Malory's Arthur is poignantly heroic. In Malory's shaping of the many stories of Arthur's adventures, we find a progression of character. Initially a young and eager king prone to conventional feats of military success, Arthur reflects his young kingdom and court. He draws the bravest knights to Camelot largely because...
Malory's Arthur is poignantly heroic. In Malory's shaping of the many stories of Arthur's adventures, we find a progression of character. Initially a young and eager king prone to conventional feats of military success, Arthur reflects his young kingdom and court. He draws the bravest knights to Camelot largely because of the opportunity he provides to use their strength for an idealized kingdom based on virtue. Rather than a more brutal view of government in which knights might feel more like mercenaries, Arthur exhorts them to bring law, order, and control to a wild land. His round table further speaks to an ideal of equal value among members in Arthur's kingdom.
Later adventures, particularly once Lancelot is included, are more psychological in quality, and both men in this love triangle reflect the internal as well as political divisions in the court. Lancelot and Guinevere, of course, love Arthur, as the most idealized and inspiring of kings. It is only right that they, who themselves are the best knight and the best queen, would want to serve the best king with the best vision. It's also only right that Arthur would love each of them as the highest form of the people he seeks to foster in his country. The impossibility of this triangle—the love and the betrayal—are of a piece and are critical to understanding the personal failings but the intellectual and political superiority of both men. That Arthur can inspire what seems like love in Lancelot, who is divided in his loyalties to his king and his mistress, suggests a quality in Arthur that is unusually three-dimension for a romance figure.
At the end, when Arthur has turned against Lancelot (not out of personal betrayal but out of political necessity), we again see the king lamenting the loss of the political ideal that defined his life. He himself has flaws, but he was capable of drawing to him the best of men and women. Only his own internal weakness (exemplified by his bastard son, Modred) is capable of defeating the external ideals he fostered.