Le Morte d’Arthur Genre, Theme, Symbols, Settings, and Characters

Classic English Literature

Pick a key part of the entire tale from (Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory) and in two pages, divide the work into the following literary elements: Genre, Central Characters, Setting, Events, Language, Theme, Symbols, and Personal Evaluation. Write a few sentences about each element, trying to be thorough yet concise. In the characters […]

Le Morte d’Arthur

Le Morte d’Arthur is a collection of stories about King Arthur’s rise to power and tragic fall. These stories explore the laws of chivalry, the campaigns, adventures, and battles of the king and the Knights of the Round Table. Le Morte d’Arthur contains well-crafted tales with character building, language, symbols, and events reflecting the 13th-century setting, all while thematically reflecting the code of chivalry.


Le Morte d’Arthur is classified as an Arthurian tale incorporating several genres, including romance, quasi-history, heroic-epic, and fantasy (“Thomas Malory,” n.d.). Le Morte d’Arthur contains an anthology of prose fiction that incorporates complex narrative plot development and characterization, which explains the diversity in the modes and genres.

Central Characters

King Arthur is the protagonist of Le Morte d’Arthur, and he is a brave, just king of Britain. His father, Uther Pendragon, is the former king of England and husband to Queen Igraine. Mordred is Arthur’s son, conceived when Arthur sleeps with his sister by mistake. Merlin is a wizard who prophesied that Arthur would be a great king and later reared him after the death of King Uther. Launcelot is the greatest of all knights and is known for his moral excellence. Finally, Gawain, Arthur’s nephew, is revered for his sense of justice and virtue.


The Battle of Camlann occurs between 512 and 542 AD. The earliest mention of the Battle of Camlan is in the Annales Cambriae in the 6th century. The location of Camlann is contested among scholars, with the possible locations being Birdoswald in Scotland, South Cadbury in Somerset, and Slaughter Bridge in Wales (“Camlann Medieval Village,” n.d.). The Battle of Camlann is a tragic ending to Le Morte d’Arthur’s medieval tales of Arthur and his Knights of Round Table.


Years before Arthur’s demise, Merlin had prophesied that Arthur’s destruction would be through his son Mordred. Arthur tries to kill his son without success. Years later, Arthur assembles his Knights of the Round Table upon learning that his son had usurped his throne. The ensuing battle is known as the Battle of Camlann (Cantrall, 2015). The fight results in deep losses between the two sides, and Arthur makes a truce. Mordred agrees to Arthur’s offer of a ceasefire on the condition that it would exist as long as nobody drew a sword. However, one of Arthur’s knights is bitten by a snake, and he draws his sword to kill it. The truce is broken, which results in the renewal of the battle. Everyone dies on both sides, except for Sir Bedivere and a fatally wounded Arthur. After the battle, Arthur requests Sir Bedivere to take Excalibur back to the Lady of the Lake. Several maidens accompany Arthur to Avalon to heal from his wounds. King Arthur’s rise, decline, and fall in Le Morte d’Arthur are one of the most revered medieval plots, and the Battle of Camlann is a great fitting end to the story.


Malory used existing French prose and English tales as inspiration for compiling Le Morte d’Arthur into a single collection. He created a single narrative from the French version and recreated the English narratives using stanzaic verse and English alliteration (“Thomas Malory,” n.d.). The complete collection was written in English.


One of Malory’s recurring themes is chivalry. Malory’s work portrays the knights questing, serving ladies, and duelling in the name of chivalry. For example, Sir Gareth embarrassingly exchanges kisses with his host, Lord Bertilak, in a bid to keep his promise to him without breaking the rules of chivalry between himself and Lady Bertilak. Throughout Le Morte d’Arthur, a true knight is defined by courteousness, kindness, generosity, and devotion to a lady; these ideal qualities characterize chivalry.


The first symbol in Le Morte d’Arthur is the sword Excalibur, which identifies the king and represents power. Another symbol is the Round Table, which represents equality. Its roundness is symbolic of everyone being equal, as no one would sit at the “head” of the table. Finally, the search for the grail symbolizes the knights seeking God’s blessings, with their allegiance to God overshadowing their allegiance to the King.

Personal Evaluation

Le Morte d’Arthur is a condensed adaptation of earlier material, and I feel Malory has done an excellent job of seamlessly integrating the stories. The short, independent plots come together to form a coherent narrative, making it easy to understand. Le Morte d’Arthur catapults the reader into medieval adventures through its settings, events, symbols, and characters. The stories contained in the collection are still relevant today as an example of how independent plot developments can be used as building blocks to unveil the bigger picture.


Cantrall, A. (2015). King Arthur and His Part in the Breaking of the Round Table. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://artifactsjournal.missouri.edu/2015/08/king-arthur-and-his-part-in-the-breaking-of-the-round-table/.

Camlann Medieval Village. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2019, from http://camlann.org/battle_of_camlann.htm.

Thomas Malory and Le Morte d’Arthur. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2019, from https://web.stanford.edu/class/engl165b/93malry.html


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Published On: 01-01-1970

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