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King Arthur: History and Fiction

King Arthur: History and Fiction

(p.106) Three King Arthur: History and Fiction
The Danger of Romance
Karen Sullivan
University of Chicago Press

In the twelfth and the early thirteenth centuries, medieval thinkers disagreed about the historical value of accounts of King Arthur. Many historians of the time expressed skepticism about the more marvelous aspects of this king’s legend and even about his very existence. In the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate Cycles, the barons of the Kingdom of Logres doubt that the seemingly low-born youth who draws the sword from the stone is their rightful king. Some of Arthur’s vassals fail to recognize the greatness of his rule and his court to the point where they ally themselves with the traitor Mordred, rebel against their lord, and bring about the destruction of the kingdom. The most influential account of Arthur’s last days, The Death of King Arthur, stresses the uncertainty of the king’s last surviving retainer, who was the only eyewitness to these fantastical events and who could not make sense of what he saw. A great ruler, a great court, a great kingdom, these texts suggest, are never experienced in their full plenitude in the present, but are always remembered as something that occurred in the past or anticipated as something that will reoccur in the future.

Keywords:   King Arthur, Vulgate Cycle, Post-Vulgate Cycle, The Death of King Arthur, history, Excalibur, Avalon

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