Le Morte D'Arthur
by Sir Thomas Malory
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
Well, we'll answer that question in a minute… But first, it's helpful to know that Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte D'Arthur by hand, in manuscript form. It wasn't until about ten years later, when the first printer in England – a Mr. William Caxton – decided to publish a copy, that the world got a print version of Le Morte.
When he was deciding what to call the book, Caxton relied on a copy of Malory's original manuscript. And, yup, that title happened to be Le Morte D'Arthur, a French phrase that means "The Death of Arthur."It might seem strange that a manuscript in English would have a title in French, but many of Malory's sources for his work were French; it's possible the person who copied down the manuscript just borrowed the title of one of them.
But its French-ness isn't the only strange thing about our title: it also really only refers to the last book of Malory's eight-book work, the one in which (you guessed it) Arthur dies. Just like us, Caxton thought this was mighty strange and, for that reason, gave the book a secondary title, one that he found at the end of the manuscript he was working with: The Hoole Book of Kyng Arthur and of His Noble Knyghtes of the Rounde Table.
Most people agree this is the title Malory intended, and we think it does a much better job of describing the book's contents. On the other hand, try saying (let alone spelling out) that every time you refer to it. It's a bit of a mouthful to say the least. Maybe that's the reason that we've always known Malory's Hoole Book as simply Le Morte D'Arthur.