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Samantha Souza

Abigail Broom
King Arthur and Camelot
Summer 2010
1 August 2010
Lancelot and Guinevere Throughout Literature
Throughout literature, Queen Guinevere, wife of King Arthur, is known to
have had an affair with the Kings right hand man, Sir Lancelot (sometimes
spelled Launcelot for proper scanning effect when spoken aloud in poem verse).
Most perceive the falling in love of these two characters, and their affair, to be the
primary tragic downfall of King Arthur, as well as the impetus for the
disillusionment of the ideals of Arthurs Round Table. Mordred makes Arthur
aware that Lancelot and Guinevere are engaging in an adulterous affair in an
attempt to secure the possibility of King Arthurs inevitable downfall.
In Sir Thomas Malorys Le Morte dArthur, the author manages to give the
affair between Guinevere and Sir Lancelot a sort of omnipresence, while never
truly making it the major focal point of the narrative. The story is Arthurs after all.
The affair is happening to him, and how to handle the fates of his best friend and
one true love is his decision alone. In fact, the affair seems almost breezed
through until about the last quarter of the tale, when the affair begins to take a toll
on more than just Guinivere and Lancelot. The affair affects the course of the
lovers, Arthur, Mordred, and others. In Le Morte dArthur, Lancelot falls in and out

of Guineveres favor throughout the story, while the two somehow maintain a
relationship that exemplifies the ideals of courtly love of the time. Malory makes
Lancelot a knight, first and foremost, and Guineveres secret love second.
The courtly love shared between Guinevere and Lancelot seems less
about passion and true feelings of immortal love, and more about exemplifying
chivalry, earning favors for the Queen, and being a perfect example of a Knight of
the Round Table by doing brave deeds in the name of Guinevere. The sensuality
of their shared love seems almost nonexistent, and the consummation of their
relationship is glossed over with barely a mention. It is as if Malory is aware that
going into too much detail about the intimate nature of Guinevere and Lancelots
relationship would not be wise, as Malory was a knight himself. He naturally
wants to portray Lancelot, a fellow knight, as a true gentleman, and not a sordid
knight after only one thing from the Queen. There is the air that the entire
relationship is all for show, but that cannot be true, as Lancelot and Guinevere
seem to be made of at least a little more moral fiber than that, as to go behind
the back of their husband and best friend (respectively) just for courtly loves
sake. When Arthur decides that Guineveres fate should be to burn at the stake,
Lancelot proves his courtly love by rescuing her, right in the nick of time, further
illustrating the nature of the relationship between the two.
In Alfred, Lord Tennysons Idylls of the King, the affair between Guinevere
and Lancelot is more idealized, and seen through rose-colored glasses, as
opposed to the more step-by-step courtly love romance depicted by Mallory.

According to Tennyson, Guinevere recognizes at the end of the tale, upon


realizing her fate, that she shouldve loved King Arthur, simply and truly, just as
he was, as he was a selfless man, pure of heart and intention. She appreciates
him far too late. Because she makes this discovery and self-realization, it is clear
that Guinevere has acted senselessly, and without thought. Her feminine desires,
weakness, and selfishness led her to make rash decisions, that upon further
consideration, might not have been made. If she had thought with her head and
not with her heart or loins, the Round Table might not have collapsed the way it
did, and the fate of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere herself wouldve been
avoided. Where Malory portrays Guinevere as a lady of real worth until her affair
comes to the light, Tennyson does not give Guinevere any sympathy, nor does he
portray her throughout the story as being particularly worthy of favor, save for
maybe her beauty, or only when being compared to the wicked Vivien.
Guinevere has committed a terribly offensive sin in Tennysons eyes, and
therefore must repent by devoted the remainder of her life to the church.
Tennysons views about woman are clear through the description and fate of
Guinevere: When woman are overly sexual, and disrespect their men, extremely
punishment is necessary. His judgment of women is blatant throughout the text,
and it is only after years of chaste service to God that Guinevere can be seen as
a woman of worth, in the eyes of Tennyson.
In T. H. Whites The Once and Future King, Lancelot is not the perfect
example of a knight, as in Malory, or the romantic lover of Tennyson. In fact, his is

quite the opposite. Lancelot is portrayed as a man racked with flaws, and his
aggressive loyalty to Arthur is illustrated as a means to fight away his inner
demons. He desires to be the ultimate knight in an attempt to battle his own selfhatred. This awkward feeling of self-loathing is only fueled even more by his
unexpected feelings for the kings wife, Guinevere.
Guinevere, according to White, truly loves, admires, and respects Arthur,
while also acknowledging that Lancelot is the true love of her life. She is
portrayed as an independent, strong, amiable, and beautiful lady. While she
knows that her love of Lancelot is wrong, and disrespectful of Arthur, she cannot
ignore her feelings for her husbands right hand man. Unlike Malory or Tennyson,
the somewhat steamy affair between the lovers does not seem to affect Arthur
nearly as much as it affects the lovers themselves. He chooses, mostly, to ignore
the affair, and it only becomes and issue when Mordred uses it as leverage
against the king in an attempt to overthrow him. Guinevere remains a nun at the
end of the novel, as in Tennyson. Lancelot has a one-night stand with Elaine,
which leads him to turn to religion for forgiveness after he is tested and failed.
Ultimately, religion is the path to absolution for both parties of this infamous
couple.
Regardless of how the tale is told, ultimately, the affair between Queen
Quinevere and Sir Lancelot, the greatest knight of all, leads to the downfall of
both King Arthur, the Round Table, and the glory of Camelot itself.