Le Morte

Have you ever read Le Morte d’Arthur, by Sir Thomas Mallory? Of course not.

For this book was ended the ninth year of the reign of King Edward the Fourth, by Sir Thomas Maleore, knight, as Jesu help him for his great might, as he is the servant of Jesu both day and night. Thus endeth this noble and joyous book entitled Le Morte Darthur. Notwithstanding it treateth of the birth, life, and acts of the said King Arthur, of his noble knights of the Round Table, their marvellous enquests and adventures, the achieving of the Sangreal, and in the end the dolorous death and departing out of this world of them all. Which book was reduced into English by Sir Thomas Malory, knight, as afore is said, and by me divided into twenty-one books, chaptered and emprinted, and finished in the abbey, Westminster, the last day of July the year of our Lord MCCCCLXXX{?}. Caxton me fieri fecit.

It is also over 700 pages long and written in late Middle English. Which is to say later than Chaucerian English, but not yet Shakespearean.

I haven’t either.

And yet, of late I have been listening to portions of it read aloud and talked about by Professor Corey Olson, the Tolkien Professor, and if you want to be able to say you have read it, I would suggest that you listen along as well. Dr. Olson reads it in the original, which is fairly understandable once you get used to knight pronounced “kanicht” and lady pronounced “laddy” so that you get sentences like That kanicht ficht well for his laddy.

Now, gentle good knight, a while hold your hands, and let us speak together. Say what ye will, said Tristram, and I will answer you. Sir, said Bleoberis, I would wit of whence ye be, and of whom ye be come, and what is your name? So God me help, said Sir Tristram, I fear not to tell you my name. Wit ye well I am King Meliodas' son, and my mother is King Mark's sister, and my name is Sir Tristram de Liones, and King Mark is mine uncle. Truly, said Bleoberis, I am right glad of you, for ye are he that slew Marhaus the knight, hand for hand in an island, for the truage of Cornwall; also ye overcame Sir Palamides the good knight, at a tournament in an island, where ye beat Sir Gawaine and his nine fellows. So God me help, said Sir Tristram, wit ye well that I am the same knight; now I have told you my name, tell me yours with good will. Wit ye well that my name is Sir Bleoberis de Ganis, and my brother hight Sir Blamore de Ganis, that is called a good knight, and we be sister's children unto my lord Sir Launcelot du Lake, that we call one of the best knights of the world.

All in all, it is a wonderful tale of pride and envy, love and longing, play by play jousts (which as Olson reminds us when occasionally a kanicht is “dede by my hondes” are contact sports), morality plays, and, of course, tragedy, all of which come to vivid life in Dr. Olson’s reading enlivened by much humor and questions by his students who were taking the course in real time.

Then they began to dress their spears, and Sir Launcelot smote the foremost down, horse and man, and so he served three more with one spear; and then that spear brast, and therewithal Sir Launcelot drew his sword, and then he smote on the right hand and on the left hand. Then within a while he left none of those twelve knights, but he had laid them to the earth, and the most part of them were sore wounded. And then Sir Launcelot took the best horse that he found, and loosed Sir Palomides and set him upon that horse; and so they returned again unto Joyous Gard,

The study of Le Morte d’Arthur was recorded throughout late 2018 and well into 2019. You can find it here. Treat yourself. Pick one. Get hooked. There are 72 hours of them, 36 two-hour lectures, finishing off with a discussion of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’m on #26. Only 20 more hours to go.