October 13, 2022

#08-246: Mordred

"Then the king ran towards Sir Mordred, crying, 'Traitor, now is thy death day come.'"

Note: Sometimes the villain of a story is more interesting than the hero. King Arthur was almost boringly good, but his enemy Mordred was fascinatingly bad.

Get Ready: Can you think of a story in which the "bad guy" is more interesting than the "good guy"?

King Arthur is rightly famous in the annals of Britain, along with his wife Guinevere and his best friend, the knight Lancelot. But equally important is his son and nephew, the villainous Mordred, who brought an end to Arthur's glorious reign. His story is told in the book Le Morte D'Arthur or The Death of Arthur, written by a real knight, Sir Thomas Malory.

Based on earlier legends, Malory tells us that Mordred was the son of Arthur by his wicked half-sister Morgause, who tricked Arthur into sleeping with her.

The wizard Merlin, Arthur's advisor, warns the king that the boy would kill Arthur and bring an end to his kingdom. But Morgause had taken the boy away from Arthur's court, so Arthur ordered all the babies born in England on May Day (as Mordred was) loaded onto a ship. The ship is wrecked, but Mordred escapes, and is found and raised by his foster father.

At age 14, he is brought to Arthur's court by that foster father, King Lot (husband of Morgause). There, he acquits himself well, and is praised by Arthur (who does not realize who he is).

But soon enough, his true nature begins to reveal itself. With his half-brothers he ambushes a knight (who had slept with their mother, the same who seduced Arthur) and Mordred stabs the knight in the back. This is a violation of the rules of chivalry.

He goes on to other murders, and "dishonors" women. Furthermore, he joins one of his half-brothers in exposing the affair between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, an affair which is a double act of treason that seriously weakens the kingdom.

In the ultimate act of treachery, Mordred forges letters--while Arthur is off fighting a war with the traitor Lancelot--claiming that Arthur has been killed. He crowns himself king and tries to marry Guinevere!

At last, father and son (or uncle and nephew) come face to face in battle. In one of literature's most moving scenes, Arthur stabs Mordred with a lance, but Mordred--through the power of sheer evil--walks up the lance and strikes Arthur a fatal blow with a sword, bringing to an end Arthur's life and the glorious days of Camelot.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. acquits
  2. annals
  3. chivalry
  4. dishonors
  5. forges
  6. foster-father
  7. half-sister
  8. seduced
  9. sheer
  10. treason

  1. official records
  2. a substitute for the real one
  3. tricked into sex
  4. proper behavior for a knight
  5. betrayal of king or country
  6. utter; absolute
  7. makes fake copies
  8. daughter of only one of one's parents
  9. conducts; behaves
  10. fails to respect; here, forces to have sex

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for Oct 13, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. a; 3. d; 4. j; 5. g; 6. b; 7. h; 8. c; 9. f; 10. e