Morte d’Arthur

‘the death of Arthur’ ‘the passing of Arthur’

The Painting
• The Last Sleep of Arthur by Edward Burne-Jones.

• Sir Thomas Malory wrote a poem called ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’ – ‘the death of Arthur’. • Malory took a body of legends, mostly French in origin and adapted them to English life with an English perspective. • Malory’s sources were largely a selection of courtly romances about Lancelot. These stories purport to be historical accounts of King Arthur and his knights and of their quest for the Holy Grail.

• Although it is probable that a real Arthur did exist (it is a common name), there is little actual historical basis for the stories, which are largely legend and folklore.

Key Information
• Published in ‘Poems’ (1842). • There are small links between Arthur the king and Arthur Henry Hallam. • In the same year Alfred Tennyson wrote his first Arthurian poem "Morte d'Arthur“, Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed "as to Arthur, you could not by any means make a poem national to Englishmen. What have we to do with him?“ • This implication that Arthurian literature is escapist and irrelevant is a familiar criticism. In contrast and perhaps response, Tennyson called the Arthurian legend "the greatest of all poetical subjects," which partly explains why this tradition so heavily influenced his writing.

Arthurian Interest
• Tennyson was always interested in King Arthur and tales of knights and legends. • This poem is a careful expansion, and at times embellishment, of Malory's account of the conclusion of Arthur's life with the exception of a few references to Excalibur.

The Poem
• Tennyson employs the standard medieval romance literary structure that puts the protagonist through a series of tests that try and educate him.

• What does Bedivere learn about the relation between keeping the faith and being able to believe or have faith? • Find relevant quotes to support your ideas.

• What do we know of Tennyson’s relationship with Arthur Henry Hallam? • How could we link the character of Arthur to Hallam?

Structure – AO3
• Blank verse is usually described as unrhymed iambic pentameters with frequent enjambment. An adaptable form, it can convey anything from elevated thought to everyday speech, and was once universally employed for drama and epic. Indeed, so easy is blank verse to write that it needs constraints, challenges and melodic invention if it is not become slipshod and boring.

Structure – AO3
• Blank verse is not an escape from rhyme, but a replacement of rhyme by more powerful and carefully-woven requirements.

Structure – AO3
• Enjambment — the running-on or overflowing of sense and rhythm of one line into the next — is clear enough: So all day long the noise of battle roll'd among the mountains by the winter sea; etc. But so too is a 'blocking out' by pauses: So all day long | the noise of battle roll'd | Among the mountains | by the winter sea || Until King Arthur's table | man by man | Had fallen in Lyonnesse | about their Lord || •

The cadences (a falling) create these effects, so strongly marked that we are surprised to find no rhymes, so satisfyingly do the lines end. But there's also the melody of the long vowels, which overflow the metre: So all day long | the noise of battle roll'd

Structure – AO3
• The subtle alliteration: So all day long the noise of battle roll'd Among the mountains by the winter sea; Until King Arthur's table, man by man, Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their Lord,

Structure – AO3
• The pacing: the slow movement of the first four lines, a pause coming after then in line five to take breath, the quickening in the singly-moulded line six, and then a varied pacing helped by the repetition of Sir Bedivere to the full flood of: On one side lay the ocean, and on one Lay a great water, and the moon was full. • Which is echoed, distantly, with the d's largely replacing the more liquid l's is the final: Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn, And on the mere the wailing died away.

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