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Kingship, Justice, and The “Comyns” in The Tale Of King Arthur

  • Ruth Lexton
Chapter
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Part of the Arthurian and Courtly Cultures book series (SACC)

Abstract

Printing Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur in 1485, William Caxton made a deliberate decision to sell it to his public as “the noble and joy- ous hystorye of the grete conquerour and excellent kyng, kyng Arthur.” (Caxton’s Preface, cxlvi.21–22). In Caxton’s preface, Arthur’s greatness and excellence as a king are linked to proofs of his historicity, giving his achievements the status of fact: readers are urged to see Arthur as a hero-monarch and ideal national ruler. The success of Caxton’s strategy for Malory’s text, whether it is understood as a marketing ploy or a politi- cal program,1 is exemplified by continued use of the printer’s title, the Morte Darthur, which has stubbornly resisted attempts to abandon it in favor of a more neutral label that does not focus exclusively on Arthur’s death.2 Vinaver’s Works of Sir Thomas Malory, based on the Winchester Manuscript, a text that predates Caxton’s version and escaped his edito- rial hand, has become the edition of critical choice, but even this prefer- ence has done little to shift the attachment to Caxton’s title.3

Keywords

Deliberate Decision Cardinal Virtue Advice Literature Neutral Label Rightful Claimant 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    William Kuskin, Symbolic Caxton: Literary Culture and Print Capitalism (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 193–95. Russell Rutter, “Printing, Prophecy, and the Foundation of the Tudor Dynasty: Caxton’s Morte Darthur and Henry Tudor’s Road to Bosworth,” in Prophet Margins: The Medieval Vatic Impulse and Social Stability, ed. D. L. Risden, Karen Moranski, and Stephen Yandell, Studies in the Humanities: Literature-Politics-Society 67 (New York: Peter Lang, 2004), 125.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Kuskin, Symbolic Caxton, especially 16–20, 193–213; William Kuskin, “Reading Caxton: Transformations in Capital, Authority, Print and Persona in the Late Fifteenth Century,” New Medieval Literatures 3 (1999): 149–83; Thomas H. Crofts, Malory’s Contemporary Audience: The Social Reading of Romance in Late Medieval England, Arthurian Studies 66 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006), 40–60; Catherine Batt, Malory’s “Morte Darthur”: Remaking Arthurian Tradition (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 38–42.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    N. F. Blake, Caxton and His World (New York: London House and Maxwell, 1969), 110; D. Thomas Hanks Jr., “Textual Harassment: Caxton, de Worde and Malory’s Morte Darthur,” in Re-viewing the “Morte Darthur”: Texts, Contexts, Characters and Themes, Arthurian Studies 60, ed. K. S. Whetter and Raluca Radulescu (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2005), 30–32; Kevin Grimm, “Wynkyn de Worde and the Creation of Malory’s Morte Darthur,” in The Social and Literary Contexts of Malory’s “Morte Darthur” Arthurian Studies 42, ed. D. Thomas Hanks Jr. (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000), 137–40. Caxton’s (and later Wynkyn de Worde’s) textual apparatus also contributed to the picture of Arthur as the main focus of the book.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    N. F. Blake, “Caxton Prepares His Edition of the Morte Darthur,” Journal of Librarianship 8 (1976): 273; N. F. Blake, “Caxton at Work: A Reconsideration,” in The Malory Debate: Essays on the Texts of “Le Morte Darthur” Arthurian Studies 47, ed. Bonnie Wheeler, Robert L. Kindrick, and Michael N. Salda (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000), 250. The table of contents and preface were probably produced after the date in the colophon. Blake considers that although the chapter and book divisions were set up during compositing, it is possible that the titles were only added after printing. Terence McCarthy, “Old Worlds New Worlds: King Arthur in England,” in Hanks, Social and Literary Contexts, 7–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 8.
    Sean Cunningham, Henry VII (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 47–48Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Patricia Clare Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies: Arthurian Romance and the Making of Britain (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 195–98.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Mark Lambert, Malory: Style and Vision in “Le Morte Darthur” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975), 31.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Tomomi Kato, Concordance to the Works of Sir Thomas Malory (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1974), 868–70. Works, 35.16.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Laura K. Bedwell, “The Failure of Justice, the Failure of Arthur,” Arthuriana 21, no. 3 (2011): 5–13. I discuss the Pentecostal Oath in detail in chapter 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 26.
    Leopold G. Legg, English Coronation Records (Westminster: Archibald Constable, 1901), 82; Wilkinson “Notes,” 582; Percy Ernst Schramm, A History of the English Coronation , trans. by L. G. W. Legg (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937), 170–71 for comments on the Lytlington revision.Google Scholar
  11. 27.
    Nigel Saul, Richard II (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 25–27.Google Scholar
  12. 46.
    Gairdner, Gregory’s Chronicle, 215. See Mary Rose McClaren, The London Chronicles of the Fifteenth Century: A Revolution in English Writing (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2002), 30–33. McClaren provides information about the author who was unlikely to have been Gregory. For convenience, I will continue to refer to this text as Gregory’s Chronicle.Google Scholar
  13. 79.
    Paul Strohm, Politique: Languages of Statecraft between Chaucer and Shakespeare (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 21–22.Google Scholar
  14. 102.
    Daniel Wakelin, Humanism, Reading and English Literature 1430–1530 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 112–15; Lewis, Kingship and Masculinity, 24–25.Google Scholar

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© Ruth Lexton 2014

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  • Ruth Lexton

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