le Morte D'Arthur
Le Morte D'Arthur was finished in the ninth year of the reign of Edward IV sometime between March 4, 1469 and the same date in 1470. It is thus, the last important English book written before the introduction of printing into England. Caxton's story of how the book was brought to him and he was induced to print it may be read about in his own preface. From this, we learn that he was not only the printer of the book, but to some extent its editor, dividing Malory's work into twenty-one books, splitting up the books into chapters, and supplying the "Rubrish'' or chapter-headings as well as a brief criticism of Malory's work. Caxton finished his edition the last day of July 1485, some fifteen or so years after Malory wrote his epilogue.
If the Morte D'Arthur was really written in prison and by a prisoner distressed by ill-health, no task was ever better suited to spend the long lonely hours. No earlier original story has yet been found for Book VII, for Chapter 20 of Book XVIII which describes the arrival of the body of the Fair Maiden of Astolat at Arthur's court, or for Chapter 25 of the same book with its discourse on true love; but the great bulk of the work has been traced to the "Merlin" of Robert de Borron and his successors (Books. I-IV), the English metrical romance La Morte Arthur of the Thornton manuscript (Bk. V), the French romances of Tristan (Books VIII-X) and of Launcelot (Books. VI, XI-XIX), and lastly to the English prose Morte Arthur of Harley MS. 2252 (Books XVIII, XX-XXI). As to Malory's work, critics have not failed to point out that he gives a worse version where a better one has come down to us in a different source; but of the skill and occasional genius with which he used his sources there is little dispute.
It is believed that Malory died leaving his work un-revised, and in this condition it was brought to Caxton, who prepared it for the press. New chapters are sometimes made to begin in the middle of a sentence, and in addition to simple misprints there are numerous passages in which it is impossible to believe that we have the text as Malory intended it. After Caxton's edition, Malory's manuscript must have disappeared, and subsequent editions are differentiated only by the degree of closeness with which they follow the first. Editions appeared printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1498 and 1529, by William Copland in 1559, by Thomas East about 1585, and by Thomas Stansby in 1634, each printer apparently taking the text of his immediate predecessor and reproducing it with modifications. Stansby's edition served for reprints in 1816 and 1856 (the latter edited by Thomas Wright); but in 1817 an edition supervised by Robert Southey went back to a copy of Caxton's text (only two are extant, and only one perfect!) in which eleven leaves were supplied from the Wynkyn de Worde's reprint. In 1868, Sir Edward Strachey produced a reprint of Southey's text in modern spelling, with the substitution of current words for those now obsolete, and the softening of a handful of passages likely to prevent the book being placed in the hands of boys. In 1889, a boon was conferred on scholars by the publication of Dr. H. Oskar Sommer's page-for-page reprint of Caxton's text, with an elaborate discussion of Malory's sources and is considered the standard exact or "diplomatic" text edition.
Dr. Sommer's edition was used by Sir E. Strachey to revise his Globe text, and in 1897, Israel Gollancz produced for the "Temple Classics'' a very pretty edition in which Sir Edward Strachey's principles of modernization in spelling and punctuation were adopted, but with the restoration of obsolete words and omitted phrases. Obvious misprints have been corrected, but in a few cases notes show where emendations have been introduced from Wynkyn de Worde. There is a recent critical text, edited by James Spisak, 1983, and a facsimile edition, edited by Paul Needham, 1976.
Until a mis-catalogued
fifteenth-century manuscript at Winchester College was finally recognized
in 1934 as Sir Thomas Malory's account of King Arthur and his knights, the
only authoritative text was that found in the two surviving copies of
William Caxton's 1485 printing. Unfortunately, its first and last pages
are missing, so Caxton remains the source for those passages. But it does
provide us with new insights into the work as there are thousands of minor
differences and a few very large ones between the Caxton and Winchester
Copland, William, ed. The Story of the Moste Noble and Worthy Kynge Arthur. London: Copland, 1557.
East, Thomas, ed. The Storye of the Most Noble and Worthy Kynge Arthur. London: East, 1578.
Stansby, William, ed. The Most Ancient and Famous History of the Renowned Prince Arthur King of Britain. London: Stansby, 1634.
The Works of Sir Thomas Malory (Oxford English Texts) by Thomas Malory and Eugene Vinaver (Hardcover - 1967
Malory's Le Morte D' Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table (Signet Classics Paperback) by Sir Thomas Malory, Keith Baines, and Robert Graves (Mass Market Paperback - Oct 2001
Le Morte D'Arthur: The Winchester Manuscript (Oxford World's Classics) by Thomas Malory and Helen Cooper (Paperback - May 14, 1998)
See Also Sir Thomas Malory
Malory: Complete Works by Thomas Malory (Paperback - Nov 17, 1977
Le Morte D'Arthur: Complete, Unabridged, Illustrated Edition by Sir Thomas Malory, John Matthews, and A-M Ferguson (Paperback - Aug 28, 2003