The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 3, Chapters 25–27 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary

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Summary

Part 3, Chapter 25

Fifteen years pass after Lancelot returns to Camelot. His relations with King Arthur and Queen Guenever continue much as before. During this time, conflict consumed the land as Arthur's knights fought the rebels who refused to bow to his authority and to the idea of using might to defend right. Gawain has murdered King Pellinore to avenge the death of his father, King Lot. Eventually the last of the rebellious tyrants is defeated and peace reigns over England. Travel becomes safer. People become more refined; for example, they use civilized table manners. Judges make decisions based on the new laws of King Arthur. Both Saxons and Normans begin to see themselves as Englishmen.

Part 3, Chapter 26

As King Arthur and Sir Lancelot watch boys practicing archery, they discuss the state of Arthur's kingdom. Arthur compliments Lancelot for mentoring Gareth after he ran away from his mother, Morgause, and came to Camelot. Arthur's son, Mordred, also left his mother, Morgause, and came to court. Lancelot instinctively dislikes him. Arthur fears he was wrong to use might to defend the right. He thinks perhaps he should have used right to establish right. Gareth arrives and tells Arthur that his brother Agravaine killed his mother when he found her in bed with Lamorak. Morgause seduced the much-younger Lamorak. Despite this, Agravaine, Gawaine, and Mordred hunted him down, and Mordred killed him.

Part 3, Chapter 27

After Mordred kills Lamorak, he and Gawaine rebuke Agravaine for killing their mother. Mordred and Gawaine leave Agravaine in the Northland and ride to Camelot. Although Gawaine feels Lamorak deserved to die, he feels bad about betraying Arthur's ideal of using might to defend right. Hoping the king will punish him, Gawaine has an audience with Arthur. Mordred accompanies Gawaine, but he doesn't seem repentant. Arthur is angry at Gawaine and Mordred, but he refuses to punish them. Later Arthur tells Lancelot and Guenever that he was mistaken to use might-for-right. Now that Arthur's kingdom is peaceful, his knights have no use for their might. As a result they are using it against one another. Arthur decides to have his knights use might for a holy cause. This idea inspires Lancelot. He thinks of possible sacred quests, such as searching for the Holy Grail: a legendary cup purported to have held Christ's blood when he was crucified. Arthur, however, has qualms about trying to search for a holy object. Soon a messenger tells Lancelot his presence is requested for the knighting of his son, Galahad.

Analysis

Part 3, Chapters 25 to 27, seems to support the old adage "be careful what you wish for." This saying implies that when a person achieves what they desire, he or she will be faced with unforeseen consequences. For years Arthur has striven to achieve the use of might for right. During this process his kingdom has been torn apart by warfare as the Knights of the Round Table subdued rebel tyrants who believed in might-is-right. Arthur wonders if he caused more bloodshed in his attempt to reduce bloodshed. Eventually the rebels are subdued and peace reigns in Arthur's kingdom. Arthur achieves what he has wished for. However, the consequence is the use of might in and of itself. Arthur realizes that by enforcing violence by violent means, he really hasn't solved the problem. His knights still feel compelled to use might.

Agravaine and Gawaine provide a good example of this. When Agravaine finds his mother in bed with Lamorak, he is seized by his deep-seated jealousy of any rivals for his mother's. As a result he reverts back to the primitive idea of might-is-right and kills his mother. Because his basic belief in the use of violence has not changed, Agravaine uses it in a burst of anger. The same is true for Gawaine. He is involved in the hunting down and killing of Lamorak. He is not sorry about this because his basic mindset has not changed from the days of might-is-right. He still believes violence should be used to solve problems. He used might to defeat the tyrants, after all. However, he also realizes Arthur would not approve of the murder of Lamorak. Gawaine is torn between his use of violence and doing what Arthur believes is right.

Arthur tries to elevate the use of might by having his knights use violence for a sacred cause. This solution both solves the problem and makes it worse. The knights will have something to focus their might on other than one another. However, by making the goal so lofty, Arthur sets up most of his knights for failure.

White uses the Holy Grail as a symbol representing the desire to achieve perfection. To find the Grail, a knight must be willing to strive to be perfect. Arthur reflects, "I thought ... that perhaps it was aiming too high." He knows most knights would ultimately find such a process too daunting. Lancelot, though, is not like most knights. He strove to achieve perfection and was crushed when he thought he could never attain this goal. The idea of the sacred quest inspires Lancelot. It will also inspire his son, Galahad. By sponsoring the quest for the Grail, Arthur is still allowing his knights use violence to achieve goals. In a way he is pushing the essential problem down the road.

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