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The Creation Of Lancelot And The Undoing Of The Once And Future King

2378 words - 10 pages

The legendary figure of King Arthur, the Once and Future King, started his rise to literary prominence through Geoffrey of Monmouth and his work, The History of the Kings of Britain. Monmouth introduced readers to a heroic and noble king who defeated the Saxons and reclaimed Britain, creating a period which set the stage for the Arthurian era and the glories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Over time additional authors added their voice to the telling of the Arthurian legend; adding events and characters, ultimately changing the story forever. Perhaps the most notable of these additions came in the form of Sir Lancelot. The creation of Lancelot, a knight introduced by Chrétien de Troyes in The Knight of the Cart, produced an underlying futile battle for top billing between Arthur and his top knight. The inclusion of Sir Lancelot in works such as, The Vulgate Cycle and Le Morte d’Arthur show further proof that once the character of Lancelot was created, King Arthur was no longer needed to save Camelot and bring it back to peace. Between Lancelot’s courtly love for King Arthur’s wife Guinevere and his renown for being “Sought after by all men and loved by all women more than any other knight” (Vulgate 102), one can see how King Arthur stood no chance against such a chivalric man, leaving him all but helpless to watch as Camelot and his round table crumbled as Lancelot’s prominence rose.
Before the inclusion of Lancelot in the Arthurian legend, Arthur was originally “Depicted first as a powerful warlord in the Welsh and Latin traditions” but after Lancelot became a part of the folklore, “he becomes a passive and often weak character in Chrétien's romances, abandoning the thrill of the battlefield in favor of his throne” (Ingram). In Knight of the Cart, Arthur’s love of his knights leads him to make a rash promise to Sir Kay, showing his impetuous and reckless decision making abilities. The tale also shows that Guinevere’s abduction did not spur him to action to retrieve his queen or prevent her from being captured, himself. Instead, “The king replied that he must accept this, since he could not change it for the better, but that it grieved him deeply” (Chrétien 124).
Lancelot is arguably as important a figure as Arthur himself, as he had “surpassed all the knights in the world” (Chrétien 187). In French versions of the legend more attention is focused on Sir Lancelot than on King Arthur, and the French, as compared to their English counterparts, seem to be interested in the equilibrium between the spiritual dimension and the terrestrial. The character of Lancelot fit the bill more readily than did the King. Ultimately, for all his noble chivalry, Lancelot remains a figure of tragic failure and through his failure a success. Sir Lancelot first appears in Arthurian legend in Chrétien de Troyes’ The Knight of the Cart where he is introduced as a bel inconnu, not dissimilar to Arthur pre- sword in the stone. Lancelot is...

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