Introduction: ‘Morte de Arthur’ is one of the most celebrated narrative poems of Lord Tennyson. It is in the form of an allegory. King Arthur and Sir Bedivere are in fact symbol of courage and moral qualities. But they are not mere abstractions. They are real human beings. Tennyson very nicely presented the character of both in the poem.
Background: King Arthur was a semi-legendary king of England during the 6th century. In course of time he to be known as the embodiment of wisdom, morality, virtue and knightly qualities. He laid the foundation of the institution of knighthood which came to be known as the Knight of the round Table or Round Table fellowship. These Knights of the Round Table were brave and honest persons. They were loyal and devoted to their masters. Among these knights Lancelot, Sir Bedivere very prominent. The entire narrative is steeped in medievalism.
Allegorical Interpretation:King Arthur is the symbol of moral life. He stands for duty, faithfulness and obedience of command Sir Bedivere is a man of the world. He stands for a hesitating and averring man of doubt, questioning. The doubting and questioning spirit of sir is ultimately overcome by the superior force of king. Worldly wisdom is ultimately overpowered by higher spiritual command. Guinevere, major figure in Arthurian legend, the wife and queen of King Arthur is the symbol of the Christian virtue, faith, hope and charity. The arm that emerges from the lake and tales down the word inside the lake is in fact the lady of the lake. And this stands for religion; the Excalibur is the sword which the church gives to holy man like King Arthur to fight against the vices and evils of the world. The sounds are the word of religion. It has the power to destroy evils and brings glory to the religious man. The thronging away of the word also has an allegorical meaning. When, the man, the spirit to whom the word was given as a gift to defend virtue that is passing way , the sword must go back to the given , the church so that later on it could be hauled over to some deserving man
Somber Thought: The beginning of the poem is highly stringing and suggestive. King Arthur had been a fighter all along his life. He has fought the last battle of his life. He is seriously wounded. All the Knights of the Round Table except Sir Bedivere were killed in the Seattle.
Belief in Truth ; Hatred of lies: King Arthur could make out that bold sir Bedivere was telling lies . He says , "This is a shameful thing for men to lie ". He charges (order) Bedivere to go again . Being a man of the word Bedivere argues with himself and arrives at the conclusion that the sword should not be thrown away but it should be preserved as a relic for the future generations . He hides the sword a second time and comes back and reports to the king as earlier . The king is emotionally hurt . He orders Sir Bedivere the 3rd time and warns that if he disobeyed the order he would kill him . Then he really obeys and then he comes and says to the knight what he really sees . There the king is satisfied . He again orders Sir Bedivere to throw him to the lake and he acts accordingly .
Faith in God: King Arthur firm faith in God and his sense of things is also reflected obidience in change . The philosophy of no change is the philosophy of stagnation and corruption. King Arthur ’s faith in God’s way remains firm and strong even in his dying state. King Arthur has supreme faith in prayer . He exhorts Sir Bedivere to pray .
Conclusion : Inspite of certain shortcomings pointed out by some critic the poem is an exquisite piece of literary output. It is a great masterpiece . It saturates in poetic Imegery
Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert,
2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta