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After the battle on Salisbury field, the ending of the Morte Darthur seems littered with corpses, yet Arthur fades into the realm of Avalon, his body is lost to view, “the ermyte knew nat in sertayne that he was verily the body of kynge Arthur” (Works, 1242.19–20). Arthur’s royal body is hidden from our sight and Malory chooses instead to focus his final episode on the fate of Lancelot and Guinevere, a muted acknowl- edgment that these are his central characters.1 Shifting the attention away from the king, Malory also implies that Arthur’s dead body, with all the doubt that surrounds it, perhaps more successfully represents the upheav- als of national identity and political ideals in fifteenth-century England than his living incarnation. Much of Malory’s laudatory language around Arthur evinces the tension between the need to see him as the “most kynge” and the obvious failings of the Arthurian polity, between the requirement to be “hole togydirs” and the underlying rifts in the fellow- ship of knights. The struggle in the final books over desired bodies— Lamerok’s, Guinevere’s, the body of the Round Table fellowship—and the contested language that surrounds them is ultimately concentrated in the unfulfilled longing for the body of the king.
KeywordsNational Identity Round Table Political Ideal Final Book Medieval Literature
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