The legends of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table have inspired some of the greatest works of literature--from Cervantes's Don Quixote to Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Although many versions exist, Malory's stands as the classic rendition. Malory wrote the book while in Newgate Prison during the last three years of his life; it was published some fourteen years later, in 1485, by William Caxton. The tales, steeped in the magic of Merlin, the powerful cords of the chivalric code, and the age-old dramas of love and death, resound across the centuries.
The stories of King Arthur, Lancelot, Queen Guenever, and Tristram and Isolde seem astonishingly moving and modern. Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur endures and inspires because it embodies mankind's deepest yearnings for brotherhood and community, a love worth dying for, and valor, honor, and chivalry.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Sir Thomas Malory
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Way back in 2004, I was unable to review the then-new Norton Critical Edition of "Le Morte Darthur" (Winchester MS version -- see below) because I had already posted a review of the Penguin English Library/Penguin Classics edition (Caxton's text).
In the end, I wound up discussing Shepherd's treatment in a review of the Oxford Standard Authors edition, edited by Eugene Vinaver under the idiosyncratic title of "Malory: Complete Works."
Now that the NCE (Norton Critical Edition) has its own page, I've decided to slightly modify that combined review, and post it where I originally wanted it to go.
This is mainly a review of two old-spelling complete editions of the work commonly known as "Le Morte D'Arthur" (Anglo-Norman French for "The Death of [King] Arthur"), both available in paperback. The language they are in can be called either very late Middle English,...
The other reviews are spot-on. A presentation of Malory that strongly evokes the experience of reading the original manuscript, but at the same time gives plenty of help for the modern reader. Introduction, explanatory notes and glossary are finely judged. Note that this edition is in original spelling and is unabridged: a lower degree of difficulty (and faster pace!) can be found in Helen Cooper's abridged, modern-spelling edition (Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript (Oxford World's Classics)).
The editor, Stephen Shepherd, expresses some hesitation (p. xii) over the decision to break the text up into modern paragraphs, and not simply to reproduce the manuscript's placement of paragraph symbols in unbroken text. It's not a big issue, but I for one would have found this method attractive, the bold paragraph symbols (as I imagine) breaking up...
This is the definitive edition of the Winchester manuscript--hence, the best reasonably-priced printing of the "real" Morte d'Arthur. I rate it down solely because Norton's own editors and Mr. Shepherd were woefully remiss in failing to use one of the Norton layout's most powerful reader assists: marginal definitions of difficult words. The oversights in this case are glaring and just astonishing. Really difficult words--hundreds of them--go uncommented in the margins; occasionally they're picked up in numbered notes at the bottom, but far too infrequently. At the same time, some words that have either been repeatedly defined earlier in the text or are easy to figure out are again defined. An example? The word "the" meaning "thee;" it's an easy one to spot once you've read a few dozen pages, yet there it is, in "The Death of Arthur" at the end of this massive volume, defined again, while words like "disparbeled" and "neveawe" go...
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