The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 3, Chapters 37–39 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 37

Sir Bors agrees to serve as Guenever's champion if no one else can be found. The combat between the two champions takes place in a meadow at Westminster. If Sir Mador (the accuser's champion) wins, then Guenever will be burned at the stake. Before the combat Arthur, Mador, and Bors have a long discussion. Bors returns to his tent. Soon after this Lancelot, dressed in Bors's armor, rides out of the tent. During the fight, Lancelot defeats Mador but in the process receives a wound in his thigh. Mador admits he is in the wrong and begs for mercy. Lancelot spares his life after he agrees that "nothing is to be written about this on Sir Patrick's grave." Lancelot presents himself to the king and queen and removes his helmet. The hearts of Arthur and Guenever swell with love for him.

Part 3, Chapter 38

Although grateful that Lancelot served as her champion, Guenever soon becomes jealous of his love of God, which prevents him from being her lover. The strain of this jealousy makes her act half-mad. To celebrate Guenever's acquittal, Arthur sponsors a tournament. Guenever forbids Lancelot to participate, and he accepts her command. Later she changes her mind, and Lancelot goes to the tournament disguised as another knight. His disguise allows him to stay at Corbin castle, where Elaine lives, without creating a scandal. As he approaches the castle, he sees Elaine waiting for him on the battlement. She is in the same posture as when he left 20 years ago.

Part 3, Chapter 39

At the Corbin tournament, Lancelot fights well, but his old wound breaks out and weakens him. As a result he is severely injured by three knights. Elaine comes to his bedside and nurses him back to health. She believes he intends to stay with her. Lancelot has no such intention, but he does not have the courage to break the news to Elaine. In fact, when Elaine asked him to wear her token in the tournament, Lancelot agreed to do so out of pity for her. Back at Camelot Guenever declares to Bors she is glad Lancelot is wounded; he deserves it for being a traitor and wearing Elaine's token.


White explores Lancelot's view of God, showing how it affects his relationship with Guenever. Lancelot experiences his love of God like loving a real person. He tries to do God's will not for fear of punishment, but rather because of love. However, as has been shown, he sees his love of God and his love for Guenever as two separate relationships never to be combined. God is spirit and thus perfect; Guenever is human and thus fallible. His love of God is holy; his love of Guenever is sinful. Because of these dichotomies, a romantic triangle forms between Lancelot, Guenever, and God. Guenever immediately senses the triangle and becomes insanely jealous of God. The narrator says, "The position was exactly the same ... as if he had left her for another woman."

The author conveys the theme of might versus right through Arthur. Arthur's attempts to find a better system than might-is-right have placed him in a trap. He tried to channel might to defend right and later to seek God. Both attempts had mixed results. By using might the knights established a relatively peaceful kingdom but still wanted to use might against one another. The quest for the Holy Grail was a success because a few knights found it, but many of Arthur's best knights were killed, severely weakening his kingdom. Most importantly Arthur still allows might to be used to achieve his goals. So when Guenever is accused of treason, the matter of her innocence or guilt will still be determined by the use of might, specifically trial by combat. By creating a system of justice based on something other than his own word, Arthur is compelled to go along with this use of might. Before Arthur's reign, a king's command would have decided whether Guenever was guilty.

The dilemma Arthur has placed himself in seems to have a positive result. Faced with the horror of using might to determine his wife's fate, Arthur realizes he must find a way to enforce justice without the use of might. In other words, he wants to use right for right. As a result he will soon invent Civil Law.

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