Malory's Explicits and Incipits

        The Medieval Latin terms, incipit and explicit, were used to note where in a manuscript a given work started and stopped.  These markers were necessary because the print apparatus of "title pages" and "chapter pages" had not yet been invented.  Readers needed navigation aids, and buyers needed evidence that the texts contained in the manuscripts were complete.  Malory never uses incipit, though he does sometimes tell us when a narrative unit "begynneth," but he always indicates the ends of narrative units with explicits or declarations the tale "endyth," though they often also point toward the beginning of the next narrative unit.  Authorial "signatures" or self-namings, including naming by paraphrasis ("hym that this wrote") occur in the bold-faced explicits.  Page numbers refer to the three-volume hard-cover edition, but you can quickly locate most of them in the paperback edition by looking at the ends of major sections that Vinaver divides with blank pages and title pages.

* * * * * * * * *

But whan the messynge com to the kynge Royns than was he woode oute of mesure and purveyde hym for a greete oste as hit rehersith aftir in the booke of Balyne le Saveage that folowith nexte aftir that was the adventure how Balyne gate the swerde. (22r/56)

[NB: not “the adventure how Balyne struck the dolorous stroke”--the emphasis on acquiring the sword seems related to the change Malory makes in what will happen to it--it becomes first Galahad's sword in the Grail Quest, then Launcelot's, the sword with which Launcelot will kill both Gareth and Gawain.]

Merlin embeds B’s sword in a marble block to test Galahad’s identity “And on Whytsonday he enchyved the swrde as hit ys rehersed in the booke of the Sankgreall” (34r/92).  [ . . . ]  Thus endith the tale of Balyn and Balan ii brethirne that were borne in Northhumbirlonde that were ii passynge good knyghtes as ever were in tho dayes.

Explicit.  (34r/92)  [Blank page and following folio begins with a very large decorated initial][1] 

[Again emphasis on their being “good knyghtes” rather than Balyn’s dolorous stroke, the “second Eve” theme, or even his mistortunes—their goodness for TM resides in something they have done, which the previous “explicit” identifies with the war against Royns and Balyn’s having “gate the swerde” with which he fights Royns in Arthur’s service.]

Here begynnith the fyrst batayle that ever sir Gawayne ded after he was made knyght.  (37v/103)[2]

And thus endith the adventure of sir Gawayne that he dud at the mariage of Arthure.  (39v/109)[3]

And here endith the queste of sir Torre kynge Pellynors sonne.  (42r/114)[4]

[All of these run in with the text in caps, as if a gloss incorporated into the text, perhaps by scribal error (Field “Malory’s Own”)?  The pattern suggests Malory considered these episodes parts of Arthur’s wedding—not a “tale” or “booke” or even “history” of Arthur’s wedding, but functional elements of the ceremony’s significance.  This is strongly implied, both in Malory and in his source, by the juxtaposition of the wedding’s celebratory feast with Merlin’s announcement of the imminent arrival of the deer, brachet and lady.]

Explicit the weddyng of kyng Arthur.  (44v/120)

[The “Explicit” occurs on a separate line leaving half a page blank, and the next page starts with a decorated capital.  Malory has added the Pentecostal oath and removed Merlin’s revelation to Arthur that a child will destroy the land.  The source’s Merlin recounts the previous adventures to Blaise, and the narrator explains his increasing infatuation with the damsel Pellinore brought to court.  Malory breaks the narrative at this point with a formal end to the wedding before recounting Merlin’s final prophecies and his entombment by Nenyve.]

