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La Mort le Roi Artu, Causality, Free will, Morality


The thirteenth-century French La Mort le Roi Artu indicates forthrightly how the Arthurian world comes to an end, but the text leaves less clear what motivates the disaster. Many critics attribute the cause to an external force, God or the goddess Fortune, that obliges Arthur and others to pursue their own destruction. A few offer greater insight into the nature of causality in the romance. They see the characters as exercising some degree of free will or even complete liberty. But these critics err in alienating the notion of free choice from moral concerns. In their reading, the heroes suffer not from moral failures but from intellectual or psychological deficiencies. However, to thirteenth-century minds free will would be a moral question. Indeed, the author encourages us to think in such terms by framing his romance as a sequel to La Queste del Saint Graal, a story of moral choices. The focus on choice in Mort Artu is much more subtle, consequent with the absence of supernatural manipulations so present in the previous romance. The author implies the kingdom collapses because of the moral weakness of its inhabitants who cannot satisfy the imperatives established for them in the Queste.