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Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur > General Thoughts

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message 1: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 188 comments Mod
Everyone is invited to discuss this best known of Arthurian texts


message 2: by Nikki (new)

Nikki  (shanaqui) | 146 comments I'll repeat my comments from before. If anyone suggestes something less general they want to discuss, go for it -- I've read the whole thing and studied much of it.

"[The Christian vs. Pagan trend:] definitely has some basis in Le Morte Darthur (Darthur, not D'Arthur, if you want it how Mallory wrote it; I do, having studied it, but...). I have Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes and La Mort de la Roi Artu lined up to read, so we'll see how it goes from there.

Mainly, in Le Morte Darthur, it comes through the women who are sorceresses. Morgan Le Fay being the most obvious, but there are several queens who have magical powers and have to be tamed by the prowess of the knights to maintain social order. There's some bother about a knight who refuses to be a Christian in one of the Tristram tales (my copy isn't here or I'd pinpoint it for you), but for the most part there isn't a great requirement to be a Christian in the earlier tales. It becomes important in The Noble Tale of the Sangrail, where Galahad's complete purity overshadows even Lancelot's perfect honour as a knight, but that's not so much Christian vs. pagan as Christianity entering the tale."

"If you actually read Le Morte Darthur, [Lancelot is:] a bit of an ass there too. I know it was the value system of the text and blahblahblah, but he feels absolutely no remorse for cuckolding his feudal lord, and everything comes down to his honour, his achievement. He only saves Guinevere because it would be counter to his honour not to. "


message 3: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments Folks, just picked up Malory The Life and Times of King Arthur's Chronicler. Looks interesting. Will let you know how it goes. Also was given Le Morte D'Arthur The Winchester Manuscript as a gift. Anyone read it? It's an abridgement...hmmm. Never keen on edited stuff. Read the 2 volume penguin edition ages ago and loved it. Will probably skite though it before the bio though...refresh the memory.


message 4: by Bob (new)

Bob | 37 comments Mod
Hey Barbarossa! What are your thoughts on the books you mentioned? Could you recommend?


message 5: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments Bob, I'm clearing a backlog of other books before I dive into all things Arthur again (God's War A New History of the Crusades, and the whole D'Artagnan saga by Alexandre Dumas), will keep you all posted once the lances start shattering. On a wee jaunt to my favorite bookshop on Monday to try and pick up some of the Hx stuff mentioned on this thread...to fortify the Arthurian venture.


message 6: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited May 21, 2009 11:56PM) (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments Just started Le Morte D'Arthur The Winchester Manuscript.
There seems to be some structural differences with the Caxton. Also there were bits missing from the Winchester that they have filled by using the Caxton as a source. From what the intro is saying the abridgement is mainly of repetitive military detail and some "side quests" that don't move things on narrative wise.


message 7: by Robert (new)

Robert (flagon_dragon) | 28 comments One thing I learned is why Britain became de-forested; I used to think it was because all the old trees were cut down to build the Royal Navy vessels for the Spanish and Napoleonic wars but in fact it turns out that all the trees were needed to supply Tristram with lances because he kept shivering so many to pieces!

I still haven't finished the last two tales and given that I'm reading Piers Plowman right now I can't see me picking it up for a while yet.


message 8: by Mark (new)

Mark Adderley (markadderley) | 54 comments Wow--Piers Plowman is an ambitious undertaking! If you really want to understand the Middle Ages, Piers Plowman is a great place to begin.

Le Morte Darthur, by the way, isn't Malory's title. It was chosen by William Caxton, the guy who first printed the text. Like a lot of medieval authors, Malory didn't give his text a title. The Winchester Manuscript is the only hand-written text of the Morte that exists from the Middle Ages. It was discovered in the early twentieth century--makes you wonder what else hasn't been discovered yet!


message 9: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments Mark wrote: "Wow--Piers Plowman is an ambitious undertaking! If you really want to understand the Middle Ages, Piers Plowman is a great place to begin.

Le Morte Darthur, by the way, isn't Malory's title. I..."


