894, and met with only modest success, however has subsequently been described as Beardsley's first masterpiece and launched what has come to be known as the "Beardsley look".[52] It was Beardsley's first major commission, and included nearly 585 chapter openings, borders, initials, ornaments and full- or double-page illustrations. The majority of the Dent edition illustrations were reprinted by Dover Publications in 1972 under the title Beardsley's Illustrations for Le Morte Darthur. A facsimile of the Beardsley edition, complete with Malory's unabridged text, was published in the 1990s.
  • Mary MacLeod's popular children's adaptation King Arthur and His Noble Knights: Stories From Sir Thomas Malory's Morte D'Arthur was first published with illustrations by Arthur George Walker in 1900 and subsequently reprinted in various editions and in extracts in children's magazines.
  • Beatrice Clay wrote a retelling first included in her Stories from Le Morte Darthur and the Mabinogion (1901). A retitled version, Stories of King Arthur and the Round Table (1905), features illustrations by Dora Curtis.[53]
  • In 1902, Andrew Lang published The Book of Romance, a retelling of Malory illustrated by Henry Justice Ford. It was retitled as Tales of King Arthur and the Round Table in the 1909 edition.
  • Another children adapatation, Henry Gilbert's King Arthur's Knights: The Tales Retold for Boys and Girls, was first published in 1911, originally illustrated by Walter Crane. Highly popular, it was reprinted many times until 1940, featuring also illustrations from other artists such as Frances Brundage and Thomas Heath Robinson.
  • T. H. White's The Once and Future King (1938–1977) is a famous and influential retelling of Malory's work. White rewrote the story in his own fashion. His renditions contains intentional and obvious anachronisms and social-political commentary on contemporary matters. White made Malory himself a character and bestowed upon him the highest praise.[54]
  • Pollard's 1910-1911 abridged edition of Malory provided basis for John W. Donaldson's 1943 book Arthur Pendragon of Britain. It was illustrated by N. C. Wyeth son, Andrew Wyeth.
  • John Steinbeck utilized the Winchester Manuscripts of Thomas Malory and other sources as the original text for his The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. This retelling was intended for young people but was never completed. It was published posthumously in 1976 as The Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table.
  • Walker Percy credited his childhood reading of The Boy's King Arthur for his own novel Lancelot (1977).
  • Thomas Berger described his 1978 novel Arthur Rex as his memory of the "childish version" by Elizabeth Lodor Merchant that began his fascination in the Arthurian legend in 1931.[55]
  • Excalibur, a 1981 British film directed, produced, and co-written by John Boorman, retells Le Morte d'Arthur, with some changes to the plot and fate of certain characters (such as merging Morgause with Morgan, who dies in this version).
  • In 1984, the ending of Malory's story was turned by John Barton and Gillian Lynne into a BBC2 non-speaking (that is featuring only Malory's narration and silent actors) television drama, titled simply Le Morte d'Arthur.
  • In 2009, Dorsey Armstrong published a Modern English translation that focused on the Winchester manuscript rather than the Caxton edition.
  • Peter Ackroyd's 2010 novel The Death of King Arthur is a modern English retelling of Le Morte d'Arthur.[58]


The work itself[edit]

