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A Question Of Texts When EugèneVinaver decided to make the newly-discovered Winchester Manuscript ofMalory'sworkthe basic text fot his edition, itwas because as compared with the Caxton text it was the less well-known and also, in the words which Bedier used when editing the Laidel'Ombre, 'celui...qu'on est le moins souvent tente de corriger.'1 Vinaver's claim for the superiority of Winchester is, however, somewhat modified: 'not because it is in every respect the nearest to the original, but because it is so in some parts' (Works, p. cxxi). Through the long stretch of Le Morte Darthur there are scores, perhaps hundreds, ofcases where for avarietyofreasons the Winchester text has minor readings that are more acceptable than the Caxton readings. But it may be doubted that Vinaver was thinking ofthese. Most probably he had in mind the different explicits by which Caxton in his view deceived readers into thinking that Malorywrote one book rathet than eight unconnected romances and also the radically different version ofthe Roman War (BookV in Caxton) which he asserts was the printer's own doing: Caxton's rendering is not only a drastic abridgement, but a new work, and to reprint it as some publishers still do under Malory's name is at best misleading. Puzzled by the archaic character ofthe TaU, Caxton, 'simple person', reduced ir to less than halfits size, and while doing so rewrote it from beginning to end, with the result that until now it has not been possible to form an accurate idea either of the content of the story or of its position among Malory's romances. (Works, p. xxx) This attribution, which has been accepted unquestioningly by many Malory scholars, is the main subject ofthis chapter Even before the discovery ofthe Winchester Manuscript, it had long been known that Malory's account ofthe Roman War had been reduced from the first three-quarters of a northet? alliterative poem entitled Morte Arthure? This poem, written fairly late in the fourteenth century, survives in a single and rather poor copy written by Robert Thornton about 1430. Not only did Malory use it for the Roman War episode, but a good many quotations and echoes from it occur elsewhere in his writing, particularly in the last section of his work. 93 94ARTHURIANA The poem may be said to be a heroic tragedy that deals first with Arthur's rise to a climax ofimperial power and then with his fall. Arthur, depicted as a great but tuthless conqueror, is challenged by the Roman Emperor Lucius to pay tribute. With his supporters making vows ofvengeance and support, he terrifies the Roman ambassadors and sends them packing with a threat to invade Rome. After holding a parliament at York, he leaves the protesting Mordred to guard Guenevere and the kingdom, and sails for Barfleur. At Mont St. Michel he slays a monstrous giant that had been terrorising Brittany, and then marches towards Burgundy to meet Lucius. He then follows an embassy led by Gawain which leads to murder and exciting pursuit and a convoy of prisoners led by Cador which is ambushed on its way to Paris. Ultimately the two armies meet in a great battle at Sessoyne. Each ofthe chief Arthurians performs valiantly; Arthur dominates the situation and himself kills Lucius; but Kay, Bedevere and others are slain. After the battle, the English forces pillage enthusiastically, and Arthur has Lucius and his chief followers embalmed and sent to Rome as his tribute. Having buried Kay, Bedevere, Cador, and Baldwin in various regions ofFrance, he moves into Lorraine and lays siege to Metz. During this siege Gawain, Forawnt3 and Floridas are sent outwith men to forage forcattle. Gawainwandersoffandbattleswith Pryamus; though wounded, he captures Pryamus, who carries a gold phial ofwaters from the four rivers of Paradise that will cure any wounds. The forces of Lorraine attack Forawnt's and Floridas's men; Gawain is grieved by the death ofChastelayne, a child ofthe king's chamber, and thrusts into the battle and helps defeat the Lorrainers. The poem then returns to the siege, where the city is being devastated so that 'the pyne of the pople was pete for to...


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