The World of Sir Thomas Malory
Sir Thomas Malory (1415 – 1471) was an English writer, most famous as the author or compiler of a reworking of existing tales about the legendary King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table. Malory took existing French and English stories about these figures and added original material, effectively defining a base of stories known as Le Morte d'Arthur from which many other authors have drawn through the centuries. Le Morte d'Arthur was first published in 1485 by William Caxton. Modern Arthurian writers who have used Malory as their principal source include T. H. White (The Once and Future King) and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (The Idylls of the King). Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire, was a knight, land-owner, and Member of Parliament.
These quotes, mainly from Le Morte d’Arthur but including some from other works, show not only his wit and talent but give us a glimpse of the thinking of the Middle Ages too:
'But in those days, as rare old Chaucer tells, All Britain was fulfilled of miracles. So, as I said, the great doors opened wide. In rushed a blast of winter from outside, And with it, galloping on the empty air, A great green giant on a great green mare.’
'The very purpose of a knight is to fight on behalf of a lady.'
'Laugh if you will, my queen, but let me be a woman still. You fairies love where love is wise and just; We mortal women love because we must.’
'We shall now seek that which we shall not find.’
'And therein were many knights and squires to behold, scaffolds and pavilions; for there upon the morn should be a great tournament: and the lord of the tower was in his castle and looked out at a window, and saw a damosel, a dwarf, and a knight armed at all points.’
'Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place; and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the holy cross.'
'But she pursued them through their tangled lair And caught them, and put fire-flies in their hair; And then they all joined hands, and round and round They danced a morris on the moonlit ground.'
'The sweetness of love is short-lived, but the pain endures.'
'Do thou thy warste,' seyde Mordred, 'and I defyghe the!'
'In the midst of the lake Arthur was ware of an arm clothed in white samite, that held a fair sword in that hand.’
'And therefor, sir,' seyde the Bysshop, 'leve thys opynyon, other ellis I shall curse you with booke, belle and candyll.'
'For I have promised to do the battle to the uttermost, by faith of my body, while me lasteth the life, and therefore I had liefer to die with honour than to live with shame ; and if it were possible for me to die an hundred times, I had liefer to die oft than yield me to thee; for though I lack weapon, I shall lack no worship, and if thou slay me weaponless that shall be thy shame.'
'O Merlin', said Arthur, 'Here hadst thou been slain for all thy crafts had I not been.' 'Nay,' said Merlin, 'Not so, for I could save myself an I would; and thou art more near thy death than I am, for thou goest to the deathward, an God be not thy friend.'
'Enough Is as Good as a feast.'
'And when matins and the first mass was done, there was seen in the churchyard, against the high altar, a great stone four square, like unto a marble stone; and in midst thereof was like an anvil of steel a foot on high, and therein stuck a fair sword naked by the point, and letters there were written in gold about the sword that said thus:—Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England.'
'They both laughed and drank to each other; they had never tasted sweeter liquor in all their lives. And in that moment they fell so deeply in love that their hearts would never be divided. So the destiny of Tristram and Isolde was ordained.'
'Then he looked by him, and was ware of a damsel that came riding as fast as her horse might gallop upon a fair palfrey. And when she espied that Sir Lanceor was slain, then she made sorrow out of measure, and said, 'O Balin ! two bodies hast thou slain and one heart, and two hearts in one body, and two souls thou hast lost.'
'And thus it passed on from Candlemass until after Easter, that the month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in like wise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May, in something to constrain him to some manner of thing more in that month than in any other month, for divers causes. For then all herbs and trees renew a man and woman, and likewise lovers call again to their mind old gentleness and old service, and many kind deeds that were forgotten by negligence. For like as winter rasure doth alway arase and deface green summer, so fareth it by unstable love in man and woman. For in many persons there is no stability; for we may see all day, for a little blast of winter's rasure, anon we shall deface and lay apart true love for little or nought, that cost much thing; this is no wisdom nor stability, but it is feebleness of nature and great disworship, whosomever useth this. Therefore, like as May month flowereth and flourisheth in many gardens, so in like wise let every man of worship flourish his heart in this world, first unto God, and next unto the joy of them that he promised his faith unto; for there was never worshipful man or worshipful woman, but they loved one better than another; and worship in arms may never be foiled, but first reserve the honour to God, and secondly the quarrel must come of thy lady: and such love I call virtuous love. But nowadays men cannot love seven night but they must have all their desires: that love may not endure by reason; for where they be soon accorded and hasty heat, soon it cooleth. Right so fareth love nowadays, soon hot soon cold: this is no stability. But the old love was not so; men and women could love together seven years, and no licours lusts were between them, and then was love, truth, and faithfulness: and lo, in like wise was used love in King Arthur's days. Wherefore I liken love nowadays unto summer and winter; for like as the one is hot and the other cold, so fareth love nowadays; therefore all ye that be lovers call unto your remembrance the month of May, like as did Queen Guenever, for whom I make here a little mention, that while she lived she was a true lover, and therefore she had a good end.'
'I shall bere your noble fame, for ye spake a grete worde and fulfilled it worshipfully.'
'Now, said Sir Ector to Arthur, I understand ye must be king of this land. Wherefore I, said Arthur, and for what cause? Sir, said Ector, for God will have it so; for there should never man have drawn out this sword, but he that shall be rightwise king of this land'
'for it is better that we slay a coward, than through a coward all we to be slain.'
'...and there encountered with him all at once Sir Bors, Sir Ector, and Sir Lionel, and they three smote him at once with their spears, and with force of themselves they smote Sir Lancelot's horse reverse to the earth. And by misfortune Sir Bors smote Sir Lancelot through the shield into the side...'