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

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


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


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© Ruth Lexton 2014

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  • Ruth Lexton

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