  • Editions based on the Winchester manuscript:
    • Facsimile:
      • Malory, Sir Thomas. The Winchester Malory: A Facsimile. Introduced by Ker, N. R. (1976). London: Early English Text Society. ISBN 0-19-722404-0.
    • Original spelling:
      • Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte Darthur. (A Norton Critical Edition). Ed. Shepherd, Stephen H. A. (2004). New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-97464-2
      • _________. The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. Ed. Vinaver, Eugène. 3rd ed. Field, Rev. P. J. C. (1990). 3 vol. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-812344-2, 0-19-812345-0, 0-19-812346-9.
      • _________. Malory: Complete Works. Ed. Vinaver, Eugène (1977). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-281217-3. (Revision and retitling of Malory: Works of 1971).
      • _________. Malory: Works. Ed. Vinaver, Eugène (1971). 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-254163-3.
      • _________. The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. Ed. Vinaver, Eugène (1967). 2nd ed. 3 vol. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-811838-4.
      • _________. Malory: Works. Ed. Vinaver, Eugène (1954). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-254163-3. (Malory's text from Vinaver's The Works of Sir Thomas Malory (1947), in a single volume dropping most of Vinaver's notes and commentary.)
      • _________. The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. Ed. Vinaver, Eugène (1947). 3 vol. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
    • Modernised spelling:
      • Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript. Ed. Cooper, Helen (1998). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-282420-1. (Abridged text.)
    • Translation/paraphrase into contemporary English:
      • Armstrong, Dorsey. Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur: A New Modern English Translation Based on the Winchester Manuscript (Renaissance and Medieval Studies) Anderson, SC: Parlor Press, 2009. ISBN 1-60235-103-1.
      • Malory, Sir Thomas. Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur: King Arthur and Legends of the Round Table. Trans. and abridged by Baines, Keith (1983). New York: Bramhall House. ISBN 0-517-02060-2. Reissued by Signet (2001). ISBN 0-451-52816-6.
      • _________. Le Morte D'Arthur. (London Medieval & Renaissance Ser.) Trans. Lumiansky, Robert M. (1982). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 0-684-17673-4.
      • John Steinbeck, and Thomas Malory. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights: From the Winchester Manuscripts of Thomas Malory and Other Sources. (1976) New York: Noonday Press. Reissued 1993. ISBN 0-374-52378-9. (Unfinished)
      • Brewer, D.S. Malory: The Morte Darthur. York Medieval Texts, Elizabeth Salter and Derek Pearsall, Gen. Eds. (1968) London: Edward Arnold. Reissued 1993. ISBN 0-7131-5326-1. (Modernized spelling version of Books 7 and 8 as a complete story in its own right. Based on Winchester MS, but with changes taken from Caxton, and some emendations by Brewer.)
  • Editions based on Caxton's edition:
    • Facsimile:
      • Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte d'Arthur, printed by William Caxton, 1485. Ed. Needham, Paul (1976). London.
    • Original spelling:
      • Malory, Sir Thomas. Caxton's Malory. Ed. Spisak, James. W. (1983). 2 vol. boxed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03825-8.
      • _________. Le Morte Darthur by Sir Thomas Malory. Ed. Sommer, H. Oskar (1889–91). 3 vol. London: David Nutt. The text of Malory from this edition without Sommer's annotation and commentary and selected texts of Malory's sources is available on the web at:
      • _________. Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Caxton's text, with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and a foreword by Sarah Peverley (2017). Flame Tree Publishing. ISBN 978-1786645517.
    • Modernised spelling:
      • Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte d'Arthur. Ed. Matthews, John (2000). Illustrated by Ferguson, Anna-Marie. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-35367-1. (The introduction by John Matthews praises the Winchester text but then states this edition is based on the Pollard version of the Caxton text, with eight additions from the Winchester manuscript.)
      • _________. Le Morte Darthur. Introduction by Moore, Helen (1996). Herefordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. ISBN 1-85326-463-6. (Seemingly based on the Pollard text.)
      • _________. Le morte d'Arthur. Introduction by Bryan, Elizabeth J. (1994). New York: Modern Library. ISBN 0-679-60099-X. (Pollard text.)
      • _________. Le Morte d'Arthur. Ed. Cowen, Janet (1970). Introduction by Lawlor, John. 2 vols. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-043043-1, 0-14-043044-X.
      • _________. Le Morte d'Arthur. Ed. Rhys, John (1906). (Everyman's Library 45 & 46.) London: Dent; London: J. M. Dent; New York: E. P. Dutton. Released in paperback format in 1976: ISBN 0-460-01045-X, 0-460-01046-8. (Text based on an earlier modernised Dent edition of 1897.)
      • _________. Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory's Book of King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table,. Ed. Pollard, A. W. (1903). 2 vol. New York: Macmillan. (Text corrected from the bowdlerised 1868 Macmillan edition edited by Sir Edward Strachey.) Available on the web at:
      • _________. Le Morte Darthur. Ed. Simmon, F. J. (1893–94). Illustrated by Beardsley, Aubrey. 2 vol. London: Dent.
    • Le Morte d'Arthur, an Epic Limerick, 2006, by Jacob Wenzel, ISBN 978-1-4116-8987-9. A version told in limerick form.



  • Bryan, Elizabeth J. (1999/1994). "Sir Thomas Malory", Le Morte D'Arthur, p. v. New York: Modern Library. ISBN 0-679-60099-X.
  • Whitteridge, Gweneth. "The Identity of Sir Thomas Malory, Knight-Prisoner." The Review of English Studies; 24.95 (1973): 257–265. JSTOR. Web. 30 November 2009.

