How do the Wart and Kay feel about each other in "The Once and Future King"?T.H. White's "Once and Future King"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Once and Future King," Sir Kay and Wart have been boys together and loved each other despite some arguments such as in Chapter 9 when Wart has been transported as a merlin the previous night and Kay, accusing him of violating curfew, fights Wart. Wart's eye is blackened and Kay's nose bloodied.  As he waits for his nose to stop bleeding, the spoiled Kay bemoans that he has no adventures as Wart has had with Merlyn.  So, kindly, Wart asks Merlyn to give Kay an adventure; Merlyn objects, but finally agrees to do so. While Kay is obviously spoiled, he belittles Wart in situations only where Wart receives what he thinks is too much praise.

For instance when Sir Kay learns that Sir Ector, his father, is going to take him to London where he may be able to pull the sword out of the stone that will indicate the future King of England, Sir Kay speaks to Wart,

'Oh, Wart,' cried Kay, forgetting for the moment that he was only addressing his squire, and slippin back into the familiarity of their boyhood. 'What do you think?  We are all going to London for a great tournament on New Year's Day!'

However, having reached London Sir Kay returns to his superior social position in regard to Wart, who is his squire, and after realizing that he has forgotten his sword at the inn where he has stayed the night before orders Wart to retrieve his sword for him:

'Here, squire ride hard back to the inn and fetch my sword.  You shall have a shilling if you fetch it in time.'

The offer of money insults Wart:

'To offer me money!' cried Wart to himself. 'To look down at this beastly little donkey-affaire off his great charger and to call me Squire!  Oh, Merlyn, give me patience with the brute, and stop me from throwing his filthy shilling in his face.'

Nevertheless, Wart returns to the Inn which is closed.  Then, he espies a sword in a stone, which he believes is a monument of some kind.  On his third attempt, Wart successfully pulls out the sword, and he rides back to Sir Kay.  Handing this sword to Kay, Wart explains how he happened to take it. Having heard his words, Sir Kay stares in amazement, licks his lips nervously, and turns his back, plunging into the crowd where he seeks his father, Sir Ector.

Sir Ector listens as his son claims to have pulled out the sword himself.  He says nothing except that they must return to the stone where the sword will be reinserted so that Kay may re-pull it out.  Sir Kay confesses that he has lied and reveals that War has pulled the sword from the stone.  So, Sir Ector has Wart demonstrate his action; he falls to his knees, acknowledging Wart as the future king.  He asks

no more ...but that you will make my son, your foster-brother, Sir Kay, seneschal of all your lands.

Humbly, Sir Kay kneels, too; however Wart is overcome and cries to think that he should be superior to the family he loves.

Although Sir Kay proves to be decent at heart, he has been spoiled as a child and he remains selfish, and at times nasty. For example, when Kay loses Cully, he angrily states that Hob is only a servant whose feelings are irrelevant. His earlier delight at receiving a hunting knife from Merlyn is typical of boys his age. Still, in Chapters 10-13 of Book I, Kay begins to become more likable in spite of being Wart, on the other hand, is like the good-natured, kindly step-child prevalent in English literature, who is eager to please and not especially motivated to greatness.  He simply does what he must to set things right and always considers others in his actions.

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The Once and Future King

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