Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript Paperback – Oct 11 2008
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About the Author
Helen Cooper is Professor of English Language and Literature, University of Oxford and Tutorial Fellow, University College, Oxford. She is author of Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (Clarendon Press 1989,rev 1996).
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Months after reading this I still find myself recalling the characters and stories. If you've never read it, this is as good an edition as any and I truly am happy I read this book.
Update: I now have this book in both paperback and kindle versions. The kindle version is very nice, with the included glossary and appropriate footnotes. Plus, the kindle on-board dictionary knows a ton of the more old-fashioned words, which should help you out a lot. I love having it on kindle, as I enjoy rereading some of the tales. I highly recommend this version.
Editor Helen Cooper does a wonderful job of tackling the problem of presenting a coherent and comprehensive version of a medieval text for a twentieth century audience. Although this rendition of Le Morte Darthur is slightly abridged, it still retains its original charm. The preservation of a good deal of the vernacular in the text and the convenient glossary and footnotes really help to define the medieval setting of the story. The actual story of the life of King Arthur is most enjoyable as well, especially now that Cooper's introduction and explanatory notes enhance it. Malory's exposé of the Arthurian legend is lively enough that one can easily read this book for pleasure - the story-line and plot are more cleverly developed than, say, Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, which seems to present itself as a chronology of dubious events. In her introduction, Cooper provides a bit of a factual background for Malory and explains many of his subtle allusions intended for his contemporary medieval audience, all of which adds to the reader's understanding of Le Morte Darthur in the context of the fifteenth century. Scholarly readers may also find Cooper's annotated bibliography quite useful.
Malory wrote his story in the late 15th century, and while it was in English, the spelling would be hardly distinguishable to the modern reader. Cooper has edited the text for clarity, but its character is left intact by Cooper's refusal to change words. Included in the book is a table of words that are not commonly used, or appear to mean something other than their intention. This takes some getting used to, but once they sink in, the reader will be appreciative because this language gives the book flair and one does not feel like he or she is reading a modern text. In other Arthurian literature that has been translated from Anglo-Norman, French, or English, much of the original writers craft has been lost, and poetry has become prose. In Cooper's edition of Le Morte Darthur Malory's original work is better represented, and provides a more enjoyable story.
Malory's combination of romance and battle, and the breadth of his story give the reader a lot of material to peruse. The story covers almost every area of the Arthurian legend, and Cooper has edited it in a style so as to keep the Old English feel. This makes Le Morte Darthur the most complete and enjoyable piece of Arthurian literature available.
The book begins with a detailed and informative introduction, which not only presents the many themes that are present in the book, but also describes the biography of Sir Thomas Malory himself and the circumstances in which he wrote the book. For instance Cooper describes the life of Malory and his criminal record as well as presents the major themes of the book ,which include, knighthood, romance and chivalry. The introduction is very clear and provides a helpful overview of Malory's work and the history surrounding Le Morte Darthur.
In addition to an informative introduction the book also contains several other tools that allow the reader to gain a better sense of understanding of Malory's work. The book has a chronology of Arthurian material as well as a useful glossary of uncommon words that appear frequently in the text. In order to make the book even more understandable to the modern reader, the editor includes a list of unfamiliar words at the bottom of every page that occur on that particular page so the reader does not have to waste time looking in the back of the book for a meaning of a word. The explanatory notes at the end of the book as well as the index of characters also help broaden the reader's understanding of Malory's Le Morte Darthur and make the book even easier to comprehend.
Helen Cooper's edition of the Winchester Manuscript of Malory's Le Morte Darthur is a well rendered, informative book, which is easy to understand for any reader. The book contains many tools which allow the reader to expand their understanding of the Arthurian legend and the book is written is such a way that the modern reader will have an easy time understanding the text as well as the themes present in the literature.
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