See also[edit]

  • Illegitimacy in fiction – In Le Morte d'Arthur, King Arthur is conceived illegitimately when his father Uther Pendragon utilizes Merlin's magic to seduce Igraine
  • James Archer – one of 19th-century British artists inspired by Malory's book

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Since morte (or mort) is a feminine noun, French would require the article la (i.e., "la mort d'Arthur"). According to Stephen H. A. Shepherd, "Malory frequently misapplies le in titular compounds, perhaps on a simple sonic and gender-neutral analogy with 'the'". Stephen H. A. Shepherd, ed., Le Morte Darthur, by Sir Thomas Malory (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), 1n.
  2. ^ Bryan, Elizabeth J. (1994/1999). "Sir Thomas Malory", Le Morte D'Arthur, p. vii. Modern Library. New York. ISBN 0-679-60099-X.
  3. ^ Bryan & 1994/1999, p. v
  4. ^ a b c Wight, Colin (2009). "Thomas Malory's 'Le Morte Darthur'". www.bl.uk.
  5. ^ Whitteridge 2009, pp. 257–265
  6. ^ Davidson, Roberta (2004). "Prison and Knightly Identity in Sir Thomas Malory's "Morte Darthur"". Arthuriana. 14 (2): 54–63. doi:10.1353/art.2004.0066. JSTOR 27870603. S2CID 161386973.
  7. ^ Bryan (1994), pp. viii–ix.
  8. ^ Davidson, Roberta (2008). "The 'Freynshe booke' and the English Translator: Malory's 'Originality' Revisited". Translation and Literature. 17 (2): 133–149. doi:10.3366/E0968136108000198. JSTOR 40340096. S2CID 170477682.
  9. ^ a b c Norris, Ralph C. (2008). Malory's Library: The Sources of the Morte Darthur. DS Brewer. ISBN 9781843841548.
  10. ^ Lacy, Norris J.; Wilhelm, James J. (2015-07-17). The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation. Routledge. ISBN 9781317341840.
  11. ^ Bornstein, Diane D. (1972). "Military Strategy in Malory and Vegetius' "De re militari"". Comparative Literature Studies. 9 (2): 123–129. JSTOR 40245989.
  12. ^ Bryan (2004), p. ix
  13. ^ McShane, Kara L. (2010). "Malory's Morte d'Arthur". The Rossell Hope Robbins Library at the University of Rochester. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  14. ^ W. F. Oakeshott. "The Text of Malory". Archived from the original on 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2009-01-11.
  15. ^ a b Walter F. Oakeshott, "The Finding of the Manuscript," Essays on Malory, ed. J. A. W. Bennett (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), 1–6.
  16. ^ "British Library". www.bl.uk.
  17. ^ Walter F. Oakeshott, "Caxton and Malory's Morte Darthur," Gutenberg-Jahrbuch (1935), 112–116.
  18. ^ "The Malory Project directed by Takako Kato and designed by Nick Hayward". www.maloryproject.com.
  19. ^ Whetter, K. S. (2017). The Manuscript and Meaning of Malory's Morte Darthur. D. S. Brewer.
  20. ^ William Matthews, The Ill-Framed Knight: A Skeptical Inquiry into the Identity of Sir Thomas Malory (Berkeley, CA: University of California, 1966).
  21. ^ SALDA, MICHAEL N. (1995). "Caxton's Print vs. the Winchester Manuscript: An Introduction to the Debate on Editing Malory's Morte Darthur". Arthuriana. 5 (2): 1–4. doi:10.1353/art.1995.0026. JSTOR 27869113. S2CID 161529058.
  22. ^ "§4. Style of the "Morte d'Arthur". XIV. English Prose in the Fifteenth Century. II. Vol. 2. The End of the Middle Ages. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature: An Encyclopedia in Eighteen Volumes. 1907–21". www.bartleby.com.
  23. ^ Lynch, Andrew (2006). "A Tale of 'Simple' Malory and the Critics". Arthuriana. 16 (2): 10–15. doi:10.1353/art.2006.0065. JSTOR 27870749. S2CID 162341511.
  24. ^ "Prose Romance." The French Tradition and the Literature of Medieval England, by William Cslin, University of Toronto Press, 1994, pp. 498–512. JSTOR. Accessed 1 Aug. 2020.
  25. ^ "Morte d'Arthur." The Cambridge History of English Literature. A.W Ward, A.R Waller. Vol II. Cambridge: A UP, 1933. Print.
  26. ^ Goodrich, Peter H. (2006). "Saracens and Islamic Alterity in Malory's "Le Morte Darthur"". Arthuriana. 16 (4): 10–28. doi:10.1353/art.2006.0009. JSTOR 27870786. S2CID 161861263.
  27. ^ Murrin, Michael (1997). History and Warfare in Renaissance Epic. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226554051.
