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Mr. Reynolds' English Classes

Southgate Anderson High School

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Morte D'Arthur Summary

Before the story in our textbook begins, King Arthur's illegitimate son, Mordred, tries to take Arthur's throne while Arthur is away fighting a foreign war. When he learns about Mordred’s treachery, Arthur and his army return to England. One of Arthur's best knights, Sir Gawain, dies in battle on the way back.

Our story begins when Arthur is visited in a dream by the ghost of Sir Gawain. Gawain warns Arthur that he will die in battle the next day. Gawain then gives Arthur a way out. He tells Arthur to make a temporary peace with Mordred (one month) until Sir Lancelot, another of Arthur's knights, can arrive to help.

Arthur and Lancelot had once been best friends, but are now angry with each other because Lancelot had an affair with Arthur's wife. As bad as this is, both agree to put their differences aside to take down Mordred.

The day after this dream, Arthur goes to meet Mordred and discuss a treaty, but neither one trusts the other. Both Arthur and Mordred privately tell their own men to attack if a sword is brandished.

Unluckily, a knight is bitten on the foot by a snake. When he raises his sword to kill the snake, both sides charge and a monstrous battle breaks out. One hundred thousand participants are killed and, at the conclusion of the carnage, only four are left. Mordred, Arthur, and two of Arthur's men, Lucan and Bedivere.

Arthur and Mordred meet in single combat. Arthur runs his son through with his spear but simultaneously receives a mortal wound to the head. Lucan, who was badly wounded in the original battle, finally dies of his wounds while trying to assist the dying Arthur. Finally, only Arthur and Sir Bedivere remain alive.

The dying Arthur instructs Bedivere to cast the great sword Excalibur into the nearby lake. Bedivere, however, is greedy. He sees it as too valuable to waste, and hopes to keep it for himself, so he lies to the king, twice.

When Arthur asks Bedivere what happened when the sword hit the water, Bedivere says, "Nothing” or "The water turned dark and bubbled.” Arthur knows that this is a lie, because the sword is magical, and a different result would have occurred. Arthur is angered, and Bedivere is once again ordered to the lake.

This time, loyal Bedivere obeys his uncle and tosses the sword out over the water. A hand reaches up, grasps Excalibur, and draws it beneath the surface.

A magical boat arrives containing three queens clad in mourning—Arthur's sister, Queen Morgan la Fée; the queen of North Wales; and the queen of the Waste Lands, all accompanied by Nimue, the Lady of the Lake. Bedivere puts Arthur onto the boat, which then sails away.

As he is being rowed away, Arthur tells Bedivere he is going to Avalon (a possible earthly paradise) either to die or to recover from his wound.

Bedivere later discovers a chapel where a hermit tells him of a number of ladies who had visited at midnight with a corpse for him to bury. Bedivere chooses to stay at the chapel forever and pray for Arthur's return.

No one is certain that King Arthur is dead. The inscription on his tomb refers to him as the once and future king—he may come again if England needs him.

Site updated on March 19, 2018