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Study Guide for Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory

Introduction

Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur is a collection of tales originally in French which tell of the rise and fall of the legendary KingARthur. It includes numerous tales of the Knight of the Round Table and follows the struggles of these knights to uphold a strict code of courtly honor and chivalry.

The story follows a known set of tales which had been in circulation in one form or another for centuries. The story describes the prophecy of the great King who will unify all of England and his tragic fall and death. We are left with a vague prophecy the King Arthur will one day return.

Mallory crafted his translation form the French original books so as to fit them to the audience of his time. England in 1485 was struggling with a stable monarchy, a struggle that would persist into the modern era, and a stable sense of national identity. Mallory succeeded in weaving these problems into his text by giving 15th century readers a legendary and heroic king.

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The text works with stories which precede Christianity and Mallory transforms the ancient ideals to fit a Christian nation. The martial virtues of knights are made to conform to Christian virtues of continence and mercy. Yet Mallory preserves just enough of the ancient ideals to make for compelling tale of adventure, lust, and military power. The knights each struggle with the code of chivalry even as they exemplify the virtues they seek to uphold.

Broken up into individual tales, each Book tells the primary story of one knight, even as other stories intersect with the primary tale. They embark on quests for their own honor and for the honor of King Arthur. The main quest is to find the Sangreal, or Holy Grail. This is the highest achievement of Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, and it can only be carried out by the most virtuous of the knights.

Though the story ends with the death of Arthur, we are left with a partial prophecy that he will one day return to rule England.

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