English 65B/165: Arthurian Literature
Week 11.1 Malory's Tale of Lancelot and Guenevere

The Noble Tale of the Sangrail ends with Lancelot's son Galahad attaining the Quest "as a clean maid" (p. 401); before his Ascension he sends Bors to remind Lancelot "to remember of this unsure world." Then The Tale of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guenevere tells us "Sir Lancelot began to resort unto queen Guenevere again" (p. 403). In the five episodes that follow, Lancelot and Guenevere pursue their love, narrowly escaping detection. For this compilation, Malory draws upon the French Mort Artu with help from the English Stanzaic Le Morte Arthur ; he inserts a much reduced version of Chrétien's Knight of the Cart, and adds two adventures: a tournament in which Gareth comes over from Gawain's side to Lancelot's, and, finally, Lancelot's miraculous healing of Sir Urry.

The Tale

I. In Book XVIII, the episode of The Poisoned Apple, Lancelot has fallen into his old adulterous ways with Guenevere and Gawain's brother Agravain is spying and plotting against them. Lancelot tries to warn Guenevere that they should be guarded, but she thinks he is trying to rid her for other women and exiles him. She is accused of poisoning a knight with an apple at her feast. In Lancelot's absence. Bors stands up for her as her champion, but Lancelot himself returns in the nick to defend her.

II. In the next episode, The Fair Maid of Ascolat (XVIIII.9-25, pp. 415-), Lancelot leaves the court at Guenevere's advice, to stop scandalous rumor. To disguise himself, he borrows the armor of one of Sir Barnard of Ascolat's sons and brings the other son, Lavain, along as a disciple-companion to the tournament. He wears the red sleeve of Barnard's daughter, the maid of Ascolat, much to Guenevere's chagrin when she learns of it. In his great victory on the field against his own kinsmen, Lancelot is severely wounded by Bors. An aristocratic hermit cures him gradually, as he is tended by the Maid. On his recovery he refuses her as wife or mistress and the maid dies for love of him. As she requested, her body is loaded on a barge and floated to court, where her sentimental story is divulged. His motives explained, Lancelot is forgiven once more by the wrong-headed Guenevere.

III. In XVIII, 21-25 (pp.437-), Lancelot, despite a wound in the buttocks caused by a huntress's misdirected arrow, is victorious in tournament while displaying the Queen's sleeve of gold; he is aided by Gareth, who leaves the Gawain-clan to join the opponent Lancelot, because he "is the same man that made me knight" (p. 441). The section ends with Malory's paean to the steadfast love of olden days, during which Queen Guenevere "while she lived was a true lover" (p. 444).

IV. The Knight of the Cart (XIX, pp. 445-) while deriving ultimately from Chrétien's Knight of the Cart is markedly different throughout the narrative; Malory's version is filtered through the French prose romance and compressed.

After a comparison of springtime growth to a worshipful knight's virtuous love for God and lady, unlike the hasty love nowadays, "soon hot, soon cold," action begins with Guenevere taking ten of the Queen's Knights a-maying, minus Lancelot but with Kay. Meliagaunt makes his move with his forces against the Queen with her knights; they are wounded and the Queen surrenders on condition that her knights be spared. Guenevere sends a child with a message ring for Lancelot to rescue her; Meliagaunt, who owns the castle, orders his archers to attack Lancelot 's horse. Asking Lavain to follow after, Lancelot crosses the river at Westminster Bridge, and the defenders shoot his horse, so he commandeers a cart. Lancelot challenges Meliagaunt, "knight of the Table Round" (!), who promptly throws himself at the Queen's mercy. Lavain arrives to bring first aid to the ten knights, whom the Queen has put in her chamber as a recovery room. Lancelot at Guenevere's invitation arrives by night with ladder, pulls open the iron bars, rips his hand, and lays with her (as in C). In the morning, Meliagaunt churlishly pulls back the bed curtains to reveal the bloodied sheets; the ten (!) wounded knights are accused of royal commerce. Lancelot takes the challenge to defend their honor in eight days, but is led to a trap door by Meliagaunt. A damsel offers to release Lancelot from his imprisonment for sex, but settles for a kiss. Lancelot appears and kills Meliagaunt with one hand tied behind his back, to the admiration of Arthur and Guenevere

V. In the added Tale of Sir Urry (XIX, 10-13, p. 460-), whose wounds by enchantment could not be healed "until the best knight of the world had searched his wounds" (p. 460), Lancelot proves the sacral physician whose touch is more effective than the king's or any other knight's. The two young associates of Lancelot, Lavain and Urry, having proved themselves worthy on the tournament field, become knights of the Round table, and Lavain marries Urry's sister. But even while "they lived in all that court with great noblesse and joy" (p. 466), Sir Agravain, Gawain's brother, plotted to put Guenevere and Lancelot to shame.