Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The enchanter Merlin advises King Uther Pendragon to establish the fellowship of the Round Table, which will be comprised of the 140 greatest knights in the kingdom. Merlin is to continue his role of Uther’s counselor with Uther’s son, Arthur, who will maintain and immortalize the tradition of the Round Table.
Arthur’s life begins as the result of an illicit affair between Igraine, the duchess of Tintagel and the wife of Gorlois, and Uther Pendragon. Merlin’s magic art had allowed Uther to visit Igraine in the likeness of her husband, of whose death she is as yet unaware. Arthur is conceived as a result of this deception. Ignorant of his true origin, he is brought up from infancy by one of Uther’s knights.
In Arthur’s youth, the Lady of the Lake, Nimue, presents him with the sign of his kingship: Excalibur, a great sword encrusted with precious stones. Still ignorant of the identity of his mother, Arthur has a brief love affair with Morgause, the queen of Orkney and one of Igraine’s three daughters—and, thus, Arthur’s half sister. The product of this incestuous liaison is Mordred, who is both King Arthur’s nephew and his illegitimate son. Sir Gawain, a knight intensely loyal to Arthur, is the son of King Lot of Orkney and his queen, Morgause. Gawain is, therefore, Arthur’s nephew.
Arthur takes Guinevere as his queen. Lancelot, a French knight and warrior of almost superhuman capabilities, joins the Round Table and becomes the courtly lover of Queen Guinevere. He is practicing a medieval convention in which a knight chastely loves and honors a lady without regard to her marital status. This chaste love eventually becomes carnal, sowing the seeds of destruction for Arthur’s kingdom.
In Camelot, seat of Arthur’s court, Lancelot and Guinevere have begun a love affair. Mordred and Sir Agravain—one of Gawain’s several brothers, who dislikes Lancelot intensely—plot to capture Lancelot and the queen in flagrante. The king goes hunting, allowing Mordred and Agravain the opportunity to substantiate, if they can, their charges against the lovers. Lancelot indeed visits the queen’s chamber. The two conspirators and an additional...
(The entire section is 899 words.)
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