King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table: 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 inmost 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 'star crossed 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 destroyed. 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.