Morte D’Arthur • Published in 1485 • Not a poem, but a lengthy prose narrative based on very lengthy French prose works, telling the entire rise and fall of King Arthur’s kingdom. • It’s length makes it a less unified work than Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Morte D’Arthur • Malory’s tale follows not one, but many of King Arthur’s knights. • These various adventures are intertwined using a technique known as “interlace.” • The French translation of the title is “Death of Arthur,” indicating Malory’s primary source, a French prose romance called La Mort le Roi Artu (The Death of King Arthur).
Morte D’Arthur • In Malory’s tale, the source of Lancelot’s chivalry and the cause of the downfall of Arthur’s kingdom is the courtly love relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere.
Morte D’Arthur • Lancelot is the central figure in Malory’s work. He is Arthur’s best knight and no one surpasses him in chivalry, except for his son Galahad. • Lancelot’s love for Guinevere is both a positive and negative force: it is the source of Lancelot’s greatness and downfall.
Morte D’Arthur • The upside to their relationship is inspired through courtly love. • The downside is that it causes him to fail at the Grail quest and begins the war between Lancelot and Arthur, leading to Arthur’s downfall.
Morte D’Arthur • This upside/downside paradox reflects two different codes of behavior operating within the story: • While Christianity condemns adultery, the chivalric code values courtly love because it makes the lovers better people. • Society also benefits from the knight’s love-inspired valor (as Arthur did in the years of Lancelot’s favor with him).
Morte D’Arthur • Grail Quest: • The Holy Grail was introduced into Arthurian legend by Chretien’s (French romantic troubadour) Story of the Grail, an unfinished work. The Grail was a dish used to carry a communion wafer to an old man. • In Malory’s work and the Vulgate Cycle (on which Malory based his work), it becomes a holy relic.
Morte D’Arthur • In Malory’s work, the Holy Grail becomes the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, as well as the cup used to catch some of his blood during the Crucifixion. • It was said to have been brought from Jerusalem to England by Joseph of Arimathea, a direct ancestor of Lancelot and his son, Galahad.
Morte D’Arthur • Galahad has all of his father’s knightly perfection, but none of his sins, and is therefore able to complete the Quest of the Holy Grail and is ultimately borne by angels directly to heaven. • Lancelot is, thus, identified as the best of all earthly knights because of his deeds that are inspired by love for Guinevere, but fails as a celestial knight because of that same love.
Morte D’Arthur • In the selections that you read… • The lovers are betrayed by the spite of Agravain and Mordred. • Lancelot accidentally kills Gawain’s brothers, Gaheris and Gareth while rescuing the queen, thereby becoming an enemy of Gawain and causing civil war in Arthur’s kingdom.
Morte D’Arthur • Eventually a peace treaty is established and Guinevere is returned to Arthur and Lancelot goes into exile. • Gawain, however, pushes Arthur to raise and army and pursue Lancelot (to avenge his brothers’ deaths).
Morte D’Arthur • Meanwhile, while Arthur is off waging war against Lancelot, Mordred declares himself king and tries to marry Guinevere; Arthur and his army must return home to fight Mordred. • Gawain repents his anger against Lancelot before his death.
Morte D’Arthur • So, Gawain’s ghost comes to Arthur, telling him that Lancelot will save him from Mordred. • Guinevere decides to become a nun; Lancelot, a monk. • At the end of the tale, the two lovers still love each other despite their new found faith and saintly status.
Morte D’Arthur • Guinevere is able to predict her own death (a sign of God’s Grace). • Lancelot has a vision of his own death (more signs of heavenly favor), and his death are accompanied by signs of holiness. • Guinevere is reunited with her husband in death.