• Jessie Wolf

‘Le Morte D’Arthur’: The pen is mightier than the sword.

Most people are familiar with the Legend of King Arthur, particularly his association with Excalibur, however the aphorism ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ is arguably the reason that he is so well known today.


Kenneth Hodges proposes that “Major transitions in chivalric ideals are marked by Arthur’s receipts of Excalibur.” (35) The sword in the stone represents “might-makes-right chivalry” (35), Excalibur from the Lady in the Lake “”blood-feud” chivalry” (35) and the return of Excalibur “ethical chivalry” (35). The sword marks the development of a society that celebrates loyalty, honour and equality.  However, whilst the sword is important, it is the tale itself which progresses this Arthurian ideal of a “community form[ed] based on shared ethical principles” (35); “only to fight in just causes, at all times to be merciful, at all times to put the service of ladies foremost.” (53)


An Arthurian mindset is, to many, an ideal state and what we, as people, are trying to return to. It is suggested that this is the reason that King Arthur is “rex quondam rexque futurus” (525), the once and future King, his legend will be brought into modern times and set us upon a better course. However, currently, this is just thought and “I can tell you that you are a fool, because thoughts will change nothing” (19). This is told to Arthur by Merlin, disguised as a young boy, when Arthur is “brooding” (19). He is told to take action because simply thinking about a problem will not change it. The fact Merlin uses a young boy is symbolic as it is the future generations who will suffer if we do not act to better the world. So, whilst the pen is mightier than the sword, even if that is a magical sword, both are mightier than doing nothing.



Hodges, K. Forging Chivalric Communities in Malory’s le Morte Darthur. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Malory, T. Le Morte D’Arthur. Edited by Baines, K, Signet Classics, 2010.
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