Le Morte d’Arthur retells the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The medieval setting of the literary piece is traced through the use of outdated language that describes the atmosphere, social relations, and the environment of the medieval times. However, the themes of love, friendship, loyalty, and betrayal are universal and transcend the times, which is why the work remains relevant to this day. Moreover, as suggested by historians and analysts, the Arthurian legend is an important piece of cultural heritage that was accumulated throughout the centuries. Among the abundance of the themes that were explored in Le Morte d’Arthur, the dichotomy of loyalty and betrayal is highly important and warrants exploration. While loyalty has been a crucial part of Arthur’s ascend to the throne as he built friendships and developed connections with other people, betrayal was close, with his friends becoming enemies.
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As a king, Arthur had to surround himself with many people who would either become loyal to him or betray him in the future. In the piece, the king’s knights show their extensive loyalty and support for him by showing that they are willing to go to war for him. Therefore, all of Arthur’s political wishes were fulfilled, and the definition of loyalty in the narrative is so severe that Launcelot does no fight Arthur despite the fact that the king invades his land. His loyalty to Arthur in the future is reiterated by the author several times: “sir Launcelot is an hardy knight […] he is the best knight […] and I know no knight that is able to match him” and “sir Launcelot had done so much for him and the queen so many times, that wit ye well the king loved him passingly well” (Malory, 1999, p. 264). Knights such as Launcelot got the highest praise from Arthur because they did not only swear loyalty to the king but also helped the commoners believe in their ruler who would never break his word.
The connections that Arthur develops with his knights teaches an important lesson that one must be loyal and respect other people no matter what happens in life as people are mostly remembered by the good things that they do throughout the lifetime. The theme of loyalty has transcended history and is even traced back to the Bible: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “Laying for their friends” was something that the knights of the Round Table did, with their unity in the face of adversity being a strong force for victory and prosperity.
Despite modeling the ideas of friendship and loyalty, betrayal also had a tremendous impact on the storyline of Le Morte d’Arthur, and is manifested in various ways, ranging from being disloyal to a spouse or going behind another person’s back. From the very beginning of the story, the first act of betrayal is exhibited by Sir Accalon of Gaul whom was considered a friend by the king that had no idea that he was planning an assassination. Being betrayed by one of the king’s knights is illustrative of situations in life when the closest friends give ‘a stab in the back’. However, it is important to remember that Arthur’s sister was closely involved in the plot to kill Arthur, and she, Morgan Le Fey, was the one who managed to seduce Sir Accalon into the idea that he could become the most powerful king. Trying to instill a false confidence that he could surpass Arthur in power and influence, Morgan gave him the Excalibur. Nevertheless, the king understands that Accalon himself fell victim of betrayal and forgives him as Morgan was the one behind the plan. The themes of forgiving betrayal is also discussed in the Bible as they are universal to the human nature. In Matthew 6:14-15, it is said “for if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Therefore, Arthur shows a model behavior as prescribed by the Scripture and finds power in himself to forgive the past indiscretions of his friends in order to move forward.
To conclude, the story of King Arthur is a multi-dimensional narrative with its twists and turns. Focusing on episodes that illustrate loyalty and betrayal allow readers to understand that such themes are universal to human nature and were relevant at the times of the knights and the Round Table. The story teaches using one’s inner power to forgive the mistakes of people who could be loyal friends but made the wrong decisions. The connections that can be made between Arthur’s decisions and the Biblical teachings show the significant influence of the Christian religion on the life of the knights while the transcendence of the themes discussed is illustrative of the fact that human beings do not change.
Malory, T. (1999). Le morte d’Arthur. Modern Library.