ARTHURIAN ROMANCESChrétien de TroyesChrétien de Troyes's masterpiece Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart is a riveting tale of knightlyvalor and courtly love. This romance marks the first known appearance of Lancelot as a majorplayer in the Arthurian canon, and it also provides the first account of his affair with Guinevere.The first half of the narrative follows Lancelot (then unnamed) as he rescues Guinevere, who hasbeen taken hostage by the evil Méléagant. Méléagant visits Arthur's court, boasting that he hasensnared many from Arthur's land (Logres). He ultimately convinces Arthur through trickery togive him Guinevere, and sets out to bring her to his homeland of Gorre as another prisoner.When Lancelot ends up without a horse, he encounters a dwarf with a cart, who claims to haveinformation about the queen's whereabouts. However, he will not share his information unlessLancelot ride in his pillory cart, which is usually reserved for criminals, and hence brings shameto any who ride in it. Lancelot nevertheless rides in the cart, which brings him much shame andcauses confusion amongst many he encounters.On the way to Guinevere, Lancelot is aided by a number of beautiful women and kindly girls. Heencounters hostile and arrogant knights, and must constantly defend his character. Initially, hetravels with Sir Gawain, but they eventually part to take different routes to Gorre. Lancelotchooses the faster, more dangerous rouge of the Sword Bridge, which is literally a large swordblade.
He arrives in Gorre, to discover that Guinevere is angry with him, for reasons she does notinitially disclose. There, he also discovers that the ruler is the kindly and reasonable KingBademagu, who stands in stark contrast to his mischievous son Méléagant. Rebuked byGuinevere, Lancelot leaves to find Sir Gawain, who attempted to cross a different bridge, andhas not been seen. While Lancelot is gone, Guinevere hears false rumors of his death, anddecides to show him warmth. Lancelot returns to Bademagu's court, and Guinevere confessesthat her coldness resulted from the hesitation he showed before leaping into the cart.Reunited, they share a passionate night together, but Lancelot bleeds on her sheets, andMéléagant accuses her of adultery. To defend her honor, Lancelot fights Méléagant. KingBademagu intercedes to end the battle, and Lancelot promises to fight Méléagant within a year'stime at King Arthur's court. By this time, the people of Logres are free to leave Gorre.If the first half of the narrative centers around Guinevere’s imprisonment, the second half isdriven by Lancelot’s incarceration.Lancelot and his party set out again to find Gawain, butLancelot is tricked by a devious dwarf, a henchman of Méléagant, who takes him captive. A fakeletter from Lancelot is sent to Guinevere, insisting she return to Arthur’s court, where she willfind him. Meanwhile, Lancelot's party finds Gawain, who is also fooled by the letter.