The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 3, Chapters 34–36 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary

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Summary

Part 3, Chapter 34

Queen Guenever takes a hot bath attended by her servants. Although she was often petulant and miserable when Sir Lancelot was gone, now she seems happy because she knows he will come back to her. Lancelot has a frank talk with Guenever, telling her they cannot be lovers anymore after his quest for the Holy Grail. He wants to be close to God now. He lists logical reasons for not continuing their affair, with which Guenever agrees. But she knows Lancelot will not be able to keep his resolve.

Part 3, Chapter 35

Lancelot resists continuing his love affair with Guenever for close to a year. She has become weary of this resistance and fears she will never experience the joy of his love again. Guenever asks Lancelot to leave for a month to give her a rest from the tension of their relationship. Lancelot knows his resistance is wearing on the queen. He had hoped she would come to share his new love for God, but she hasn't. In a moment of weakness, Lancelot says they can resume being lovers, but by then Guenever has left the room. Soon Lancelot leaves Camelot.

Part 3, Chapter 36

About half the knights were killed during the Grail quest. Many of them were the noblest knights of the Round Table. Some of the remaining knights, including Gawaine, Agravaine, and Mordred, renew old resentments. Guenever tries to compensate for Lancelot's absence by throwing lively parties. At one party, Guenever makes sure to have apples because she knows Gawaine loves them. However, Sir Patrick eats a poisoned apple intended for Gawaine and dies. Many people feel it was Guenever who intended the poisoned apple for Gawaine. Sir Mador de la Porte accuses Guenever of treason. In such cases a champion representing one side fights a champion representing the other side. Mador decides to be his own champion. However, because of Lancelot's absence, Guenever does not have a champion. She asks Sir Bors to serve in this capacity, but he refuses. Without a champion, Arthur and Guenever fear that Mador will win the combat and, as a result, the queen will be burned at the stake.

Analysis

In exploring the viewpoint of Guenever, White sketches a sharp contrast between perfection and fallibility. The author depicts Guenever as a real human being with all the strengths and weaknesses of humans. In an effort to be attractive to Lancelot, she wears too much makeup to mask her middle-aged face. She acts belligerently when Lancelot is away on his quest. When Lancelot refuses to continue their affair, she eventually becomes annoyed and weary. She has a generosity of spirit that allows her to unabashedly give and take love. The narrator says, "she was what they used to call a 'real' person." In contrast Galahad seems like an inhuman, sanctified being who feels he is above petty human concerns. He has no weaknesses and thus seems to have no real sympathy for the human condition. His eyes are continually focused on God.

Lancelot wants to be a perfect being like his son. However, like Guenever, his generosity of spirit makes this impossible for him. The narrator says, "The hearts of these two lovers were instinctively too generous to fit with dogma." Lancelot knows that by focusing just on God and refusing to love Guenever he is being cruel to her. He feels a lofty type of love for God and hopes the queen will share this love. However, Guenever is too human ever to accept a love that seems to have no connection with the joys and suffering of the real world. Lancelot is also too human to continue to focus on this perfect love, even though he feels he should, to make up for his inner sense of inferiority.

White reveals death as the end result of perfection. Consumed by God's perfection, Galahad feels he has nothing left to seek except death. This shows a type of situational irony. God is supposed to be the giver of all life; following God, therefore, could be seen as an affirmation of life, both physical and spiritual. However, by labeling the flesh evil and the spirit good, knights such as Galahad are seeking something that separates them from God's creation. The end result of such a search is death.
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