Le Morte D'Arthur: Romantic Prose - Summary and Analysis

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Summary
      Le Morte D'Arthur is a prose romance by Sir Thomas Malory and was one of the books first printed by Caxton in 1485. The author claims that it is a translation of a French book. But actually it is a compilation in which scattered romances from a mass of Arthurian legends have been blended without any unity. It is a vast work in twenty-one books and has served as the source book of many of the Arthurian romances in verse in the later ages. Tennyson, for instance, drew upon this from his Arthurian romances. In spite of the diversity of legends, the central story consists of two elements. One is the reign of King Arthur with his triumphs, the unfaithfulness of his Queen Guenever, who has a guilty passion for Launcelot, Launcelot's punishment, revolt of Sir Modred and Arthur's passing away. The other is the quest of the Holy Grail (the cup from which Jesus drank in the last supper, which was supposed to have mysteriously disappeared) by Launcelot who failed because of his sin and by Sir Galahad, the purest of the Knights who succeeded and saw a vision of it. The book ends on a religious note; Guenever becomes a nun and Launcelot a hermit. As a picture of a vanished age, the golden age of King Arthur and his Round Table, the book is highly interesting. The elements of the marvellous and the reality are artistically fused together. The style is simple, smooth and harmonious. It is not dated and has an air of modernity.

Le Morte D'Arthur

Critical Analysis
      The distinction of Malory's work lies in the fact that the book is written with a uniform dignity and fervour in spite of the difference of sources. It expresses the very essence of romance and chivalry. It is a skilful blend of dialogue narrative and is full of colour and life, while the style has transparent clarity. He may be fittingly described as the first English prose stylist.

      In subject matter, the book belongs to the mediaeval age, but Malory himself with his desire to preserve the literary monuments of the past belongs to the Renaissance. He has made a position of lasting gratitude to English literary history for preserving the legends and poetry of Britain at a time when scholars were chiefly busy with the classics of Greece and Rome. It was to Malory that Shakespeare and his contemporaries turned for their material and in recent times, he has supplied Tennyson and Matthew Arnold, Swinburne and Morris with the inspiration for the Idyls of the King and the Death of Tristram.

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