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362 Read-Along Questions: Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur (excerpts in Longman Anthology)

Vocabulary: Arthurian, code of chivalry, foreshadowing, le bel inconnu, liege, medieval romance, oneiromancy (for Arthur's dream), trial by combat, War of the Roses, vassal

Helpful PDF of Arthur's Genealogy

Character and Object Identifications: Lancelot, Sir Bedivere, Sir Gawain, Arthur, Guinevere (Gwenevere), the Bishop of Canterbury, the Sankgreall (Holy Grail), Sir Brastias, Sir Pinel, Sir Patrise, Sir Bors, Nineve (the Damsel of the Lake), Excalibur

Introduction Questions: Who are the two possible knights who might be "Sir Thomas Malory"? What do we know about their pasts? What political struggle was taking place in England during the author's life? What sources did Malory draw upon as he wrote Le Morte?

Reading Questions:

  • The Poisoned Apple
  • Before this section begins, after the quest for the Holy Grail, Lancelot turned to spiritual matters and renounced his illicit affair with Guinevere. What is the status of his resolution in the second paragraph of our excerpt? How does that state compare with their affair "to forehand" (earlier)?
  • When Lancelot speaks to Guinevere to address her concerns that he is behaving distantly towards her and warmly toward other maidens, he expressed what fear about Sir Agravain and Sir Mordred?
  • How does Guinevere respond to his ploy to allay suspicion?
  • What commandment does Guinevere give to Lancelot?
  • Where does Lancelot go after Guinevere banishes him?
  • Why does Guinevere "show outward" that she has great delight in all the other knights?
  • What is Sir Gawain's favorite food?
  • How does Sir Pinel's assassination attempt run awry? What is his motivation?
  • How does Sir Patrise die?
  • How does Sir Mador respond to Sir Patrise's death?
  • Why can't King Arthur represent Guinevere in a trial-by-combat? Who ends up as her public defender initially?
  • When King Arthur asks Guinevere, "What aileth you . . . that ye cannot keep Sir Lancelot upon your side," there are two ways to interpret his statement. Do you think Malory wants us to interpret this as an example of dramatic irony, in which we as the audience know more about Lancelot and Guinevere than the king, and see the statement as ironic? Or do you think Malory wants to suggest that King Arthur knows about Lancelot and Guinevere's affair?
  • What is the punishment for murder in Camelot?
  • Who shows up to take Sir Bors' place?
  • When Lancelot defeats Sir Mador, what two demands does he make to spare Sir Mador's life?
  • What is the ethical problem Lancelot voices when he says he is "ever . . . her knight in right other in wrong" (i.e., he will serve Guinevere and defend her whethr it is right or wrong to do so)?
  • Who comes to reveal the truth magically about the murder attempt?
  • The Day of Destiny
  • How does Mordred use forgery skills to sieze power in England? Why isn't Arthur around to stop him?
  • Why does Guinevere lock herself upin the Tower of London with supplies and food? What scandalous desire does Mordred have?
  • What is the Bishop's threat that he will "curse [Mordred] with book, bell, and candle," i.e., what Catholic rite is he threatening to use? Why is he making such a dire threat? What is Mordred's reaction?
  • In the battle, Sir Gawain receives a wound over the scar of an older wound Lancelot gave him in the battle of Joyous Garde near Benwick. As he is dying, to whom does he write a final letter? What is the gist of the letter, and what request does he make? In addition to using ink, he reveals in the last paragraph of his letter that he used what other fluid to write the letter?
  • According to Malory, what relic of Sir Gawain is still on display within Dover Castle?
  • Before the battle at Salisbury, Arthur has two dreams. What horrible imagery appears in the first dream? In the second dream, what figure from the past appears with an oneiromantic warning? What is that warning?
  • When Arthur confronts Sir Mordred's forces, how many men does Mordred have in his "grim host"?
  • What peace pact does Arthur propose to Sir Mordred? Does this strike you as a reasonable compromise? Why or why not?
  • What instructions has Arthur given to his men regarding a specific military target if they "see any sword drawn"? Why does Arthur say he gives them this command?
  • How does an innocent soldier end up triggering the battle by drawing his sword in error?
  • What's the possible symbolism of that battle-trigger in biblical terms? How might it connect with Genesis? What about in terms of symbolism in bestiaries?
  • At the end of the apocalyptic battle, who is left standing on Morded's side? How many are left alive on Arthur's side? Do you agree with Sir Lucan the Butler's assessment of who has won the field? Why or why not?
  • What weapon does Arthur use against Mordred? Why do you suppose he doesn't use Excalibur?
  • What is Mordred's last dying action?
  • As the moon rises over the battlefield, who appears on the field before Sir Lucan?
  • As Sir Lucan helps lift Arthur to his horse, what happens to Sir Lucan?
  • What instruction does Arthur give Bedivere regarding Excalibur? How does Bedivere fail in the first two attempts? Why does he disobey Arthur in this regard?
  • Who and what appears in the lake when Sir Bedivere obeys Arthur?
  • Who comes to take Arthur away as he lies injured?
  • According to Malory, what do men say in many parts of England?
  • Does Malory appear to believe this legend? What does he assert instead?
  • What is carved on Arthur's tomb, according to legend? What does this phrase mean in English?
  • Where does Guinevere live out her last days, and how does her personality change?