**Here endyth this tale as the Freynshe booke seyth fro the maryage of kynge Uther unto Kyng Arthure that regned aftir hym and ded many batayles.  And this booke endyth whereas sir Launcelot and sir Trystrams com to courte.  Who that woll make ony more lette hym seke other bookis of kynge Arthure or of sir Launcelot or sir Trystrams for this was drawyn by a knyght presoner sir Thomas Malleorre that God sende hym good recover.  Amen.  Explicit.  (70v/180)

[The “tale” with the FB authority gesture appears to mean the telling or tallying of events from Uther’s marriage to the end of Arthur’s “many batayles” to achieve control of his kingdom.  He refers to his act of composition using "to draw" (Cf. OF transporter and traire), emphasizing movement from one culture to another.  He refers to “this booke” in the same way the Suite’s narrator refers to “livre,” a physical unit or gathering, which in this case ends with Lancelot at court.  However, Trystram is only mentioned in passing as the knight who kills Marhaute, so the prospectus aspect of the explicit clearly anticipates the opportunity to introduce him, as well as more tales of Lancelot.  He refers to “bookis of kynge Arthure” etc. similarly suggesting that he thinks of them as containers rather than necessarily unified tales in themselves.  Hence the emphasis on reading the book “from the begynnyng to the endyng” in the last explicit, because the completeness of the reading is not guaranteed by the seamless uniformity of the contents.]

Here endyth the tale of the noble kynge Arthure that was emperoure hymself thorow dygnyte of his hondys.  And here folowyth afftyr many noble talys of sir Launcelot de Lake.  Explicit the noble tale betwyxt kynge Arthure and Lucius the emperour of Rome.  (96r/247)

[Since all of the Roman War segment comes from the same source, which Malory follows closely, the reference to “the tale” seems to indicate a sense that all its episodes are one unit, whereas the forthcoming “many noble talys” come from widely separated episodes chosen from the Prose Lancelot.  This Malory calls “many noble talys” at the transition between them, but by the last line he sees it as “a noble tale,” more a unity than the collection of “talys” he was assembling.  That is, it took on unity as he worked with it, assuming the form of a unit he would call “a noble tale.”

Explicit a noble tale of sir Launcelot du Lake.  (113r/287)

[The explicit was preceded by a summation of Lancelot's career at this point: "And so at that tyme sir Launcelot had hte grettyste name of ony knyght of the worlde, and moste he was honoured of highe and lowe" (113r/287).  Immediately thereafter, the link to Gareth's narrative: "Here folowyth sir Garethis tale of Orkeney that was callyd Bewmaynes by sir Kay" (113r/287).  Rather than dividing the two narratives, the combined effect of those three lines connects Lancelot's prowess and fame with Gareth's establishment of his identity using Lancelot's assistance.  Neither contains a self-referential gesture by Malory or a mention of his compositional practice.]

And I pray all you that redyth this tale to pray for hym that this wrote that God sende hym good delyveraunce sone and hastely.  Amen.  Here endyth the tale of sir Gareth of Orkeney.  (148r/363)

[This resembles most the last explicit and the first full one in that Malory specifically solicits the prayers of his readers and some form of “delyveraunce” from his predicament.  As in the Lancelot “tale,” Malory appears to consider this a single narrative unit.  It differs from both in that it is the only instance in which he uses the verb "to write" in describing what he has done.]

Here begynnyth the fyrste boke of sir Trystrams de Lyones and who was his fadir and hys modyr and how he was borne and fostyrd and how he was made knyght of kynge Marke of Cornuayle.  (148v/371)

Here levyth of the tale of sir Lamerok and of syr Trystramys and here begynnyth the tale of syr la cote Male Tayle that was a good knyght.  (187r/451)

Here begynnyth the turnement of the Castel Maydyns the fyrste day.  (213v/523)

Now turne we fro this mater and speke of sir Trystram of whm this booke is pryncipall off.  And leve we the kynge and the quene and sir Launcelot and sir Lamerok.  And here begynnyth the treson of kynge Marke that he ordayned agayne sir Trystram.  (277r/670, 675)

[NB: “the kynge” is understood to be Arthur, not “kynge Marke,” even though the book is “pryncipall off” Trystram.  M clearly supposes we still are in a realm ruled by Arthur above other kings.]

