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Malory's Library: The Sources of the Morte Darthur

Malory's Library: The Sources of the Morte Darthur

Ralph Norris
Volume: 71
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 198
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81sfd
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  • Book Info
    Malory's Library: The Sources of the Morte Darthur
    Book Description:

    The first book-length study of the sources of Sir Thomas Malory's ‘Morte Darthur’ since 1921 and the first comprehensive study since that of Vinaver's three-volume edition, ‘Malory's Library’ collects the results of over one hundred years of scholarship, providing new discussions of the major sources of the eight tales recognised in the standard edition. It also, for the first time, explores possible minor sources of the ‘Morte Darthur’, evaluating the case for them to see what conclusions may be drawn of Malory's life, work, and mental furnishings. In so doing, it clarifies the process by which Malory created his work. It shows that Malory carried an eclectic body of literature in his mind and worked at least partly from memory; and it illuminates his interest in characters of his own social class, the breadth of his enthusiasm for Arthurian literature, and the depth of his commitment to provide his countrymen with "the hoole book of kyng Arthur and of his noble knyghtes of the Round Table". RALPH NORRIS teaches in the Department of English at Kennesaw State University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-659-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-vii)
    Ralph Norris
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. 1 Preliminaries
    (pp. 1-12)

    When Sir Thomas Malory completed his Morte Darthurin ʺthe ninth yere of the reygne of Kyng Edward the Fourthʺ he was nearing the end of his life.¹ He had spent much of that life as a knight during troubled times, and his life records show that he faced adventures as difficult and dilemmas as painful as any he would write about.² Despite a busy life of action, however, he must have also found time to indulge a love of reading, particularly of romance. Although we cannot know how much of Maloryʹs life was spent in the actual composition of this...

  6. 2 The Sources of ʺThe Tale of King Arthurʺ
    (pp. 13-52)

    The opening tale of the Morte Darthur, ʺTale of King Arthur,ʺ is based on the Prose Merlinand its Post-Vulgate Suite.¹ The Prose Merlinis the redaction of Robert de Boronʹs poem of the same name, of which only the first 504 lines are extant.² This poem is preceded in the sole surviving manuscript by Robertʹs Joseph dʹArimathie or Roman de lʹEstoire dou Graal,³ so that together they tell the story of the Grail from the time of Christ to its voyage to Britain and begin the history of Arthurian time with the events leading to the birth of Merlin. Scholars believe...

  7. 3 The Sources of ʺThe Tale of Arthur and Luciusʺ
    (pp. 53-69)

    Malory follows his initial tale with ʺThe Tale of Arthur and Lucius,ʺ which is derived from his most important English source, the alliterative Morte Arthure.¹ This poem was composed anonymously at the end of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth,² and is unusual in being itself the product of the combination of multiple sources.³ Both Maloryʹs tale and the alliterative poem are large-scale developments of the story of Arthurʹs war against the Roman Empire. Maloryʹs version opens with the arrival of Roman ambassadors in Britain to rebuke Arthur for failing to pay tribute to the empire. Arthur...

  8. 4 The Sources of ʺThe Tale of Sir Launcelotʺ
    (pp. 70-80)

    During the Roman War, Lancelot and his kin have distinguished themselves as promising young knights, and the colophon promises ʺhere folowyth afftir many noble talys of sir Launcelot de Lakeʺ (247.6–7). This promise is fulfilled in ʺThe Tale of Sir Launcelot,ʺ which is mainly based on the Vulgate Lancelot but represents a departure from the way Malory adapted the sources of the previous two works.¹ ʺThe Tale of Launcelotʺ appears in approximately the same relative place as the Lancelotdoes in the Vulgate Cycle: after the Merlin and immediately after the Roman War. Yet in other respects, Maloryʹs tale and...

