Sir Thomas Malory: Overview

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Editor: D. L. Kirkpatrick
Date: 1991
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,121 words

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Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur is the basic source of our view of Lancelot, Arthur, and Gawain, of the Grail legend and of the Round Table. Although he did not invent most of his material, Malory abridged the monstrous bulk of the sources, simplified the narrative structure, modernized the tone and themes, and devised a coherent framework for these important tales. Camelot would not be one of the principal mythical settings of Western culture if Malory had not rescued the tales from extinction by organizing them in a vernacular prose version which focuses strongly on humanistic values, is couched in a graceful style, and accessible to a large body of readers. The earlier romances glorified the epic virtues of comitatus and battlefield prowess as well as the medieval ideal of renunciation of worldly values. By focusing on individuals and their inner conflicts and placing high values on secular honor and political order, Malory modernized the basic themes. Particularly through his restructuring of the tales around the character of Lancelot, the best of worldly men, Malory transformed the tales for a modern reader. Malory's identity remains uncertain, but whoever he was, he did his work well.

William Caxton edited and printed the book he chose to call Le Morte Darthur because he thought of it as an exemplar: ``that noble men may see and lerne the noble actes of chyvalrye, the jentyl and vertuous dedes that somme knyghtes used in tho dayes, by whyche they came to honour, and how they that were vycious were punysshed and ofte put to shame and rebuke.'' The work was known only in Caxton's version until W.F. Oakeshott discovered a 15th-century manuscript version in...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420005285