Lecture Questions:
How does King Arthur's dream connect with Boethian imagery? How is the presence of serpents and "worms" (dragons) either a bit of foreshadowing or a bit of symbolism involving Arthur's lineage?

Our excerpt ends before the final chapter of Malory. In the full story, how does Lancelot die? Where is Guinevere buried? Lancelot?

Passage Identifications:

A: Then as the book saith, Sir Lancelot began to resort unto Queen Guinevere again and forgat the promise and the perfection that he made in the quest.

B: "And wit you well, madam, the boldness of you and me will bring us to shame and slander; and that were me loath to see you dishonoured. And that is the cause I take upon me more for to do for damsels and maidens than ever I did toforn."

C: So the queen let make a privy dinner in London unto the knights of the Round Table, and all was for toshow outward that she had as great joy in all other knights of the Round Table as she had in Sir Lancelot.

D: But Sir Gawain had a custom that he used daily at meat and at supper, that he loved well all manner of fruit, and in especial apples and pears. And therefore whosomever dined other feasted Sir Gawain would commonly purvey for good fruit for him.

E: "Fair lords, me repenteth of this trouble, but the case is so I may not have ado in this matter, for I must be a rightful judge. And that repenteth me that I may not do battle for my wife, for, as I deem, this deed came never by her."

F: "What aileth you . . . that ye cannot keep Sir Lancelot upon your side?"

G: "As for our most noble King Arthur, we love him and honour him as well as ye do, but as for Queen Guinevere, we love her not, because she is a destroyer of knights."

H: And a great fire was made about an iron stake. . . . She should there be brent; for such custom was used in those days: for favour, love, nother affinity there should be none other but righteous judgment, as well upon a king as upon a knight, and as well upon a queen as upon another poor lady.

I: And afterward, he drew him unto Winchester, and there he took the queen, and said plainly that he would wed her (which was his uncle's wife and his father's wife). [The queen] was passing heavy, but spake fair, and agreed to [his] will.

J: "I . . . send thee greeting, letting thee to have knowledge that the tenth day of May I was smitten upon the old wound that thou gave me afore the city of Benwick, and through that wound I am come to my death-day. . . . Wherefore I beseech thee, to return again unto this realm and see my tomb and pray some prayer more or less for my soul. And the date of this letter was written with mine own hand and subscribed with part of my heart blood. And therefore I require thee, most famous knight of the world, that thou wilt see my tomb."

K: And in his dream him seemed that he saw upon a chaflet a chair, and the chair was fast to a wheel, and thereupon sat [the king] in the richest cloth of gold that might be made. And the king thought there was under him, far from him, an hideous deep black water, and therein was all manner of serpents and worms, and wild beasts, foul and horrible. And suddenly the king thought that the wheel turned upside down, and he fell among the serpents.

L: . . . He warned all his host that an they see any sword drawn, "look ye come on fiercely and slay that traitor . . . for I in no way trust him."
         In likewise, [the enemy] warned his host that, "And ye see any manner of sword drawn, look that ye come on fiercely, and so slay all that ever before you standeth, for in no wise I will not trust for this treatise for I know well my father will be avenged upon me."
          And so they met as their pointment was and were agreed and accorded thoroughly. And wine was fetched and they drank together. Right so came an adder out of a little heath-bush, and it stung a knight in the foot. And when the knight felt himself so stung, he looked down and saw the adder. And anon he drew his sword to slay the adder and thought none other harm. And when the host on both parties saw that sword drawn, then they blew . . . trumpets and horns.

N: Speaker 1: "Now give me my spear for yonder I have espied the traitor that all this woe hath wrought."

Speaker 2: "Sir, let him be for he is unhappy. And if ye pass this unhappy day ye shall be right well revenged. Ye have won the field; for yet we been here three on live, and with [him] is not one of live. And therefore if ye leave off now, this wicked day of Destiny is passed."

O: So [the knight] departed, for he was grievously wounded in many places. And so as he yede, he saw and harkened by the moonlight how that pillers and robbers were come into the field to pill and to rob many a full noble knight of brooches and bees and of many a good ring and many a rich jewel. And those that were not dead all out, there they slew them for their harness and their riches. When Sir Lucan understood this, he came to the King as soon as he might and told him all that he had heard and seen. Then the Knight took up the King the 'tone party and [a second knight] took the other party, and in the [exertion of this] lifting up, the Knight fell in a swoon, that part of his guts fell out of his body, and therewith the noble knight's heart burst. And when the King awoke, he beheld how he lay foaming at the mouth, and part of his guts lay at his feet.

P. And by the way he beheld that noble sword and the pomel and the haft was all precious stones. And then he said to himself, "If I throw this rich sword in the water, thereof shall never come good, but harm and loss." And then [he] hid Excalibur under a tree, and so soon as he might came again unto the king and said he had been at the water and had thrown the sword into the water.

Q. Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur not dead, but had by the will of Lord Jesu[s] unto another place; and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the Holy Cross. Yet I will not say that it shall be so, but rather I would say: here in this world he changed his life




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