The Role of Merlin in Le Morte D'Arthur

Length: 16 Pages 3915 Words

One of the most interesting characters in literature is Merlin the magician. His name conjures up images of mystery and his actions reflect a medieval mysticism. Thomas Malory brings the role of Merlin into a place of significance in his tale, Le Morte D'Arthur by combining the elements of mysticism and religion. Malory adds a depth and texture to the character that represents Christian and mystical skills alike. Through this unlikely combination, Malory creates a Merlin that is worthy of inspection. The goal of this paper is to examine the character of Merlin as he is depicted in Le Morte D'Arthur and how Malory utilizes this character. The most interesting aspects of Merlin are that he is a splendid combination of secular and religious characteristics. In regards to understanding the role of Merlin and the mystical in Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, we must first examine the context in which medieval stories were written. According Geoffrey Ashe, author of The Discovery of Arthur, it is important to realize that medieval writers often crafted characters to be medieval. To put it simply, "Arthurian adventures . . . were handled in medieval terms and expressed medieval interests" (Ashe 14). It is safe t Continue...


Merlin acts as a spokesman for God to work events out for the good. Without Merlin's provisions, Arthur would not have been able to walk the path he did. Second, Merlin rebukes Arthur for his bad behavior and tells him, "It is God's will that your body be punished for your foule deeds" (48). Because the character is so closely linked to Religion, Malory chose not to have us hate Merlin because that would work against the overall theme of the tale. Lang refers to this as a "charm of mystery and distance" (Lang) and a "mist of enchantment" (Lang). Interestingly, Malory describes Merlin's mysticism as a "subtle craft" (Malory 77). he also tell the king that those adventures "must be brought again or else it would be disworship to you and your feast" (98). Examples of this can be seen in the lives of Galahad, Gawain, Lancelot, and Arthur himself. It also illustrates how the two work so well together in Malory's tale. Merlin's weaknesses lead to his demise. This combination is successful because Merlin is ultimately good. Lawrence Perrine asserts that Malory is the" chief source for the political sections of Merlin--for those parts that concern the story of Camelot: the relationship between Merlin and Arthur, the love affair of Lancelot and Guinevere, and the schisms of Arthur's knights" (Perrine 313). Another important aspect of Merlin is the fact that Le Morte D'Arthur is all about the challenges that King Arthur and his men face. As a result, Malory creates a "sort of chivalric Utopia centered on the Round Table" (17).