Here endyth the secunde boke off syr Tystram de Lyones whyche drawyn was oute of Frenyshe by sir Thomas Malleorre knyght as Jesu be hys helpe.  Amen.  But here ys no rehersall of the thirde booke.  But here folowyth the noble tale off the Sankegreall whyche called ys the holy vessell and the sygnyfycacion of blyssed bloode off oure lorde Jesu Cryste whyche was brought into thys londe by Joseph off Aramathye.  Therefore on all synfull blyssed lord have on thy knyght mercy.  Amen.  (246v/845-6).

[Malory’s references to the “boke” of Trystram appear different from other usages, corresponding to the French “livre” in which he found his source, even translating the term though there was no physical book ending before him.  This marks his earliest, least sophisticated sense of how to refer to his larger and smaller narrative units.  The double “but” transition to the Grail quest may reflect the effort to join an already written Grail narrrative, begun before the “Trystram” was put together, to its preceding narrative stem containing the birth of Galahad and the development of the struggles for worship among Arthur’s knights, especially the pantheon of Gawayne, Lamorak, Gareth, Trystram, Palomydes, and Lancelot.  That helps explain the somewhat awkward intra-narrative transitions referring to the key chivalric subjects which motivate the project, much like the earlier references to Balyn and Balan, Gawayne, Torre, Pellynore, Lancelot and Trystram.]

Thus endith the tale of the Sankgreal that was brefly drawy[n] oute of Frenynshe which ys a tale cronycled for one of the trewyst and of the holyest that ys in thys worlde by sir Thomas Maleorre knyght.  O blesse Jesu helpe hym thorow hys myght.  Amen.  (409r/1037).

[This “tale” ending is perhaps the earliest ending stage in Malory’s project, halting a pious, even penitential task whose assemblage is justified on the grounds of its truth (viz., C15 unwavering, stable faithfulness) and holiness, identifying Malory fully as the author/donor, which would have been unnecessary after the end of the Roman War explicit, and praying directly for himself rather than invoking the prayers of others.]

And bycause I have loste the very mater of Shevalere de Charyot I departe from the tale of sir Launcelot and here I go unto the morte Arthur and that caused sir Aggravayne.  And here on the othir syde folowyth the moste pyteuous tale of the morte Arthure saunz Gwerdon par le shyvalere sir Thomas Malleorre knyght.  Jesu ayde ly pur voutre bone mercy.  Amen.  (449r/1153)

[NB there is no “othir syde”—the “In May” naturingang begins on the next line below “Amen” on 449r. The similarity between this explicit and the one ending the Grail quest may result from Malory’s having reread it in the course of revising the narrative sequence to insert these transitional devices.  He describes his writing as his personal "departure" from the Lancelot narrative and "going" to "the morte Arthur" as if fusing his will with his text in the process of composition.]

Here is the ende of the hoole book of kyng Arthur and of his noble knyghtes of the rounde table that whan they were hole togyders there was ever an hondred and forty.  And here is the end of the deth of Arthur.  I pray you all jentylmen and jentylwymmen that redeth this book of Arthur and his knyghtes from the begynnyng to the endynge praye for me whyle I am on lyve that God sende me good delyveraunce.  And whan I am deed I praye you all praye for my soule.  For this book was ended the xi yere of the reygne of kyng Edward the Fourth by sir Thomas Maleore knyght as Jesu helpe hym for hys grete myght as he is the servaunt of Jesu both day and nyght.  (1260)

[He never uses the verbs "to draw" or "to write," only the verb "to end," signaling his intention to close the book on this and, perhaps, all other narrations of "Arthur and his knyghtes."

[1] Kato’s concordance misses this and all other instances of “Explicit” except those on Vinaver’s pages 247 and 287.

[2]   “Mais ore en laisse li contes a parler de Pellinor et de Tor, et coumenche a parler de Gavain et des aventures ki li avinrent en sa queste” (Suite II: 81).

[3]   “Mais oe laisse li contes a parler del roi et de Merlin et de toute celle compaignie pour conter de Tor le fil a Arès et de che que il avint en sa queste” (Suite II: 100-1).

[4]   “Mais ore s’en taist li contes et s’en retourne au roi Pellinor” (Suite II: 115).