Le Morte D'arthur the Legend of King Term Paper

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Le Morte d'Arthur

The legend of King Arthur is known to most people in a general form, and the image people have of Camelot, of knights, and of knighthood derives from the fifteenth century and the Arthurian story Le Morte d'Arthur written by Thomas Mallory. Mallory did not crate Arthur or most of the legends surrounding that figure, for those were written by French and English poets in the twelfth century. Even then, they were retelling stories from an oral tradition extending back to the first millennium, and if there was a historic King Arthur, he would have ruled in that era, during what is known now as the Dark Ages. The image of the armored knight would not fit that historical period and is instead largely an invention of Mallory. Mallory's vision has remained powerful and has become the prevailing idea we have of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Le Morte D'arthur the Legend of King Assignment

Great Britain is an island nation that is made up of three countries, England, Wales, and Scotland, joined with the province of Northern Ireland in the entity known as the United Kingdom. There are many smaller islands surrounding Great Britain. Britain is a multinational society within a unitary political state, and the people are more diverse than in most areas of the same size. This fact has an effect on the culture of the region, for the country draws elements from the different societies that make up the United Kingdom. The ethnic composition of the population has roots in the history of the nation, for Britain was settled by successive waves of invaders. Four peoples made major contributions to the British stock -- the Celts, the Saxons, the Vikings, and the Normans. The Celts arrived first some 3,000 years ago and spread their culture throughout Europe from a homeland north of the Alps. In Britain they found and partially displaced an older and more mysterious race, the heirs of an even more ancient culture that may have raised the stone circle of Stonehenge and that made equally enigmatic tombs and megaliths in Orkney and Caithness. The earlier peoples had entered the Bronze Age, and the Celts brought with them iron swords and shields (Britain 18-19). Britain was also governed by Rome for a time, and after the Romans left, the era known as the Dark Ages covers a good deal of history represented only by legends.

The Arthurian legends began as a literary form in the twelfth century with traveling minstrels who told stories of heroism, usually built in the exploits of the French king Charlemagne, or Charles the Great (742-814 a.D.). Another group of stories was known as the Matter of Rome, and these stories included tales from both Rome and Ancient Greece about the period before the siege of Troy. The third group of stories was known as the Matter of Britain. These stories grew in popularity during the twelfth century, and the tales told of the lives of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, of their magnificent castle at Camelot, of Merlin the Magician, and of the Round Table and the search for the Holy Grail. The oral literature was the only means by which many of these stories were then transmitted, and even if there were a kernel of truth in them, it would be likely to be changed many times in the course of subsequent tellings until whatever truth there was would be hard to discern. Most of the stories had been known only in parts of England and Wales for some centuries, but in the twelfth century their popularity grew when the French writer Chretien de Troyes published a popular written version in both France and Britain. Other French and German writers also addressed these stories. Late in the fifteenth century, the various stories were brought together in a new version by Sir Thomas Malory in his Morte d'Arthur. Our vision of Camelot derives largely from Malory's book (O'Neal 14-17).

One of the problems with discovering the historical Arthur is that the period in which he would have lived is a period of darkness as far as the historical record is concerned. Britain alone among the lands of the Roman Empire achieved independence before the northern barbarians attacked, and the people of Britain put up a fight against them. This was a very long fight, and at one stage at least it was successful:

Between Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England there is an interregnum, which is not a chaos as historians once imagined, but a creative epoch with a character of its own. This rally of a Celtic people in some degree Romanized and Christianized is the reality of Arthur's Britain. It occurs in a dark age, the mysterious gap in British history. (Ashe 27)

The record is not completely blank, however. One of the pieces of evidence that has been offered as to the reality of King Arthur is the Easter Annals. Easter is a holiday that changes date each year, so in order to ascertain when it was to take place it was necessary to draw up calculations as to when it would fall for the next several years. These calculating tables are called the Easter Tables, and they were arranged in columns so that the right-handed column remained blank. The entries made in the last column are the Easter Annals. The manuscript containing the Annals is considerably later than the events noted in that document, but it is agreed by historians that when new tables of calculations were drawn up, the chief events from previous tables were carried over to the newer table. In the British Museum, there is a sheaf of documents called the Historical Miscellany, and it contains a set of Easter Tables. In the Annals column are two entries of importance. The year given, which is in dispute, is apparently the year the Annals were begun, and it is given as either 499 or 518 a.D. It reads as follows: "Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights and the Britons were victors." The second is dated 539 and reads as follows: "The Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Mordred perished. And there was plague in Britain and Ireland." According to the Annals, Arthur fought in the Battle of Badon for three days and three nights. This battle has historical validity because it is mentioned elsewhere without the Arthurian connection (Jenkins 28-29).

The Battle of Badon is mentioned by the British monk and historian, Gildas, who details much of the British counter-attack on the northern hordes. The Annales Cambriae, an early Welsh source, mentioned the Battle of Badon as taking place in either 516 or 518. Gildas does not name the general involved in this battle, but Welsh tradition says the leader was Arthur. The fist question is whether Arthur is the name of a Celt born somewhere in the 470s, and it could be true since the name is a Celticized Roman name, derived from Artorius (Ashe 38-39).

Arthur's status as a leader rests primarily on one chapter in the Welsh book History of the Britons, a chaotic work compiled early in the ninth century by Nennius, a cleric desirous of reasserting a sense of national dignity after a long period of eclipse. He was neither a good writer nor a good scholar, and what he has done is to collect together all that he could find on various subjects. The ingredients of his book are seen as authentic, whatever he has done with them. One document included by Nennius introduces Arthur as a man without dynastic rank, stating that there were many more noble than he. A sketch of his campaigns is then offered, indicating how Arthur fought the Saxons alongside the kings of the Britons (Ashe 40). Citing Nennius and the Annals, Ashe writes:

Records of a strictly historical kind yield no more. They disclose a British leader who almost certainly did command at Badon, because the immense credit of that triumph was never claimed for anyone else; and who fell at Camlaun. (Ashe 43)

However, this was not the end of the story of Arthur, and much exists about him next in Welsh poetry from the end of the sixth century. These poets knew Arthur as a war-leader of proverbial glory and assume that their audiences know him as well. Around 600, Aneirin wrote a long poem called Gododdin that lamented over a corps of nobles who died fighting the Angles at Catraeth (or Catterick), mentioning only that one of them "was no Arthur." A poem in the collection Black Book of Carmarthen lists the followers of Arthur, among them Kei and Bedwyr, or Kay and Bedevere. These poems also do not refer to Arthur as a king, though one does refer to him as emperor. Arthur is also mentioned many times in the Welsh legends that have come down to us as "triads," or… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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