Morte Darthur Essay, Research Paper
The Forgotten Code of Honor
We have all heard of the noble King Arthur and his stouthearted knights of the round table.
Their tales of chivalry and romance have born some of the best literature these eyes have ever seen.
One may ask, “where have these men who would risk their lives for honor, and for love?”
Looking through the eyes of a modern-day woman, I can say that I have yet to meet a man that has
even come close to the likes of Sir Lancelot. Observing Morte Darthur more closely, one may see
that the code of honor followed by these men has long since been forgotten. We can see that honor
is looked upon with great respect, as is bravery and honesty. These are all values that come few
and far between in today’s modern man. The values that King Arthur and his men frowned upon, however,
seem to be on the rise. In Morte Darthur we see deceit, dishonesty, and hate bring misfortune to all of
It is obvious that the good and noble Sir Lancelot is looked upon as one of strong character and integrity.
He has saved many lives in battle and most of the Knights have never forgotten his bravery. His friends out
number his foes by far as we see in the beginning of our story. Even the knights that are closest to the
King defend Sir Lancelot against the slander that Sir Agravain and Sir Mordred say about him. This example makes
it clear that honor and bravery are very important in the “code of ethics”, if you will, that this society adheres to.
Even King Arthur himself has been suspicious of the affair between his Queen and his best knight, but choose to ignore
it so as not to lose such a noble man as Sir Lancelot. Looking even closer we can see that Sir Agravain and Sir Mordred
are looked down upon for even thinking of shaming Lancelot in such a manner. The knights forewarn these men that they will
meet their misfortune if they tell their story of infidelity to the King.
Once all is told Sir Agravain and Sir Mordred devise a deceitful design to catch Sir Lancelot with Queen Guinevere.
It seems a bit peculiar that they would punish betrayal by using trickery themselves. To the reader’s surprise,
King Arthur concedes and the two ill-fated knights meet their doom. One can see that the moral behind this tale
is that only bad things can happen to those who are secretive and hateful. The noble Lancelot prevails, reinforcing
the importance of bravery and honor in the “heroic code” imposed by the society of this time period. Also mentioned
several times in Morte Darthur is the inevitable saving of Queen Guinevere by Sir Lancelot. This brings another aspect
of heroism that we have rarely seen in literature before this time. Not only is Sir Lancelot brave and strong, but he
also has a little romance about him. One could assume that this characteristic was also on the list of “must have’s”
during this time, although it is only implied in this reading.
While we have found many different traits that are accepted by society in the day of King Arthur and his courageous knights,
there are also some characteristics that were frowned upon. It is made perfectly clear that the secret hatred Sir
Agravain and Sir Mordred hold for the Queen and her knight, is completely unacceptable. Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth say
several times that they will have nothing to do with the two dishonest men. Not only were these two secretive but they
deliberately disclosed this private affair to one whom it would hurt badly. Many of the knights would not hear of shaming
the King or Sir Lancelot in such a manner. In fact, the King himself denied the accusations at first; he wanted proof
that these men were telling the truth. Once all doubt is removed from their tale and we find Sir Lancelot in the Queen’s
chamber, yet another unacceptable action is revealed. During this dialog we can see that shame is something that a knight
must not have. The word is mentioned several times with extremely negative connotation. The best example can be found when
the lovely Guinevere states that she would die if only Lancelot could escape. Our noble hero answers: “God defend me from such a shame!”
Clearly one can interpret that as saying that a man may as well die himself than to be shamed by a woman.
In the tale of Morte Dartur we can learn a lot about the code of honor these men lived their lives by. We can also get a taste
of what it must have been like to be a hero, a knight in shining armor in those wonderful days of chivalry. There are several
traits illustrated to us in this reading that one must possess to achieve knightly status. These include honor, integrity, bravery,
and honesty. Both Sir Lancelot and King Arthur are excellent examples of men who take these values seriously. As we have learned
what is acceptable, we have also seen what is not: hate, deceit, and secretive intentions are all qualities that Sir Aagravain and Sir Mordred possessed.
In the end, the code of honor followed by these two turned out to be a path to misfortune.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature 17th edition