Le Morte d'Arthur "The Questing Beast"

Thomas Malory

"The Questing Beast"

Context: After Malory had been sentenced to life imprisonment for various escapades, he whiled away the months and years by gathering together for the first time all the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Editing and reshaping this great cycle of tales, he gave them permanent and coherent form of epic proportions. Among the stories he collected were those of the Holy Grail and of Tristram; neither of them had originally been a part of the Arthurian cycle, but they had nonetheless become incorporated into it long before Malory's time. The tale of Sir Tristram of Lyonesse is one of the great love stories of the ages, and has been the subject of numerous works including poetry by Tennyson, Arnold, and Swinburne, and the opera Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner. Cured of a wound by Isoud (Ysolde, Iseult), daughter of the King of Ireland, Tristram negotiates her marriage to his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, as the latter has instructed him to do. His task is made more difficult because he has fallen in love with her and she with him. His affections discovered by his uncle, Tristram is banished to Brittany, where he marries another woman who is also named Isoud. Learning of his marriage, the first Isoud begs him to return with his wife for an extended visit. Tristram accepts her invitation, but his vessel is wrecked on the coast of North Wales. Directing his party to proceed into Cornwall if he does not return in ten days, he goes into the forest in search of adventure. His first encounter is with another knight, Sir Lamorak de Galis, with whom he has an old score to settle; but they are evenly matched, and after a long hard fight they swear mutual friendship and agree not to fight each other again. While they are resting, another knight appears on the scene, bound on a quest of his own. The usual challenge is given; much to their chagrin, the two stalwarts are quickly defeated by the newcomer, who then continues on his way:

And this meanwhile there came Sir Palomides, the good knight, following the questing beast that had in shape a head like a serpent's head, and a body like a leopard, buttocks like a lion, and footed like an hart; and in his body there was such a noise as it had been the noise of thirty couple of hounds questing, and such a noise that beast made wheresomever he went; and this beast evermore Sir Palomides followed, for it was called his quest. And right so as he followed this beast it came by Sir Tristram, and soon after came Palomides. And to brief this matter he smote down Sir Tristram and Sir Lamorak both with one spear; and so he departed after the beast Galtisant, that was called the questing beast; . . .