Once the current economic meltdown starts to effect the members of the Commons and House Of Lords we may find the antique book market flooded by tomes that have been gathering dust for generations on the worm riddled shelves of rickety stately homes.
I for one can't wait.
An uncut Tris and Izzy with smutty woodcuts?
Morte D'Arthur Part 2, like Godfather 2 full of backstory?


message 10: by Mark (new)

Mark Adderley (markadderley) | 54 comments Malory's Tristram is pretty dull reading, if you ask me. I like the fact that Cooper cut some of that story. But I do object to her cutting material from Galahad's quest in the Sangreal section. If you read the complete version, there's a bit towards the beginning of the quest when Galahad and another knight have a couple of adventures that end very badly for the other knight. Then the ubiquitous hermit turns up and explains that Galahad ought to read the world and events in it allegorically--for their symbolic value, rather than just ambling along in a kind of materialist hodgepodge world. It shows that Galahad isn't the know-it-all perfect knight right from Day 1--he has to learn too. So I missed that when I read this edition of Malory.


message 11: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments Mark wrote: "Malory's Tristram is pretty dull reading, if you ask me. I like the fact that Cooper cut some of that story. But I do object to her cutting material from Galahad's quest in the Sangreal section. ..."

I have never been keen on abridgements, but I recieved this as a gift. As I last read Malory many years ago in the 2 volume Caxton (Penguin I think) I thought I'd give this a bash though as part of my current wallowing in all thing Arthurian.
I'm not a scholar and I'm not reading this with the Caxton in front of me to compare and contrast directly. And to be fair to Cooper, in her edition she does note any abridgements in the notes.
Mark, you seem to know your stuff, so please comment on my ranting as I read this text...grist to the mill.
Is there an unabridged edition of the Winchester? How does it read? It is noted in the intro that many gaps are filled by "patching" with the Caxton, so in it's pure form the Winchester may be fairly irritating for the non-scholar.
As I've not read any Malory in ages I'm struck so far by the fact that Arthur doesn't seem to have a moral compass. OK, different times different customs etc...but he goes a wee bit Herod on the babies doesn't he? If I was Mordred I'd be carrying a grudge I think.
Also, when he gets jiggy with Morgause...I don't remember it being a Mrs Robinson/MILF thing. OK, ignoring the fact that they're related, she would be around 30 and he would have been about 16? Suppose he was King though, and power is an aphrodisiac. But why do I think it was Morgan that was Mordred's mother? The Boorman film? Is this the case in another text?


message 12: by Mark (new)

Mark Adderley (markadderley) | 54 comments There IS an unabridged Winchester. There's a text edited by Eugene Vinaver from Oxford UP, which is quite good, but contains lots of brackets and stuff like that that tend to get in the way of pleasant reading. There's another edited by Stephen Shepherd from Norton, and it's very difficult to read because he tries to keep everything looking pretty much like it does in the manuscript. Both are written with Middle English spellings.

My own favourite reading-for-pleasure edition is the Penguin that you mention. But the Helen Cooper edition is very good, in spite of my griping. It's only that one passage that does any real damage, I think. You could abridge the heck out of the Tistram and do almost no damage, for me.

You mention Arthur's moral compass. I find that interesting too. It's Merlin who gives him any moral direction he has--notice how, at his wedding feast, Arthur's willing to let all those adventures take their natural course until Merlin suggests he send knights to accomplish them. When Merlin leaves, ironically it's Nimue/Nineve/whatever her name is that takes over, but by then Arthur seems to be more or less on track--the business with Morgause frightened him, no doubt.

I think the idea that it was Morgan/Morgana who slept with Arthur and conceived Mordred comes mainly from the Boorman film, all right. Modern authors, and especially the writers of Hollywood scripts, tend to simplify books by economising on characters. That way, they don't have to pay Helen Mirren for playing Morgana, and someone else just as expensive for playing Morgan le Fay. But it's also easier for an audience to follow if there are fewer characters. I can't think of a medieval text in which Morgan le Fay is the mother of Mordred, but there are plenty of modern novels that do that.


message 13: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments There are bits I'm coming across that I don't remember from the previous reading (it was a long time ago) that I'm finding quite surprising. Arthur's treatment of the May born babies; the Lady Of The Lake's rather quick removal; the multitude of swords (in lakes, anvils, and stones); the thuggish nature of Gawain.
The time since my last reading of Malory and the way the myth has soaked in via other sources is meaning it's like reading it all fresh.
Loving it so far.


message 14: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 188 comments Mod
Mark wrote: "Wow--Piers Plowman is an ambitious undertaking! If you really want to understand the Middle Ages, Piers Plowman is a great place to begin.

Le Morte Darthur, by the way, isn't Malory's title. I..."


Mark, I thought the issue about the title was interesting too. I had found that in my Malory research this spring (very brief, so I am no expert). As a younger reader in the modern world, I thought this work was only about Arthur's death, so I guess Caxton's title doesn't come across clearly these days.

