The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 3, Chapters 4–6 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary

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Summary

Part 3, Chapter 4

Lancelot rides toward Camelot, accompanied by Uncle Dap, who now acts as his squire. He meets a knight in black armor, the two joust, and he knocks down the black knight and his horse. However, when the knight removes his helmet, Lancelot realizes with shame that he just knocked down King Arthur. Arthur is ecstatic to see Lancelot and the two head toward the castle, talking as if they'd been friends for years. Arthur knights Lancelot immediately and then introduces him to his wife, Queen Guenever. At first Sir Lancelot treats Guenever with a cold politeness. He's secretly jealous of her as a rival for Arthur's affections. One day, when Guenever helps Lancelot train a falcon, the queen tangles up the cord attached to the bird. Losing patience, Lancelot brusquely snatches the tangle away from her, which hurts her feelings. For the first time, Lancelot sees Guenever as a real person.

Part 3, Chapter 5

King Arthur and Uncle Dap both realize Lancelot and Guenever are falling in love. Dap warns Lancelot about this, but Lancelot denies any wrong feelings for Guenever. He tries to get Dap to return to France, but Dap refuses. Arthur remembers a warning Merlyn gave him about his wife and his best friend. However, because of his affection for both of them, the king finds it difficult to suspect them. He decides to separate Lancelot from Guenever by taking him along on the Roman war, which lasts several years. Eventually Arthur defeats the dictator of Rome and his allies, and most of Europe accepts Arthur as their overlord. During the war Arthur forms a strong friendship with Lancelot and decides to disregard Merlyn's warning.

Part 3, Chapter 6

For Sir Lancelot keeping his word and his honor is very important. For one thing, it prevents him from acting cruelly toward others. He fell in love with Guenever partly because "the first thing he had done was to hurt her." When Lancelot and King Arthur return to England from the Roman war, Guenever greets her husband and kisses him. At that moment Lancelot knows his affection for her could come between Arthur and himself. Lancelot immediately asks to go on a quest. Arthur prefers Lancelot stay at court for a while, but grants his request anyway.

Analysis

Lancelot's obsession with perfection makes him self-absorbed. He is concerned about harming others mainly because doing so goes against his strict code of honor. In Part 3, Chapter 6, White points out that Lancelot has a desire at times to act cruelly toward others, but he uses his code of chivalry to keep this side of himself in check. Perhaps he feels an urge to inflict pain because of the pain he feels from his own inner shame and inferiority. In any event Lancelot's main focus is on striving to live up to his code, which can also be seen as a standard of perfection. He wants to maintain this high standard of behavior to earn Arthur's love. As a result Lancelot initially sees Guenever from the vantage point of his own obsession; he's jealous of her because she is a rival for Arthur's love. He treats her as a nonentity who doesn't fit into his worldview. However, when Lancelot hurts Guenever's feelings, he breaks through his self-absorption and sees her as a real person. He feels sorry for hurting her, which can be seen as a good thing. However, in allowing himself to be human and seeing her as human, Lancelot becomes vulnerable. He has cast aside his shiny armor of perfection and has allowed himself to feel love for the wife of his best friend.

Committed to upholding his code of honor, Lancelot feels guilt about his feelings for Guenever. At first he tries to deny these feelings, as can be seen in Part 3, Chapter 5, when he rejects Uncle Dap's implication that he loves the queen. Later, in Part 3, Chapter 7, when he returns from the Roman war, Lancelot attempts to bury his feelings by going on quests. Lancelot's love for Guenever exposes his fallibility, which he has attempted to disguise, and also harms the other person he loves—Arthur. His commitment to Arthur and the ideals of the Round Table prevents Lancelot from leaving Camelot.

White uses situational irony in Lancelot's first encounter with Arthur. Situational irony occurs when there is a difference between what is expected to happen and what does happen. When Lancelot jousts with the black knight, the reader expects Lancelot to win, which he does. However, the reader also expects the black knight to be an ominous character or villain, like the proverbial cowboy in a black hat. When the black knight turns out to be Arthur, the author creates a discrepancy for the reader (and for Lancelot) between what is expected and what actually takes place. Lancelot has not defeated a villain, but rather the man he idolizes and loves. This incident serves to foreshadow Lancelot's effect on Arthur later in the novel. Despite his love for Arthur, Lancelot will contribute to the king's downfall.

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