Le Morte d'Arthur is the name given to the collection of stories from Arthurian legend written by Sir Thomas Malory. The book was probably written between 1450 and 1470. It was one of the earliest books printed in English by William Caxton in 1485. Malory originally called his work The hoole book of kyng Arthur & of his noble knyghtes of the reund table, Caxton gave the entire work the title Le Morte d'Arthur (taken from the French for "the death of Arthur") a title which Malory had originally given to the work's final section.
There is some original material in Le Morte d'Arthur but Malory's main intention was to gather together in one volume an English language version of all of the pre-existing legends that had become associated with King Arthur. Early sections of the work are made up largely of material that first appeared in Latin in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, some of the tales had appeared in earlier English versions but most of the work is translated from French romances.
Contents of the book
Most modern editions of Le Morte d'Arthur are divided into twenty-one books with a total of five hundred and seven chapters, a division created by the printer William Caxton. Malory originally divided his work into the following eight books:
- Book 1: The birth and rise of Arthur
- Book 2: King Arthur fights and defeats the Roman Emperor Lucius
- Book 3: The Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot Du Lac
- Book 4: The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney
- Book 5: The First and Second Book of Sir Tristam de Lione, Malory's version of the legend of Tristan and Isolde
- Book 6: The search for the Holy Grail, which Malory calls the Sangreal
- Book 7: Sir Launcelot and Queen Gwenyvere which tells of the doomed love affair between the knight and the queen
- Book 8: The death of Arthur and the end of the Knights of the Round Table
Le Morte d'Arthur is probably the best known work of Arthurian literature in English. It provided the source material for many later writers who wrote about Arthurian themes, including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain, T.H. White and John Steinbeck.