Arthurian Legends

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King Arthur asks Sir Bedivere to throw Excalibur into a lake. What is your opinion of Sir Bedivere's actions?

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Sir Bedivere is a character from the Arthurian legends who bears some similarity to Percival. Depending upon which version of the story you are reading, the role and actions of Bedivere and Percival are fairly similar. For example, in the book Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (one of many versions of the story), it is Percival who is the "cup bearer" and who is by Arthur's side as he lays dying, and who ultimately fulfills Arthur's request to throw Excalibur into the lake.

The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson also wrote about the Arthurian legends frequently, and in his poem "Le Morte D'Arthur," Sir Bedivere is portrayed as the knight who grant's the King's dying wish. Arthur believes that Excalibur, the fated sword that defined his kingship, should be returned to the magical waters of the lake that forged it, so that it can be offered again when a suitable leader appears. Bedivere takes Excalibur to the shore to grant Arthur's request, but once he arrives, he hesitates. Tennyson's poem describes the intricate beauty of the sword as Bedivere gazes upon it, then portrays his state of mind as he decides not to throw it into the water.

He gazed so long

 That both his eyes were dazzled, as he stood,

 This way and that dividing the swift mind,                  

 In act to throw: but at the last it seem'd

 Better to leave Excalibur conceal'd

 There in the many-knotted water-flags,

 That whistled stiff and dry about the marge.

 So strode he back slow to the wounded King.

Tennyson suggests here that the magical qualities of the sword have confused Sir Bedivere and made him unable to fulfill Arthur's order. It is understandable that Bedivere would not want the sword to be lost from the world of mankind: it was responsible for uniting the kingdom under Arthur, because it was Arthur’s destiny to pull the sword from the stone. Arthur discovers Bedivere’s failure to perform the task, and angrily orders him again to cast the sword into the lake. Bedivere is an honest and faithful knight and servant to the king, and realizes he has acted impulsively and now must do as the King wishes. When he does, he sees the hand of the Lady of the Lake reach up to grab the sword and pull it under the surface of the water.

So flash'd and fell the brand Excalibur:

But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm

Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,

And caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him

 Three times, and drew him under in the mere.

This powerful image stays with Bedivere and he relates it to King Arthur, who then understands he may die at peace, his duty fulfilled. Bedivere then accompanies Arthur to the barge that carries him to the sea and his final resting place. He has proved a most loyal knight and will live on in legends. All of the stories of what British historians call “The Matter of Britain” relate the timeless quality of the heroic adventures and tragic actions of Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table.

 

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