  9. 5 The Sources of ʺThe Tale of Sir Garethʺ
    (pp. 81-94)

    ʺThe Tale of Sir Garethʺ is the only one of Maloryʹs tales that does not have a surviving major source, and, as the only one of Maloryʹs eight that has no direct counterpart in any of the Old French cycles, it is Maloryʹs most surprising addition to Arthurʹs biography. Of extant romances, it most closely resembles those of the Fair Unknown type,¹ which include Renaut de Bâgéʹs French Le Bel Inconnu, the Middle English Lybeaus Desconus, Wirnt von Gravenburgʹs German Wigalois, the Italian Carduino, the French and English versions of Ipomedon, and the ʺCote Mal Taileʺ episode of the Prose...

  10. 6 The Sources of ʺThe Tale of Sir Tristramʺ
    (pp. 95-113)

    The major source of Maloryʹs ʺTale of Sir Tristramʺ is the thirteenth-century Old French prose Roman de Tristan.¹ The Prose Tristan, written apparently in emulation of the Prose Lancelot, is a massive romance in which the tragic love story of Tristan and Iseult is interlaced with a version of the history the knights of the Round Table. ʺThe Tale of Sir Tristramʺ is by far Maloryʹs longest tale. Occupying 481 pages in Vinaverʹs standard edition, it is more than twice as long as any other tale. Although ʺThe Tale of Tristramʺ begins with Tristramʹs birth and follows him through his...

  11. 7 The Sources of ʺThe Tale of the Sankgrealʺ
    (pp. 114-118)

    Maloryʹs sixth tale is a close adaptation of the Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal.¹ At Pentecost, 454 years after the Passion, Galahad arrives at Arthurʹs court. He achieves the adventures of the sword in the stone and of the Siege Perilous, adventures which no knight previously could achieve. The Grail appears in Arthurʹs court covered in white samite, feeds each person the food that he likes best, and vanishes. The knights of the Round Table, led by Gawain, vow to search until they can see the Grail openly. On the quest, each knightʹs spiritual worthiness is revealed by the adventures...

  12. 8 The Sources of ʺThe Tale of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevereʺ
    (pp. 119-139)

    Although Malory continues to follow the story as given in the Vulgate Cycle, as a narrative unit, ʺThe Tale of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevereʺ is Maloryʹs invention. It consists of narrative threads from the first half of two major sources and a single episode from a third. The first two sources are La mort Artu, the last romance of the Vulgate Cycle, and the English stanzaic Le Morte Arthur, which is itself based on the Vulgate Mort Artuand tells much the same story.¹ The third major source is probably part of the Vulgate Lancelot but could also have been...

  13. 9 The Sources of ʺThe Morte Arthurʺ
    (pp. 140-152)

    The final tale of the Morte Darthur, ʺThe Morte Arthur,ʺ¹ like ʺThe Tale of Launcelot and Guenevere,ʺ is based upon a part of the Vulgate Mort Artu and the corresponding part of the stanzaic Morte Arthur.² The final tale relates the downfall of the Round Table and the deaths of most of the primary characters. It opens with a discussion between Gawain and his brothers, in which Agravain and Mordred, under the pretext of concern for their uncleʹs honour, wish to reveal the relationship between Lancelot and Guenevere. Gawain, Gaherys, and Gareth counsel against it and refuse to participate, but...

  14. 10 Conclusions
    (pp. 153-168)

    Maloryʹs use of his sources, both his major and his minor, varies from tale to tale. In his first, second, fifth, and sixth tales, he follows a single major source fairly closely, and he may have done so as well with the lost source of the fourth tale. In his third, seventh, and eighth tales, Malory combines two or more major sources to create new narrative units. The common feature that characterizes Maloryʹs handling of his major sources is that each one supplies the significant elements of plot for its equivalent tale of the Morte Darthur.

    All of Maloryʹs major...

  15. Appendix: Analogues To Maloryʹs ʺLove and Summerʺ Passage
    (pp. 169-172)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 173-184)
  17. Index
    (pp. 185-187)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 188-191)