  28. ^ Scott-Kilvert, Ian. British Writers. Charles Scribners's Sons, New York 1979.
  29. ^ Moorman, Charles (1960). "Courtly Love in Malory". ELH. 27 (3): 163–176. doi:10.2307/2871877. JSTOR 2871877.
  30. ^ Moorman, Charles (1961). "Internal Chronology in Malory's "Morte Darthur"". The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 60 (2): 240–249. JSTOR 27713803.
  31. ^ Gowans, Linda. "MALORY’S SOURCES – AND ARTHUR’S SISTERS – REVISITED." Arthurian Literature XXIX, pp. 121–142.
  32. ^ Radulescu, Raluca (2003). "Malory and Fifteenth-Century Political Ideas". Arthuriana. 13 (3): 36–51. doi:10.1353/art.2003.0042. JSTOR 27870541. S2CID 143784650.
  33. ^ Withrington, John (1992). "Caxton, Malory, and the Roman War in the "Morte Darthur"". Studies in Philology. 89 (3): 350–366. JSTOR 4174429.
  34. ^ Wilson, Robert H. (1956). "Addenda on Malory's Minor Characters". The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 55 (4): 563–587. JSTOR 27706826.
  35. ^ Jesmok, Janet (2004). "Comedic Preludes to Lancelot's 'Unhappy' Life in Malory's "Le Morte Darthur"". Arthuriana. 14 (4): 26–44. doi:10.1353/art.2004.0030. JSTOR 27870654. S2CID 161629997.
  36. ^ Field, P. J. C. (1993). "Malory and "Perlesvaus"". Medium Ævum. 62 (2): 259–269. doi:10.2307/43629557. JSTOR 43629557.
  37. ^ Wilson, Robert H. (1932). "Malory and the "Perlesvaus"". Modern Philology. 30 (1): 13–22. doi:10.1086/388002. JSTOR 434596. S2CID 161566473.
  38. ^ Tucker, P. E. (1953). "The Place of the "Quest of the Holy Grail" in the "Morte Darthur"". The Modern Language Review. 48 (4): 391–397. doi:10.2307/3718652. JSTOR 3718652.
  39. ^ Naughton, Ryan. "PEACE, JUSTICE AND RETINUE-BUILDING IN MALORY’S ‘THE TALE OF SIR GARETH OF ORKNEY.’" Arthurian Literature XXIX, pp. 143–160.
  40. ^ Norris, Ralph (2008). Malory's Library: The Sources of the Morte Darthur. 71. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781843841548. JSTOR 10.7722/j.ctt81sfd.
  41. ^ Hardman, P. (2004) "Malory and middle English verse romance: the case of 'Sir Tristrem'". In: Wheeler, B. (ed.) Arthurian Studies in Honour of P.J.C. Field. Arthurian Studies (57). D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, pp. 217-222. ISBN 9781843840138.
  42. ^ Grimm, Kevin T. (1989). "Knightly Love and the Narrative Structure of Malory's Tale Seven". Arthurian Interpretations. 3 (2): 76–95. JSTOR 27868661.
  43. ^ "Lancelot and Guenevere".
  44. ^ Donaldson, E. Talbot (1950). "Malory and the Stanzaic "Le Morte Arthur"". Studies in Philology. 47 (3): 460–472. JSTOR 4172937.
  45. ^ Wilson, Robert H. (1939). "Malory, the Stanzaic "Morte Arthur," and the "Mort Artu"". Modern Philology. 37 (2): 125–138. doi:10.1086/388421. JSTOR 434580. S2CID 162202568.
  46. ^ "Death of Arthur".
  47. ^ Bryan (1994), p. xii.
  48. ^ Bryan, ed. (1999), p. xviii.
  49. ^ "Morte D'Arthur: A Fragment | Robbins Library Digital Projects". d.lib.rochester.edu. Retrieved Oct 14, 2020.
  50. ^ Malory, Thomas; Lanier, Sidney; Kappes, Alfred; Charles Scribner's Sons; Rand, Avery & Co (16 October 1880). The Boy's King Arthur: Sir Thomas Malory's History of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Edited for Boys. OCLC 653360.
  51. ^ Malory, Sir Thomas (1 September 1950). Lanier, Sidney (ed.). King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. Grosset & Dunlap. ISBN 0448060167.
  52. ^ Dover Publications (1972). Beardsley's Illustrations for Le Morte Darthur, Publisher's note & back cover.
  53. ^ University, Bangor. "Stories of King Arthur and the Round Table". arthurian-studies.bangor.ac.uk. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  54. ^ Boyle, Louis J. "T. H. WHITE’S REPRESENTATION OF MALORY’S CAMELOT." Arthurian Literature XXXIII.
  55. ^ Lupack, Barbara Tepa (2012). "The Girl's King Arthur: Retelling Tales". Arthuriana. 22 (3): 57–68. doi:10.1353/art.2012.0032. JSTOR 43485973. S2CID 162352846.
  56. ^ bookgroup.info: interview: Castle Freeman. Retrieved 2012-12-17.
  57. ^ A Chat With Castle Freeman, Jr. Retrieved 2012-12-17.
  58. ^ "The Death of King Arthur by Peter Ackroyd – review". The Guardian. June 23, 2011.

External links[edit]