Barbarossa, from what I remember reading, the May-born babies was one incident that is credited only to Malory, that wasn't a part of previous tales.

I better start re-reading!



message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

What edition of Malory is closest to the original text? I really want to find one, but I don't want to get something I don't really want. The one I read was edited and translated by R. Lumiansky.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Nikki wrote: "I'll repeat my comments from before. If anyone suggestes something less general they want to discuss, go for it -- I've read the whole thing and studied much of it.

"[The Christian vs. Pagan trend..."


The knight who 'refused' to be Christian: was that Palomides with his seven battles in the name of God?



message 17: by Mark (new)

Mark Adderley (markadderley) | 54 comments The edition that's closest to the original text would be the Stephen H. A. Shepherd edition, published by Norton. But it's kind of difficult to read--his paragraphing is crazy, some of the proper nouns are in blackletter type (to reflect the fact that the names are written in a different colour in the manuscript), the spelling is Middle English, and there are actually quite a few misprints.

If you want a version that's easy to read, I'd suggest either the two-volume Penguin edition, edited by Janet Cowen (my sentimental favourite--it was the first one I read) or the Oxford edition of the Winchester Manuscript, edited by Helen Cooper. That one is abridged slightly, but on the whole skilfully.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Thank you! I'm going to try to get the Shepherd one if I can, if not, or if I give up on that one, the Cooper one. Thanks again.


message 19: by Michele (last edited May 24, 2009 06:01AM) (new)

Michele | 29 comments Mod
Re: the May Babies, I've run across a couple of things that say it's in the Vulgate Lancelot as well. Anyone know for sure? (First place I ran across it was much much much later, in the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy!)

Interesting parallels to the Biblical story of Herod, of course...



message 20: by Mark (new)

Mark Adderley (markadderley) | 54 comments Michele wrote: "Re: the May Babies, I've run across a couple of things that say it's in the Vulgate Lancelot as well. Anyone know for sure?"

It's in one of Malory's sources, the Suite du Merlin. So he didn't invent it. Still, he included it, and he didn't have to, so clearly Malory thought it was an important episode.


message 21: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Jun 16, 2009 05:49AM) (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments While I realise that Malory is the main canonical text in English, I can't help being struck by the differences between what I thought I knew about the events and folks in Morte and the actual text.
I know he amalgamated a bunch of other sources (a la MacPherson's Ossian) into one composite whole, but I must be missing something...a missing link maybe. My knowledge of Arthur etc tends to be more Dark Ages related, and although I first read Malory many years ago, my ideas of the medieval take on the story seem to be from another source. Python? Boorman's film? Cultural meme?
Can anyone think of what happened to change the thugs and cuckolds of Malory into the knights in shining armour? Was T.H. White behind it all?


message 22: by Anna (new)

Anna | 77 comments Robert wrote: "One thing I learned is why Britain became de-forested; I used to think it was because all the old trees were cut down to build the Royal Navy vessels for the Spanish and Napoleonic wars but in fact..."

And here I always thought the trees were cut down by conquering Christians so the old religions couldn't worship anymore.



message 23: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments Anna wrote: "Robert wrote: "One thing I learned is why Britain became de-forested; I used to think it was because all the old trees were cut down to build the Royal Navy vessels for the Spanish and Napoleonic w..."

Cornwell has the real answer: Merlin and Nimue used all the trees for the fire magic...and the ones that were left were used by Lord Summerisle for his wickermen.
Seriously though, the deforestation is most definitely post medieval...where would Rob Hood and the boys have hidden otherwise?


message 24: by Anna (new)

Anna | 77 comments Ah. Point taken. Those merry men had to build their tree forts somewhere...


message 25: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (SarahCarmack) | 188 comments Mod
Barbarossa wrote: "While I realise that Malory is the main canonical text in English, I can't help being struck by the differences between what I thought I knew about the events and folks in Morte and the actual text..."

