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Spring in Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
As years go by the world moves through rituals, saplings and wildfires, birth and death. Of all earthly traditions there are only few ritual loved and revered by mankind as the change of the seasons. As winter burdens us we look forward to spring and feel warmer. There is fire in the middle of men’s chests as he breathes in the flowers starting their bloom and the grass smells freshly cut, and then it fades. The beginning of the end almost always surprises, “Is it really September?” summer goes by and the only thing left is to wait until it returns. There is strong evidence that half a century ago Sir Thomas Malory had the same feeling, certainly man has felt it before even then, even animals know it. But Sir Thomas Malory translated this feeling into prose and let it stand for life itself, this notion of constant transition. In his novel Morte D’Arthur, asthe main characters are placed on the cusp of their demise, Malory lets them represent the world around him, their change, Camelot’s change is inevitable, part of a cycle and neither they nor we may change our place in it. Lancelot’s quest is characterized by suggested rebirth, new beginnings because of those possibilities that come with a major shift. Any quest or deed that needs doing, whether it is completed or not, contributes to that change. The biggest comfort is that although it can be predictable or a surprise, good or bad, it never ceases.
As the chapter titled “The Conspiracy Against Lancelot and Guinevere” opens, the reader is thrust into May. The author toys with the reader and creates a contrast between the setting and the situation, death in the season of birth. It reveals a circular pattern of temporal motion in just the opening lines. Images of “fresh flowers” and “lusty heart[s]” are juxtaposed with winter’s “rough winds and blasts” then suddenly the narrator returns to May, but not how the reader left it. While “fresh” only a few lines before, “the flower of chivalry of all the world was destroyed and slain.” in this May and only a few pages are left until the Knights of the Round Table are practically extinct. Simply by setting such a bleak, wintery feeling of death in the middle of spring, Malory suggests the rebirth that must follow, hinting that it has already begun. By the end of the story King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot are dead but still it does not end, Morte D’Arthur continues to tell of Sir Bors, Sir Ector, Sir Blamour, and Sir Bleoberis, who “did many battles..., and there they died upon a Good Friday”. The last few chapters of the novel read as much like an obituary as an epic while Malory drives his point home. With all of its finality the story ends on the Friday before Easter. Life, like seasons, goes in a cycle. Whether you be man, myth, or messiah, at the very end one can always expect a new beginning. So as the tale finishes we are constantly reminded of the season, The Conspiracy Against Lancelot and Guineverestarts in May and the chapter titled “The Death of Arthur”, the end of the tale, finishes the Friday before Easter, a holiday celebrating rebirth. Out of the ashes and dust of the old. The new spring and new opportunities for the world to grow erupt, in spite of the times. As the season is a source of contrast, the story may seem to contradict itself. In reality, Malory displays the contrasts of life, hope felt in winter, despair in spring, the cycle of life, always turning.
Not content to let his message lie solely in symbolism, Malory kills perhaps the mightiest of his heroes to show death as an inevitable change and sign that new birth is coming. Lancelot, by the end of Morte D’Arthur, has already completed many hero’s journeys, perhaps more than anyone in Camelot, and he has proved himself not only a powerful knight, but a powerful ally and friend, but now he is on his last quest and the ower must come to a breaking point. Unlike his previous journeys, Lancelot’s last is not so glorious, nor does he survive it. As most hero’s journeys go there is a call for Lancelot but this time it is not chivalry or the need to do what is right, but lust. Lancelot looks like his unstoppable self as he fights and defeats the knights in Guinevere’s chamber who come to kill him for adultery and being a traitor. Later Lancelot rescues Guinevere from being burned at the steak, all very harrowing acts but likewise not uncharacteristic for Lancelot. The real change comes when he experiences his abyss with the killing of Sir Gawain, and so starts his repentance, his “rebirth”, and his path towards being a christian man. There are multiple interpretations. The more obvious would be that his rebirth was as a pure christian man and his transgressions forgiven. It could also be that Lancelot’s rebirth was his realization of his own fallibility, of his own lack of morality, because until recently Lancelot was the picture of chivalry, and there is evidence he thought himself equal to the king i.e. sleeping with his wife. Lancelot may have died in service of the church because he was truly holy or because he was guilty and ashamed. As the greats fall, whether on their own sword or another’s, room opens for greatness from beneath. While the demise of the great Lancelot is tragic, it allows the question ‘what is next?’ and thus Malory’s theme of rebirth continues.
Sir Thomas Malory simultaneously spins many wheels in his story, cycles of seasons, journeys, and lives come together, and at times contrast one another and in doing so they highlight each other and make the story behind them come into sharper resolve.