Sir Thomas Malory, William Caxton, and Eugene Vinaver

        Like Chaucer, Malory is known to us only indirectly except for his "explicits" at the end of major tale segments. Those "explicits" tell us he styled himself a "knyght," he was in some sense a "presoner," and he finished his work in the ninth year of Edward IV's reign (1469-70). Other court documents unearthed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century indicate a "Thomas Malory" (variously spelled) was arrested for various crimes, including attempted murder, robbery, assault, and rape. Scholars interpret this information in several ways. First, no record of conviction survives for any of the charges, and false imprisonment was a typical way to put an enemy's allies out of a battle--you can see numerous instances of it in Malory's Arthurian narrative, as well. Second, there are a great many "Thomas Malory"s, many of them knights, who lived in England at this time, and there is no certainty that the author was the one responsible for all those crimes. The identification of the author with Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel, Warwickshire, has been contested by several scholars (see P.J.C. Field, "Thomas Malory: The Hutton Documents," Medium Aevum XLVIII:2 [1979], and William Matthews, The Ill-Framed Knight, Berkeley: U Cal. P., 1966). The Newbold Revel Malory was a major supporter of the Earl of Warwick, known as "The Kingmaker" for his decisive role in the Yorkist-Lancastrian dispute, and this has been offered as a good reason for his imprisonment on political charges. He also writes from the perspective common to a wide range of Warwickshire gentry landowners who were interested in their emerging nation's past, its literary and political culture, and their place in its changing, late-feudal society (see Christine Carpenter, Locality and Polity: A Study of Warwickshire Landed Society, 1401-1499, Cambridge: Cam. UP, 1992--333.3 C295ℓ  ).

        William Caxton published the first edition of Malory's work, which Caxton titled "Le Morte Darthur," in 1485, in the same month in which Henry Tudor invaded to defeat Richard III and claim the throne, and five or six years after the author's last explicit indicates he finished the manuscript (726). Due to the presence of offsets of wet ink from Caxton's edition on several leaves of the Winchester MS, we believe Caxton had that MS in his print shop in addition to the manuscript he worked from. At some point soon after, both manuscripts were lost until 1934 when W. F. Oakeshott discovered one in the safe in the director's bedroom at the Fellows' Library of Winchester College.  At the time, no-one doubted that Eugene Vinaver, the pre-eminent scholar of the French Arthurian romances, was the best person to edit the new manuscript.  However, World War II intervened and non-essential publications were postponed to save materiele for the war effort.   After the war ended, Vinaver returned to the editing project and produced the three-volume Oxford edition.  Vinaver's edition was fiinally published in 1947, and it attempted to demonstrate that William Caxton's first printed edition (1485) had falsely created the illusion of a single, coherent work out of a series of eight separate romances. Vinaver's argument came under immediate and somewhat successful attack by (mostly) American New Critics and a few British rebels, including D.S. Brewer and C.S. Lewis (see Essays on Malory, ed. J.A.W. Bennett, Oxford: Clarendon, 1963 and Malory's Originality, ed. R.M. Lumiansky, Baltimore: JHU, 1964). You are at your liberty to treat the text either way, but try to be consistent.  If you write about individual segments of the narrative as if they were self-contained literary works (e.g., "The Book of Syr Trystrams"), you are reading Vinaver's Malory.  If you write about events in multiple segments as if they had an artistic relationship to each other (e.g., Arthur's ambitions in creating the Round Table vs. his grief at its destruction before the Grail Quest and in the war between Gawain and Lancelot), you are reading the American critics' Malory.



































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































he facsimile edition of the Winchester MS which correspond to your edition's page 39 (bracket text starts at line 26), and pages 146 and 149 (the explicit ending the "Roman War" section and the start of the "Lancelot" segment). The first shows an example of a "crux" or scribal error marked with a cross and glossed in the right margin. The text in the shield reads "vertue & man=hode ys hyd wyth yn ye bodye" and it closely paraphrases the passage Vinaver renders "manhode and worship [ys hyd] within a mannes person" (39). The "ys hyd" was omitted by a scribe who jumped from the "w" of "worship" to the "w" of "within" on the copy text. How does the marginal gloss's emphasis on the "bodye" and its containment of "vertue" differ from what the printed text says? How might that affect our reading of combats in which knights promise "by the faith of my body" to perform the deeds they have promised in words? Who might be the original for that speaking face at the bottom of the shield?  Note that Caxton's edition, represented in this low-resolution photograph of the facsimile, inserts this marginal gloss within the narrative, itself.  We know the manuscript was in Caxton's print shop during the period when the edition was printed, though it was not the "copy text" Caxton followed--ink smudges on the manuscript, under microscopic analysis, proved to be offsets of freshly printed pages set in Caxton's distinctive type font.  What does that tell us about how the Winchester manuscript was used by the printer?

        The explicit which occurs about half-way down the folio is reproduced on a separate page of Vinaver's edition (146), and the rest of the text occurs on page 149.  Readers encounter blank pages, a title page for a new "work" with a title Vinaver gave it, and another blank page before they get to the text that followed the explicit immediately in the manuscript.  What is Vinaver up to when he makes the page break, and how does that relate to his reading of the Winchester MS? What would be the consequence of reproducing it as you see it in the manuscript?

        Finally, look back at the image of folio 23r again (p. 39 of Balyn) and try to find the punctuation you see in any part of Vinaver's text. What has happened here?