The Once and Future King | Study Guide

T. H. White

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The Once and Future King | Part 3, Chapters 43–45 : The Ill-Made Knight | Summary

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Summary

Part 3, Chapter 43

During the night at Meliagrance's castle, Lancelot comes to Guenever's window and cuts his hand while removing the window's iron bars. Lancelot and Guenever spend the night together. In the morning Meliagrance wakes Guenever and notices blood on her sheets. He assumes one of the wounded knights made love to her, and he accuses her of being a traitor. Lancelot arrives and tells Meliagrance to be careful about what he says about the queen. Meliagrance is so sure of the righteousness of his accusation that he is willing to fight the queen's champion, Lancelot. Lancelot agrees to fight him. Later Meliagrance pretends to be friends with Lancelot before their trial by combat. He takes Lancelot on a tour of his castle and pushes him through a trapdoor into a dungeon. Meliagrance then tells Guenever that Lancelot has ridden ahead.

Part 3, Chapter 44

At the trial by combat Sir Lavine is persuaded to fight for the missing Lancelot. However, Lancelot arrives at the last minute. During the first charge, Lancelot unhorses Meliagrance, who begs for mercy. However, Guenever gives the thumbs down, indicating Meliagrance should be killed. Lancelot offers to fight Meliagrance with the armor on his left side removed and his left hand tied behind his back. Meliagrance eagerly accepts these terms. Meliagrance swipes his sword at Lancelot's left side. In response, Lancelot deals a lethal blow to his opponent.

Part 3, Chapter 45

Lancelot and Guenever resume their romance. Arthur puts Civil Law into effect, establishing a code of laws and a system of law courts. He turns a blind eye on Lancelot and Guenever's love affair, trusting they will not be indiscreet. Meanwhile Sir Urre from Hungary kills Sir Alphagus in combat. However, Alphagus's mother, who is a witch, puts a spell on Urre that prevents his wounds from healing. Only the best knight in the world can heal him. In constant pain, Urre searches throughout Europe for the best knight but doesn't find anyone who can break the spell. Finally Urre comes to Camelot in search of Lancelot. Arthur is confident that Lancelot can heal Urre. He invites all of the knights at court to attempt the healing. Because of his sinfulness, Lancelot believes he will fail and make a spectacle of himself. However, to Lancelot's surprise, he heals Urre. Arthur and all the spectators are ecstatic, and Lancelot kneels in gratitude to God.

Analysis

Through the folly of Sir Meliagrance, White interrelates the themes of might versus right and the folly of war. The author shows Meliagrance as a silly man who, in essence, has declared war on Arthur and his knights, especially Lancelot, by capturing Guenever. At first the folly of his private war seems to have come with no harm to him. Meliagrance begs for mercy, and Guenever forgives him for capturing her. However, when Meliagrance sees blood on Guenever's bedsheets, he jumps to the wrong conclusion and accuses her of sleeping with one of her wounded knights. Meliagrance's folly of making war entwines him in a scandal and chain of violence from which he can't escape.

At this point White shows the weakness of using might to decide justice. Meliagrance is willing to partake in trial by combat with Lancelot to prove his accusation is true. However, both Lancelot and Meliagrance realize trial by combat is a sham. It was used during medieval times to decide legal disputes. The outcome of the dispute would be determined by the outcome of the fight between the two warriors. A warrior was supposed to have achieved victory because God was on his side, proving his side of the dispute was righteous. However, Lancelot knows he will defeat Meliagrance even though the spirit of his accusation is true. Guenever did not sleep with any of her wounded knights, but she did sleep with Lancelot. Meliagrance also knows Lancelot will win, even though he firmly believes his accusation is correct. Because of this, Meliagrance tricks Lancelot and pushes him into a dungeon to prevent him from partaking in the trial by combat.

Eventually Meliagrance pays for the folly of declaring war on Arthur and his knights. Lancelot escapes from the dungeon and kills Meliagrance in the trial by combat. Through the Meliagrance episodes White shows that violent actions only lead to more violent actions, with nothing constructive being accomplished.

White conveys the theme of perfection versus fallibility by questioning the validity of Lancelot's pursuit of perfection. When Urre comes to Camelot, Lancelot is convinced he can't perform a miracle and heal Urre. Lancelot has shown his weakness in many ways, including his affair with Guenever and his lack of support for Elaine. He believes only those who are pure, such as Galahad, can perform miracles. However, Lancelot's perspective is refuted when he succeeds in healing Urre. Before he attempts to heal Urre, he asks for God's mercy, admitting to being fallible and undeserving of God's love. He asks for mercy for Urre's sake. God responds and allows the miracle. What seems to matter is not achieving a state of perfection (which makes a person worthy of performing miracles), but rather admitting one's humanness and asking for God's mercy and grace.

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