A couple weeks ago, I finished reading Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, and I thought it would be a really good book to do a review and takeaways post on. As I was reading, I realized that, as much as we often praise the chivalry of Arthur’s day, the morality of beloved Camelot was not up to par, when compared to Biblical standards.
For a moral society to flourish, there are three primary aspects of it that should be established. First, a moral society requires a leader or ruler who values morality, justice, and honesty. Second, a moral society should be composed of people willing to submit under a moral leader and embrace the moral standards that he sets, in so far as they comply with God’s laws. This brings up the final, yet most important, aspect that would establish a moral society. Since, moral standards will only take a society so far, ultimately, a moral society can only be moral if it is Christian and founded on the Biblical principles of God’s moral law, as defined in the ten commandments and summarized by Christ in Matthew 22:37-40 when He asserted, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” When love is shown by all to all, then a moral society will be able to truly prosper, as everyone will be looking out for each others’ well-fare and safety above their own. However, true Biblical love is found only through Christ, so it follows logically that a society must be Christian in order for godly love and obedience to be honestly enacted.
As seen in Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, King Arthur’s definition of a moral society is basically a society with no criminal activity, although secretly licentious behavior seems to be an accepted part of life. Despite the fact that it is not necessarily publicly praised, adultery runs rampant in Arthur’s kingdom. For example, when Morgan Le Fay gives Arthur the magical drinking horn for Arthur to determine if Guinevere has been unfaithful to him, only four ladies in the entire court of one hundred ladies pass the test, and the queen is one of the ladies who fails the test miserably. The fact that chivalrous love is not enough to prevent these women from being unfaithful should suggest that Arthur’s approach to and definition of a moral society ought to be remedied. Arthur believes that a simple Round Table and a Pentecostal Oath will be all it takes to create a moral society. According to Mallory, the Pentecostal Oath states, “The king established all his knights, and gave them that were of lands not rich, he gave them lands, and charged them never to do outrageousity nor murder, and always to flee treason; also, by no mean to be cruel, but to give mercy unto him that asketh mercy, upon pain of forfeiture of their worship and lordship of King Arthur for evermore; and always to do ladies, damsels, and gentlewomen succor upon pain of death. Also, that no man take no battles in a wrongful quarrel for no law, ne for no world’s goods. Unto this were all the knights sworn of the Table Round, both old and young. And every year were they sworn at the high feast of Pentecost.” However, as demonstrated by the unfaithfulness of almost all the ladies, moral standards alone are not enough to create a moral society. Even an oath taken as a yearly reminder was not enough to prevent extreme and covert sins from taking place within the very heart of Arthur’s court and family.
Camelot is different from the court of Tintagil because it has many dangerous and deadly knights to defend it. Additionally, King Arthur has a very powerful personal magician, named Merlin. However, despite these obvious physical differences, Camelot and the court of Tintagil were very similar because the two best knights of each court win the hearts of the queens, making them their secret mistresses. Lancelot, from Camelot, and Tristram, from the court of Tintagil, are both the most famous knights in their respective courts. Unfortunately, but seemingly foreseen, both of them have the same vices – both fall in love with the queen, and neither appears to think that there is nothing wrong with the situation. Both of these characters are dishonest and deceitful throughout their stories. Oddly, both Lancelot and Tristram even go crazy at some point in their lives and acquire rather unsteady minds before their deaths.
While King Arthur has a rather lame and hypocritical moral society, King Mark does not even attempt to create a moral society, but Jesus, on the contrary, creates a society of the highest moral degree – making Him and His eternal kingdom stand out among the rest of the legendary, mythical, and real life kinds. King Arthur believes that a yearly oath, a round table, and quests for the Holy Grail will keep his kingdom moral and pure. However, as seen in the constant murder, back-stabbing, and adultery throughout his kingdom, such is certainly not the case. Arthur believes that his knights are moral because of their outward actions, but he fails to realize the private sins that are lurking in their hearts and tearing his kingdom and family to ruins. Throughout the book, Arthur is oblivious to his circumstances, and when it comes to the true motivations of his knights, he is just as thick-headed and incognizant. Jesus, on the other hand, established a moral people founded on faith in Him and love for God and for all mankind. The reason that Christ’s moral society has worked out so much better than Arthur’s is primarily because of Who was the founder of it. While a flawed man created the moral society in which Arthur resided, a perfect Man and God created the moral society in which Christians live. Christ was not only completely aware of sin, but He did something about it. He conquered sin, so that His servants would be able to rise above it. This is something neither King Arthur nor King Mark could accomplish, and that is why, ultimately, a moral society can only flourish if it is thriving under the shadow of the cross of Christ.
So, all in all I did not really enjoy this book as much as I would have liked to. King Arthur is presented as a rather oblivious and incompetent king, and the famed Camelot is presented as extremely immoral, which was something I don’t think I noticed when I first learned of King Arthur and his Round Table in third grade. I revered him then and I loved his stories, and although I believe Christians can enjoy the knights’ adventures, I do not believe that Biblical morality and true kingship are well represented in this book.
In summary, here are my takeaways from this book:
~ Thomas Mallory did a fantastic job presenting Arthur and his kingdom with all his flaws as a man. Many romanticized views of Arthur have led readers to conclude that he was almost a perfect man and king.
~ Christians should learn from King Arthur’s lack of wisdom and discernment in his dealings with his court, and we should avoid falling into the same obliviousness to sin.
~ Morality is not defined by the people of a nation. Nor is it defined by its rulers. Rather, morality is ordained by God, and He alone has the final say of what is truly moral.
~ Christians should never forget Whom they are truly serving, no matter who may currently be in power, and we should strive to honor God in everything we do, not ourselves or our superiors.
Comment below if you have read this book or are looking forward to reading it.
Let me know what your thoughts are on these issues of morality.