Le Morte d'Arthur

Reception

Until the discovery of the Winchester Manuscript in 1934 at Winchester College, the 1485 edition printed by William Caxton was considered the earliest known text of Le Morte d'Arthur and that closest to Malory's translation and compilation.[20] Modern editions are inevitably variable, changing a variety of spelling, grammar, and/or pronouns for the convenience of readers of modern English.

The Arthurian characters and tales act like litmus, responding to the issues, aspirations, and anxieties of readerships in every different time and place that they touch. But Arthurian narratives can also act on the cultures that reproduce them, whether expressing an idealizing national wish about the "Camelot" Kennedy administration in the early 1960s, or articulating English King Edward I's symbolic kinship with the Welsh in hopes of military advantage in the late 1200s...

—Bryan (1994), p.x[21]

These and other controversies [providential historiography vs. Christian penance, courtly love vs. adultery] operating within the accumulation of tales and genres lend some force, ironically, to Caxton's claim that readers should look to this text for moral example. Caxton instructed readers of this narrative of knights' adventures to "Doo after the good and leve the evyl, and it shal brynge you to good fame and renommee." It is ultimately the enormous complexity of conflicting demands that will engage moral sensibilities of readers of this text.

—Bryan, p.xii.[4]

I think my sense of right and wrong, my feeling of noblesse oblige, and any thought I may have against the oppressor and for the oppressed came from [Le Morte d'Arthur]....It did not seem strange to me that Uther Pendragon wanted the wife of his vassal and took her by trickery. I was not frightened to find that there were evil knights, as well as noble ones. In my own town there were men who wore the clothes of virtue whom I knew to be bad....If I could not choose my way at the crossroads of love and loyalty, neither could Lancelot. I could understand the darkness of Mordred because he was in me too; and there was some Galahad in me, but perhaps not enough. The Grail feeling was there, however, deep-planted, and perhaps always will be.

—John Steinbeck[22]

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