The Death of Arthur: Summary & Themes

Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

The story of King Arthur is one of the most popular legends in medieval history. Learn more about the death of King Arthur and about important themes and symbols involved in King Arthur's legacy, and test your knowledge with a quiz.


King Arthur is known as one of the most popular kings from medieval times. There are a number of stories and pieces of literature written about King Arthur's reign. The most popular and historical story about King Arthur's death is a prose piece written by Thomas Malory entitled Le Morte D'Arthur. Although King Arthur tried to maintain structure and order as a king, betrayal by the people closest to him eventually led to his demise.

The Death of King Arthur

The Death of King Arthur

Arthur was born to King Uther and a woman named Igraine. His mother was married to another man. Arthur grew up with his foster father Sir Ector in secret. A magician named Merlin suggested it would be better if no one knew Arthur was the son of the King. Arthur served as squire for his foster brother and eventually became king because he pulled a sword from a stone. While he was king, Arthur was successful in defeating many enemies. King Arthur then decided to help others who needed assistance along with his Knights of the roundtable.

Merlin, a wise magician, helped Arthur in battles throughout Arthur's life. One of Arthur's best knights, Lancelot fell in love with King Arthur's wife Guinevere. Lancelot tried to resist his feelings for the queen by going on several quests to find The Holy Grail. Lancelot was unable to resist his desire for Guinevere and continued his affair with her; this eventually led to the downfall of Arthur's kingdom.

King Arthur wanted to punish his wife and his knight for their affair and planned to burn his wife at the stake. Lancelot saved Guinevere from her death. One of Arthur's knights, his son Mordred, wanted to become king and encouraged King Arthur to battle Lancelot. Mordred convinced everyone that King Arthur died in battle and Mordred overtook the throne. When King Arthur discovered his son's betrayal, he went home to reclaim his throne. While in battle with his son Mordred, King Arthur died and Mordred was also fatally wounded. After his death, King Arthur's body was sent on a boat down the Isle of Avalon, never to be seen again.

Themes in the Legend of King Arthur

A theme is the point or overall message of a story. There are a number of themes and symbols in the legend of King Arthur.

One theme of importance regarding the Death of King Arthur is trust. Trust is depicted in King Arthur's relationship and friendship with Lancelot, his best knight and his marriage to Guinevere. Recall that Lancelot eventually betrayed King Arthur by having an affair with King Arthur's wife. Merlin is also shown as a trustworthy character because he established a trusted relationship with King Uther and King Arthur. Merlin kept Arthur's true lineage a secret and helped King Arthur throughout his life.

Betrayal is another theme represented in King Arthur's legend. Betrayal is brought forth by Lancelot's relationship with the queen. The two people whom King Arthur trusted the most betrayed him with each other. Deception is another theme from King Arthur's legend. King Arthur expected his wife and his best knight to be loyal to him. Lastly, love is a theme in the legend of King Arthur. Love is shown in the relationship between King Arthur and Guinevere prior to her affair and then again between Lancelot and Guinevere.

Symbols in the Legend of King Arthur

A symbol is an object used to represent an idea or concept. There are a number of symbols in the legend of King Arthur, including the roundtable and the search for the Holy Grail.

Knights of the Roundtable

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