Arthur: the Once and Future King

The historical Arthur may have been a warrior chieftain of the late fifth or early sixth century, but by the Middle Ages he had acquired legendary status as the hero-king immortalised in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (printed 1485) with its famous tomb inscription promising that Arthur ‘ys nat dede (dead)’ but will one day return: ‘HIC IACET ARTHURUS, REX QUONDAM REXQUE FUTURUS’ (Here lies Arthur, the once and future king).

The story of Arthur and his wizard Merlin, the Knights of the Round Table, the adulterous love of Lancelot and Guinevere, the Quest for the Holy Grail and the eventual self-destruction of Camelot has inspired generations of writers, musicians and film makers, each finding different elements within the narrative that seem to speak to their own time and circumstance, ‘for herein may be seen noble chyvalrye, curtosye, humanytyé, frendlynesse, hardynesse, love, frendshyp, cowardyse, murdre, hate, vertue, and synne’ (Caxton’s preface to Malory).

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