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The Death of Arthur: Summary, Themes & Quiz

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Taught by

Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

The story of King Arthur is one of the most popular legends in medieval history. King Arthur had an eventful and strong reign as king but died in an unfortunate way at the hands of a family member. Learn more about the death of King Arthur and about important themes and symbols involved in King Arthur's legacy, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Introduction

King Arthur is known as one of the most popular kings from medieval times. There are a number of stories and pieces of literature written about King Arthur's reign. The most popular and historical story about King Arthur's death is a prose piece written by Thomas Malory entitled Le Morte D'Arthur. Although King Arthur tried to maintain structure and order as a king, betrayal by the people closest to him eventually led to his demise.

The Death of King Arthur

The Death of King Arthur

Arthur was born to King Uther and a woman named Igraine. His mother was married to another man. Arthur grew up with his foster father Sir Ector in secret. A magician named Merlin suggested it would be better if no one knew Arthur was the son of the King. Arthur served as squire for his foster brother and eventually became king because he pulled a sword from a stone. While he was king, Arthur was successful in defeating many enemies. King Arthur then decided to help others who needed assistance along with his Knights of the roundtable.

Merlin, a wise magician, helped Arthur in battles throughout Arthur's life. One of Arthur's best knights, Lancelot fell in love with King Arthur's wife Guinevere. Lancelot tried to resist his feelings for the queen by going on several quests to find The Holy Grail. Lancelot was unable to resist his desire for Guinevere and continued his affair with her; this eventually led to the downfall of Arthur's kingdom.

King Arthur wanted to punish his wife and his knight for their affair and planned to burn his wife at the stake. Lancelot saved Guinevere from her death. One of Arthur's knights, his son Mordred, wanted to become king and encouraged King Arthur to battle Lancelot. Mordred convinced everyone that King Arthur died in battle and Mordred overtook the throne. When King Arthur discovered his son's betrayal, he went home to reclaim his throne. While in battle with his son Mordred, King Arthur died and Mordred was also fatally wounded. After his death, King Arthur's body was sent on a boat down the Isle of Avalon, never to be seen again.

Themes in the Legend of King Arthur

A theme is the point or overall message of a story. There are a number of themes and symbols in the legend of King Arthur.

One theme of importance regarding the Death of King Arthur is trust. Trust is depicted in King Arthur's relationship and friendship with Lancelot, his best knight and his marriage to Guinevere. Recall that Lancelot eventually betrayed King Arthur by having an affair with King Arthur's wife. Merlin is also shown as a trustworthy character because he established a trusted relationship with King Uther and King Arthur. Merlin kept Arthur's true lineage a secret and helped King Arthur throughout his life.

Betrayal is another theme represented in King Arthur's legend. Betrayal is brought forth by Lancelot's relationship with the queen. The two people whom King Arthur trusted the most betrayed him with each other. Deception is another theme from King Arthur's legend. King Arthur expected his wife and his best knight to be loyal to him. Lastly, love is a theme in the legend of King Arthur. Love is shown in the relationship between King Arthur and Guinevere prior to her affair and then again between Lancelot and Guinevere.

Symbols in the Legend of King Arthur

A symbol is an object used to represent an idea or concept. There are a number of symbols in the legend of King Arthur, including the roundtable and the search for the Holy Grail.

Knights of the Roundtable

King Arthur tried to maintain peace in England and among his knights as well. The roundtable represents Arthur's view of fairness and equality. Arthur created the table to prevent conflict regarding ranks and feelings of importance between the knights. The roundtable was a central part of King Arthur's ability to maintain stability in England and helped bring the knights together during difficult times.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail is an important symbol in the legend of King Arthur because the knights of the roundtable searched for the Holy Grail until they found it. The Holy Grail was used by Jesus at the Last Supper; finding it represented achieving the highest form of purity. Sir Lancelot was not able to find the Holy Grail because his affair with Queen Guinevere was sinful and contradictory to the ideals of chivalry important during King Arthur's reign. Only three knights - Sir Bors, Sir Percival, and Sir Galahad - were pure enough to find the Holy Grail.

Lesson Summary

The legend of King Arthur is one of the most popular stories of medieval life. King Arthur was raised by a foster father although he was really the son of a king. The only way he was able to become king was by pulling a sword from a stone. As king, Arthur completed many battles and tried to help the less fortunate with his knights of the roundtable. Despite his good nature, King Arthur was betrayed by his wife Guinevere and his best knight Lancelot. The distraction of Guinevere and Lancelot's relationship led Mordred, King Arthur's son, to take over the kingdom. In the end, King Arthur was killed by his son in a battle over the kingdom.

There are a number of themes and symbols included in the legend of King Arthur. Some of the themes from King Arthur's story are deception, trust, betrayal, and love. Some symbols from King Arthur's legend are The Holy Grail and the roundtable, which represent different aspects of King Arthur's legacy and kingdom.

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