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5 - Malory's Morte Darthur and the Rhetoric of War

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Catherine Nall
Affiliation:
Royal Holloway, University of London
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Summary

Sir Thomas Malory's rewriting of the Roman war episode has long been a source of debate for Malory scholars. In the second tale of his Morte Darthur, Malory departs from his main source, the late fourteenth-century poem the Alliterative Morte Arthure, to offer an account of the success and aftermath of Arthur's Roman campaign that is significantly at odds both with that of his source and the majority of earlier insular narratives of this campaign. While in the Alliterative Morte Arthure, in a tradition stretching back to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1138), Arthur never quite achieves the imperial crown and has to return to Britain to face rebellion, Malory not only has Arthur achieve imperial success, but also rewrites the chronology of the Roman war, moving it back to a much earlier point in Arthur's career and disconnecting it altogether from Arthur's downfall.

As previous scholars have noted, the idea of repositioning the Roman war may have been suggested to Malory by his reading of the Old French prose text, the Vulgate Suite de Merlin, which was a minor source for both his ‘Tale of King Arthur’ and ‘Tale of Arthur and Lucius’. In the Suite de Merlin version also, the Roman war does not lead to Arthur's death, but is presented instead as one in a series of major battles that takes place in the early years of his reign.

Type
Chapter
Information
Reading and War in Fifteenth-Century England
From Lydgate to Malory
, pp. 139 - 158
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2012

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