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Palgrave Macmillan

Contested Language in Malory's Morte Darthur

The Politics of Romance in Fifteenth-Century England

ISBN 9781137353627
Publication Date June 2014
Formats Ebook (PDF) Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Series Arthurian and Courtly Cultures

Malory's Morte Darthur , which transformed the sprawling thirteenth-century French Vulgate Cycle romances for fifteenth-century English readers, is often seen as the culmination of the medieval Arthurian tradition and a consolidation of Arthur's reputation as a perfect chivalric ruler. Examining Malory's political language, this study challenges the accepted view of Arthur's kingship and the role of the Round Table fellowship. Considering a range of historical and political sources, Ruth Lexton suggests that Malory used a specific lexicon to engage with contemporary problems of kingship and demonstrates that the Morte interrogates the collapse of the English monarchy during the Wars of the Roses..

Ruth Lexton teaches English at Wellington College, UK. She has taught medieval and early modern literature at Bates College, Barnard College and Columbia University, USA. She received her PhD in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University where she was the recipient of the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship. She has published articles in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology, The Fifteenth Century, and Exemplaria.

Introduction: Arthurian Romance and Political Language in Fifteenth Century England
1. Kingship, Justice and the 'comyns' in the Tale of King Arthur
2. Counsel and Rule in the Tale of King Arthur and Arthur and Lucius
3. Malory's Lancelot and the Politics of Worship
4. Courtesy in Malory's Tale of Sir Gareth
5. Fellowship and Treason
Conclusion: Malory's Contested Language


"Rarely do we have a chance to view a late medieval or early renaissance text from a totally new perspective, but Lexton overthrows all of our nostalgic assumptions about what King Arthur and his roundtable must have meant to Malory's original audience. This book argues instead that Arthur (and through him, the reigning powers in England) are criticized. Key to this argument is Malory's use of loaded political language, terms such as justice, 'comyns,' counsel, rule, worship, courtesy, fellowship, and treason. This carefully argued and nuanced study of language provides happy proof that new and important work is still possible in much-studied texts." - Kathryn Hume, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, The Pennsylvania State University, USA
"Indispensable for Arthurian scholars, Contested Language in Malory's Morte Darthur argues that Malory's use of specific political language highlights the trouble with the system of governance in the Morte - especially at the level of the king. Lexton crafts this argument with keen attention to the political and social environment surrounding the writing and reading of the text. The deft comparison of Malory's language to the words and ideas in political and personal documents from the period helps elucidate Malory's accomplishments and possible goals in his version of the Arthurian story." - Molly Martin, Associate Professor of English and Foreign Languages, McNeese State University, USA
"Contested Language in Malory's Morte Darthur uses an impressive mastery of fifteenth-century texts to make the bold argument that Le Morte Darthur treats Arthur not as an ideal king but as a model of political failure. Exquisitely sensitive to language, this book tracks key terms through texts ranging from law books to letters, from disquisitions on kingship to the managing of servants. The result goes beyond a reading of Malory to be an insightful analysis of fifteenth-century political discourses." - Kenneth Hodges, Associate Professor of English, University of Oklahoma, USA
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