I just see this as a constant evolution over the centuries, as I imagine the King Arthur stories were more and more made into the stories of honor and bravery. The nineteenth century was a big time for Arthurian tales, right? Would not Tennyson have had a direct influence on us born in the 20th century?


message 26: by Anna (last edited Jun 16, 2009 07:35AM) (new)

Anna | 77 comments I completely agree Sarah. Tennyson, Keats, Coleridge (even Blake was 'influenced' by the Arthur legends), and those romantic interpretations are the versions that we think of today. The stories that inspired Camelot the Musical...


message 27: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments Folks, I just started Malory The Life and Times of King Arthur's Chronicler, and recommend it to anyone interested in Morte. Great background to who Malory was and the audience he was writing for, as well as covering the Hx of the times he was writing in and how they influenced his version of the Arthurian tales. A bit of speculation based on the scant documentary evidence but on the whole very good so far.


message 28: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Jul 30, 2009 06:22AM) (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments Anyone read: Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur A New Modern English Translation Based on the Winchester Manuscript?
Seems to be a new "transtation". Haven't heard anything about it though.


message 29: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Jan 30, 2012 11:09AM) (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments Just came across this quote.
The Arthurian snob in me partly agrees, the pulp lover in me bristles and couches his lance...
“Arthuriana has become a genre in itself, more like TV soap opera where people think they know the characters. All that's fair enough, but it does remove the mythic power of the feminine and masculine principles. So I prefer it in its original form, even if you have to wade through Mallory's 'Le Morte d'Arthur' -- people smashing people for pages and pages! It still has the resonances of myth about it, which makes it work for me. I don't want to know if Mordred led an unhappy childhood or not.”
Michael Moorcock


message 30: by Alan (new)

Alan Stewart | 9 comments Interesting. Where'd you find the quote?


message 31: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Jan 30, 2012 10:19PM) (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments Alan wrote: "Interesting. Where'd you find the quote?"

Was just browsing the Moorcock entry on goodreads...might be from Wizardry and Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy, no source on the page though. He's fairly scathing in it of a lot of modern fantasy, so that's my guess. Tolkien gets a hammering in it too.


message 32: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa | 301 comments A quick online search implies it was a quote from an interview in Locus magazine.


message 33: by Alan (new)

Alan Stewart | 9 comments Thanks for the leads. I have a lot of affection for Moorcock's heroic fantasy (especially the early Elric stories), but I take his criticism of other fantasists with more than a few grains of salt. As far as Arthuriana goes -- I think you can have psychological realism without losing mythic resonance.


message 34: by Bryn (last edited Feb 07, 2012 12:13AM) (new)

Bryn Hammond (BrynHammond) | 37 comments On editions of Malory. My first was Eugene Vinaver's, Malory: Works, Oxford University Press Complete Works. I've now got the Norton Critical Edition, Stephen H. A. Shepherd Le Morte Darthur. (I've spelt them out because editions can be hard to distinguish in these searches and links).

The Norton came out in 2004. It's meant to be the most accurate, and rescues facets of the Winchester Manuscript that Vinaver didn't know about.

From me: I guess the Norton is better. I'm sentimental about my Vinaver. The Norton aims to give you an authentic experience, which includes black type for names and odd typographical things that either Caxton or Malory himself decided to have there. If you're going to be reading an old-spelling Malory, why not go the whole hog?

The cover is crap. I want an evocative picture, not a stupid gold statue of a bloke from the War of the Roses.

As Norton Critical Editions do, it has a lot of back matter. Sources: excerpts from Malory's main sources. Backgrounds: contemporary accounts, chronicles, letters, instruction manuals on chivalry, descriptions of tournaments - chosen to tell you about attitudes, behaviour, the background, yes, Malory wrote against. They even reprint in this section John Keegan on Agincourt, from The Face of Battle, for the real experience of battle. If you wonder why Malory is violent - or how violent Malory is when set against his times - or what his stance is towards violence, this material starts to give you an idea. That's why they put it there.

Criticism: it has ten essays. Of the up-to-date sort, for instance 'Malory and Rape'; 'The Feminine Sub-Text'. 'Shame and Guilt' on the shame-culture/guilt-culture - how to understand his knights' strange behaviour. 'On Malory's Style' and 'The Rhetoric of Dialogue' sort out a few of his wierdnesses, to us. In short, I think the essays are great, on the whole.

The only thing I miss is the nice chapter names of Vinaver, but then Vinaver made them up.

I forgot to say: the footnotes at the bottom of the page drive me crazy - he translates for you what you don't need a translation of after a few pages, and I take issue with his explanations, that are opinions. So I can't love my Norton the way I loved my Vinaver.


message 35: by Chris (new)

Chris (calmgrove) Bryn wrote: "On editions of Malory. My first was Eugene Vinaver's, Malory: Works, Oxford University Press Complete Works. I've now got the Norton Critical Edition, Stephen H. A. Shepherd [book:Le ..."

