Published in 1485
Not a poem, but a lengthy prose narrative
based on very lengthy French prose works,
telling the entire rise and fall of King
It’s length makes it a less unified work than
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Malory’s tale follows not one, but many of King
These various adventures are intertwined using a
technique known as “interlace.”
The French translation of the title is “Death of
Arthur,” indicating Malory’s primary source, a
French prose romance called La Mort le Roi Artu
(The Death of King Arthur).
In Malory’s tale, the source of Lancelot’s
chivalry and the cause of the downfall of
Arthur’s kingdom is the courtly love
relationship between Lancelot and
Lancelot is the central figure in Malory’s
work. He is Arthur’s best knight and no one
surpasses him in chivalry, except for his son
Lancelot’s love for Guinevere is both a
positive and negative force: it is the source of
Lancelot’s greatness and downfall.
The upside to their relationship is inspired
through courtly love.
The downside is that it causes him to fail at
the Grail quest and begins the war between
Lancelot and Arthur, leading to Arthur’s
This upside/downside paradox reflects two
different codes of behavior operating within
While Christianity condemns adultery, the
chivalric code values courtly love because it
makes the lovers better people.
Society also benefits from the knight’s love-
inspired valor (as Arthur did in the years of
Lancelot’s favor with him).
The Holy Grail was introduced into Arthurian
legend by Chretien’s (French romantic
troubadour) Story of the Grail, an unfinished
work. The Grail was a dish used to carry a
communion wafer to an old man.
In Malory’s work and the Vulgate Cycle (on
which Malory based his work), it becomes a holy
In Malory’s work, the Holy Grail becomes
the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, as
well as the cup used to catch some of his
blood during the Crucifixion.
It was said to have been brought from
Jerusalem to England by Joseph of
Arimathea, a direct ancestor of Lancelot and
his son, Galahad.
Galahad has all of his father’s knightly perfection,
but none of his sins, and is therefore able to
complete the Quest of the Holy Grail and is
ultimately borne by angels directly to heaven.
Lancelot is, thus, identified as the best of all earthly
knights because of his deeds that are inspired by
love for Guinevere, but fails as a celestial knight
because of that same love.
In the selections that you read…
The lovers are betrayed by the spite of
Agravain and Mordred.
Lancelot accidentally kills Gawain’s
brothers, Gaheris and Gareth while rescuing
the queen, thereby becoming an enemy of
Gawain and causing civil war in Arthur’s
Eventually a peace treaty is established and
Guinevere is returned to Arthur and
Lancelot goes into exile.
Gawain, however, pushes Arthur to raise and
army and pursue Lancelot (to avenge his
Meanwhile, while Arthur is off waging war
against Lancelot, Mordred declares himself
king and tries to marry Guinevere; Arthur
and his army must return home to fight
Gawain repents his anger against Lancelot
before his death.
So, Gawain’s ghost comes to Arthur, telling
him that Lancelot will save him from
Guinevere decides to become a nun;
Lancelot, a monk.
At the end of the tale, the two lovers still
love each other despite their new found faith
and saintly status.
Guinevere is able to predict her own death (a
sign of God’s Grace).
Lancelot has a vision of his own death (more
signs of heavenly favor), and his death are
accompanied by signs of holiness.
Guinevere is reunited with her husband in