Le Morte d’Arthur

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Excalibur Symbol Icon

King Arthur is raised by a relatively unknown knight, Sir Ector, rather than in the splendor of a royal court, as his lineage might predict. It is only by pulling the enchanted sword from the stone—a task at which all the best knights of the realm fail—that he proves both his blood and his worthiness to be king.

In many ways, Excalibur stands for the highest status of glory and honor that a knight can hope for, since the king of England himself has achieved it. But the sword also stands for divine fate, which human beings cannot hope to change. Arthur was always destined to pull out the stone and fulfill the prophecies set centuries before. In this way, Excalibur actually undercuts human pride and desire for glory, in its suggestion that humans must ultimately submit to what is already written for them. Arthur did not win Excalibur through any real merit or action of his own, but only because he was always destined to do so.

It should also be noted that there are two origin stories for Excalibur: the first is that this is the sword Arthur pulls from the stone, and the second is that Excalibur is given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake some time after Arthur is already king. Malory includes both of these tales in his work and makes no attempt to reconcile them, which could lead to some confusion regarding how Arthur gained one Excalibur and then seemingly gains another with no explanation.

Excalibur Quotes in Le Morte d’Arthur

The Le Morte d’Arthur quotes below all refer to the symbol of Excalibur. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Honor and Chivalry Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Le Morte d’Arthur published in 1970.
Book 1 Quotes

And when matins and the first mass was done, there was seen in the churchyard, against the high altar, a great stone four square, like unto a marble stone; and in midst thereof was like an anvil of steel a foot on high, and therein stuck a fair sword naked by the point, and letters there were written in gold about the sword that said thus:— Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England.

Related Characters: King Arthur
Related Symbols: Excalibur
Page Number: Vol 1, 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Not long after King Uther's death, Merlin has told the Archbishop of Canterbury to gather all the knights of the kingdom together for a great tournament: he declares that God will reveal who should lead the kingdom, though he doesn't give any other details than that. After the attendees celebrate Mass, the first miraculous event takes place - the appearance of a grand sword sticking out of a stone. It is significant that the miracle meant to herald and establish the next rightful king of England is based on a sword, since in this society the ability to fight well and to triumph in jousting is a sign not just of physical might but also of spiritual honor and worth.

The path by which the next king of England is decided also depends on an understanding of identity particular to this time, place, and culture. According to this, one may be the rightful king of England even without knowing it: it is by completing a task set out in advance that one does not just become worthy of a label, but proves that he bore this identity (i.e., royal bloodline) all the while.

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Excalibur Symbol Timeline in Le Morte d’Arthur

The timeline below shows where the symbol Excalibur appears in Le Morte d’Arthur. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Honor and Chivalry Theme Icon
Jealousy, Competition, and Revenge Theme Icon
Trickery and Mistaken Identity Theme Icon
...lords arrive and attend church, they see in the churchyard a massive stone with a sword stuck into it: letters in gold around the stone say that whoever pulls the sword... (full context)
Honor and Chivalry Theme Icon
Jealousy, Competition, and Revenge Theme Icon
Trickery and Mistaken Identity Theme Icon
Some of the lords try, but none can move the sword. The Archbishop says that the man who can is not there. On New Year’s Day... (full context)
Honor and Chivalry Theme Icon
Trickery and Mistaken Identity Theme Icon
...Kay into the church, and makes him swear on the Bible how he got the sword. Kay tells him the truth, and when Ector asks Arthur how he came upon it,... (full context)
Trickery and Mistaken Identity Theme Icon
Chapter 6 Kay cannot pull the sword out either. Sir Ector then kneels before Arthur, saying that he is not Arthur’s father,... (full context)
Trickery and Mistaken Identity Theme Icon
Chapter 7 At the Christian feast of Pentecost, many try to pull the sword out of the stone once again, but only Arthur succeeds. The commoners cry that they... (full context)
Jealousy, Competition, and Revenge Theme Icon
Trickery and Mistaken Identity Theme Icon
...returns to Arthur, telling him to make an offense, but not to draw his miraculous sword until the very end. There are many great deeds in this battle, but finally King... (full context)
Book 2
Honor and Chivalry Theme Icon
Jealousy, Competition, and Revenge Theme Icon
Women: Weakness and Power Theme Icon
...at court and asks for her gift. Arthur asks her what the name of his sword is, and she says Excalibur. The Lady then asks for the head of Arthur—since he... (full context)
Book 4
Trickery and Mistaken Identity Theme Icon
Women: Weakness and Power Theme Icon
...dwarf arrives sent from Morgan le Fay (Accolon’s lover), saying that she has sent Accolon Excalibur, Arthur’s sword, along with its magical scabbard, with which to fight against a knight the... (full context)
Honor and Chivalry Theme Icon
Women: Weakness and Power Theme Icon
...to save his life through her magic. Arthur, seeing the blood-splotched ground, realizes that his sword has been changed and that Accolon’s sword must be Excalibur. Arthur loses a great deal... (full context)
Jealousy, Competition, and Revenge Theme Icon
Women: Weakness and Power Theme Icon
...on a ride, and she goes in search of Arthur, thinking to steal away his sword. Morgan finds him asleep with Excalibur in his hand, so she only manages to steal... (full context)
Book 5
Honor and Chivalry Theme Icon
Jealousy, Competition, and Revenge Theme Icon
Journeys and Quests Theme Icon
...until Arthur catches sight of Lucius and rides to him, cutting off his head with Excalibur. The Romans begin to flee, but the Britons chase them down and kill them all:... (full context)
Book 21
Honor and Chivalry Theme Icon
Jealousy, Competition, and Revenge Theme Icon
Trickery and Mistaken Identity Theme Icon
...account of his own wound, and dies on the ground. Arthur tells Bedivere to take Excalibur to the riverside and throw it in the water. Bedivere departs, but says to himself... (full context)