An Epic Hero For Modern Times


An Epic Hero For Modern Times Essay, Research Paper

An Epic Hero for Modern Times

In about 1470, Thomas Malory finished Morte d’ Arthur, the

first of the many legends written about King Arthur. Even in modern

times, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are a favorite

subject in movies, books, and plays. Often times this is so because the

Medieval Period in general, and King Arthur in particular, have an air

of mystery, romance, fantasy, and adventure that are popular themes in

all times and cultures. I compared Malory’s Morte d’ Arthur with

Camelot, a movie produced in 1967 that stars Richard Harris as King

Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere.

Camelot covers the period in Arthur’s life from when he meets

his future wife Guenevere to the beginning of his siege against Sir

Lancelot’s castle in France. The short excerpt of Morte d’ Arthur tells

of how King Arthur abandons his assault on Lancelot to defend

Camelot and all of England from Mordred. Because Camelot seems to

immediately precede Morte d’ Arthur and there is no overlap in the

story, the way the plot is handled in each work cannot be debated. I

will however, discuss the mood, tone, and characterization of a few

key figures in the two works.

One difference in character that I found was that in the

introduction to Morte d’ Arthur, Mordred is referred to as King

Arthurs nephew. Later in the text, when Arthur and Mordred are

fighting (p. 96, para.1) it says, “. . . so he smote his father King Arthur

with his sword holden in both hands, upon the side of the head . . .”

In Camelot, Mordred is Arthur’s illegitimate son, although he keeps

this a secret. This possibly explains the contradiction of Mordred’s

position in the two pieces. Another difference in the two works was

that in Camelot, Mordred tells Arthur, “I despise the sword, loathe the

spear, and I detest horses.” Yet in Morte d’ Arthur Mordred and

Arthur fight and before Arthur kills him, Mordred wounds Arthur

badly. In Malory’s work, I got the feeling that Mordred was a big,

burly, knight that loved a good fight. Yet in Camelot, Mordred is a

devilish-looking, puny, scheming, young man who turns down

Arthur’s offer of knighthood because he’s just not “that type.” Mordred

turns the knights against each other which destroys the Round Table

and brings King Arthur’s entire world crashing down around his ears.

The mood and tone of Camelot and Morte d’ Arthur are very

different in most parts. The majority of Camelot is cheerful, bright,

and hopeful as Arthur creates a new society of “might for right.” Only

towards the end of the movie when the viewer is overcome with a

sense of sadness and impending catastrophe does the mood change to

one of fatalistic tragedy. One cannot help but wonder about the part

that fate played in the society where the legends of King Arthur were

created. Like Romeo and Juliet, written about 120 years after Morte

d’ Arthur, which is filled with references to “starcrossed lovers,”

Camelot and Morte d’ Arthur could be examined from the standpoint

of fate in regards to character actions. Had Lancelot not decided to

come to Camelot to join the Round Table, and Mordred had never

been told that Arthur was his father, Camelot may have never been


The excerpt of Morte d’ Arthur is a more mysterious, magical,

and perhaps realistic view of the Medieval period than Camelot.

However, both works provide a glimpse back into the world of one of

the favorite “epic heroes” of modern times.

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