Malory's Writing Career: Translator, Compiler, Forger, "Fictionist"/Mythographer/Hagiographer
One sign of Malory's changed attitude toward his work, from the pious translation of the Grail Quest to the radical changes he makes in the "Morte" proper, is the shift in his incipits and explicits. I've collected all twenty of Malory's incipits and explicits, the starting and stopping indicators he writes in his own voice, sometimes naming himself or otherwise identifying himself in a gesture scholars call an "authorial signature." Together, they form a kind of "sewing" by which the compilation is assembled. What patterns do you see there? I also have made a web page of an Excel graph of the frequency with which Malory uses variations on "the Freynsche booke sayeth" to bolster his authority (usually when inventing new material). To see a spreadsheet of the text of the "FB" utterances and notes on whether they occur in Malory's sources or not, click here. Ditto for the distribution of "Month of May" (AKA "reverdie") transitions. Those are uniquely associated with episodes in which erotic activity, or the threat of erotic activity, occurs in Malory's source.
Malory writes from the perspective of an aristocrat of the old, Medieval order, nostalgic for a lost golden era which he appears to believe he can recapture in his Arthurian narrative. Caxton, Malory's printer and contemporary, is already living in the new, Early Modern order of capital formation, trade, and upward mobility. Click here for a side-by-side comparison of their lives. For an illustration of the Medieval convention of "disembodied hands" doing the miraculous work of God on earth, click here.
Before you finish reading your first section of Malory, take a quick look at this short page that graphically depicts Malory's varied ways of interacting with his sources. Keep in mind that, when Malory was writing (c. 1460-70), and for decades afterward, Arthur was considered a historical figure, and Malory links him to prophecies of a sacred king's return which were used to support the rival claims to the throne of Henry VI and Edward IV. The library's copy of John Hardyng's Chronicle (1543) contains careful annotations of events involving Merlin and Arthur. Only the public's increasing historical sophistication led to disbelief in his conquest of Rome, and the Protestant Reformation rapidly eroded English taste for the miracles of the Grail Quest and the English sought other evidence of the legitimacy of their state.