Sir Thomas Malory (c. 1415 – 14 March 1471) was an English writer, the author or compiler of “Le Morte d'Arthur” (originally titled, “The Whole Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table”). Since the late nineteenth century, he has generally been identified as Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire, a knight, land-owner, and Member of Parliament.
Most of what is known about Malory stems from the accounts describing him in the prayers found in the Winchester Manuscript. He is described as a "knyght presoner", distinguishing him from the other six individuals also bearing the name Thomas Malory in the 15th century when Le Morte d'Arthur was written.
At the end of the "Tale of King Arthur" (Books I–IV in the printing by William Caxton) is written: "For this was written by a knight prisoner Thomas Malleorre, that God send him good recovery." At the end of "The Tale of Sir Gareth" (Caxton's Book VII): "And I pray you all that readeth this tale to pray for him that this wrote, that God send him good deliverance soon and hastily." At the conclusion of the "Tale of Sir Tristram" (Caxton's VIII–XII): "Here endeth the second book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, which was drawn out of the French by Sir Thomas Malleorre, knight, as Jesu be his help." Finally, at the conclusion of the whole book: "The Most Piteous Tale of the Morte Arthure Sanz Gwerdon par le shyvalere Sir Thomas Malleorre, knight, Jesu aide ly pur votre bon mercy."
However, all these are replaced by Caxton with a final colophon reading: "I pray you all gentlemen and gentlewomen that readeth this book of Arthur and his knights, from the beginning to the ending, pray for me while I am alive, that God send me good deliverance and when I am dead, I pray you all pray for my soul. 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."
It should be noted that, with the exception of the first sentence of the final colophon, all the above references to Thomas Malory as a knight are, grammatically speaking, in the third person singular, which leaves open the possibility that they were added by a copyist, either in Caxton's workshop or elsewhere. However, scholarly consensus, as has been previously mentioned in this article, is that these references to knighthood refer to a real person and that that person is the author of Le Morte D'Arthur.
The author was educated, as some of his material "was drawn out of the French," which suggests that he might have been from a wealthy family. A claimant's age must also fit the time of writing.
Malory was most probably confined at Newgate prison from 1460 until his release. He likely wrote “Le Morte d'Arthur” (The Death of Arthur) based on Arthurian mythology, the first major work of English language prose. Richard Whittington, mayor of London, was responsible for philanthropic work that allowed prisoners access to a library in the Greyfriars monastery adjacent to Newgate. This, coupled with the probability that Malory had at least some wealth, allowed a certain level of comfort and leisure within the prison. His main sources for his work included Arthurian French prose romances, Geoffrey of Monmouth's “History of the Kings of Britain”, and two anonymous English works called the “Alliterative Morte Arthure” and the “Stanzaic Morte Arthur”.
The entire work is eight romances that span twenty-one books with 507 chapters, which was said to be considerably shorter than the original French sources, despite its vast size. Malory was responsible for organising these diverse sources and consolidating them into a cohesive whole. The work was originally titled “The Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table”, but printer William Caxton changed it to “Le Morte d'Arthur” before he printed it in 1485, as well as making several other editorial changes. According to one theory, the eight romances were originally intended to be separate, but Caxton altered them to be more unified.
There has been some argument among critics that Malory's “Le Morte d'Arthur” was primarily intended as a political commentary of Malory's own era. Malory portrays an initially idyllic past under the strong leadership of King Arthur and his knights, but as intrigue and infighting develop, the utopic kingdom collapses, which may have been intended as a parallel and a warning against the infighting taking place during the Wars of the Roses. The seemingly contradictory changes in King Arthur's character throughout the work has been argued to support the theory that Arthur represents different eras and reigns throughout the tales. This argument has also been used to attempt to reconcile Malory's doubtful reputation as a person who continually changed sides with the unexpected idealism of Le Morte d'Arthur. It remains a matter of some debate whether this was a deliberate commentary or an imaginative fiction influenced by the political climate.
The sources of the romances that make up “Le Morte d'Arthur”, and Malory's treatment of those sources, correspond to some degree with those of a poem called “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle”; they also both end with a similarly worded prayer to be released from imprisonment. This has led some scholars in recent years to believe that Malory may have been the author of the poem.
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