Thanks for this critique of the two editions--really helpful and insightful. I've only got the Vinaver/OUP edition, which I refer to from time to time, and this helps to put it in context.


message 36: by Bryn (last edited Feb 09, 2012 01:11PM) (new)

Bryn Hammond (BrynHammond) | 37 comments Glad you found this useful, Chris. I have too much time on my hands (can't write - bashes head on desk) and am haunting these discussions.

I've attached a comment to this book by Beverly Kennedy: Knighthood in the Morte Darthur. Was prompted to do so by talk here, and elsewhere, about how Malory is knights battering knights from start to finish, about how silly tournaments are, and how come Lancelot can fight for a lie in a trial by combat?

Possibly this book idealises. It claims that Malory asserts a 'true knighthood' that is rarely seen in the world around him, and is portrayed as rarely in his book. But he did believe in that ideal stuff and tried to push it.

She analyses what Malory means by 'happynesse' and 'unhappynesse': crudely, the unhappy have lost integrity and that's why accidents happen. It isn't mere fortune. Kennedy thinks Malory believed - or at least he has his few true knights believe - that bad action causes misfortune in battle. That the perfect knight is neither harmed nor does harm. That trial by combat is in fact just.

She'd have Malory agree that the sport of tournaments is crazy. Lancelot eschews them, until he is corrupted: 'Lancelot shows he has abandoned the humility of True knighthood when he first exercises his prowess simply to win worship'.

Her three types of knight are the Heroic ('barbaric behaviour') the Worshipful ('civilized and honourable') and the True ('humility and compassion'). Malory portrays knights on the slide or on the up: 'Lancelot's moral decline is not swift. His movement downward from True to Worshipful knighthood takes up almost the whole of the long Tale of Tristram. At the same time his decline is balanced by a movement upward from Heroic to Worshipful knighthood on the part of the pagan knight, Palomides.'

'The religious ideal of knighthood still survived in Malory's day, but was no longer a majority view (if, indeed, it ever had been)..." She has Malory devoted to an old code of ethics, on its way out of the culture.


message 37: by Zoe (last edited Apr 15, 2018 09:12AM) (new)

Zoe Porphyrogenita | 6 comments Late though I am to this discussion, I think it may be worthwhile to mention that the published form of Le Morte d'Arthur was funded, titled and edited by a son and daughter of Jacquetta de Luxembourg, whose sister Catherine was married to Arthur III de Richemont, Duke of Brittany, who died shortly before the book was written, after a life of exploits that were extraordinary even for that tumultuous age.

Provenance is always important to understanding the motives behind a text.


message 38: by James (new)

James (JamesGG) | 5 comments Hmmm...How did the siblings know Malory?


message 39: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Porphyrogenita | 6 comments Malory needed a publisher. Caxton was THE printer, so of course his work went there.

Jacquetta’s children also were behind the publication of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, though in this case the author didn’t see his work in print, having died on 25 October 1400.

Jacquetta had quite the library; this love of books ran in the family. A great pity that Henry VIII’s learning was not put to better use.


message 40: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Porphyrogenita | 6 comments Sorry, it’s very late here: I missed the obvious point of the question. Unless I see evidence of early contact, I will go with the hypothesis that the loss in the Hundred Years War was a matter of general concern in England, that Arthur III’s role was broadly understood, that Malory happened to use Arthurian themes to allude to the political environment (the War of the Roses was underway), and that when the manuscript reached Caxton, his very active sponsors-cum-editors made sure it was edited and published.

Arthur III is commemorated both in Brittany and in Yorkshire, so I can fairly assume he was remembered in England.


message 41: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Porphyrogenita | 6 comments In a way, Le Morte D’Arthur prefigured Game of Thrones: they both reflect something of the atmosphere of the War of the Roses.

One of many curious facts is that the 11th century founder of Richmond, which was such a point of contention in both the HWT and the WotR, was, it seems from his epitaph, thought of as “the Rose”.


message 42: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Porphyrogenita | 6 comments Malory died in 1471. Caxton published Le Morte d’Arthur in 1485. So poor Malory didn’t see his printed book.

Caxton obtained LMdA in the form of the “Winchester manuscript”, as it has printer’s ink smudges on it. The discovery of this document revealed that Caxton press (guess who) had revised the text before publication.


message 43: by James (new)

James (JamesGG) | 5 comments Caxton seems to have had a good thing going with publishing after its authors' deaths. Takes care of a lot of royalties. Of course, the authors weren't able to help publicize their work on social media.


message 44: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Porphyrogenita | 6 comments Not electronic social media, but it helps spread the word when the editors are closely related to the royal family and various Dukes.


message 45: by James (new)

James (JamesGG) | 5 comments Then as now!


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