Idylls of the King Characters
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Start Your Free Trial

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Download Idylls of the King Study Guide

Subscribe Now

King Arthur

King Arthur, of Camelot. His birth is shrouded in great mystery, and he is reared by Merlin the magician. He receives his magic sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake and marries Guinevere. With his Round Table knights, he drives out the enemy and unifies his kingdom. He rules wisely and is successful until his Round Table fellowship diminishes in the knights’ quest for the Holy Grail. Exposure of Guinevere’s infidelity with Lancelot proves thoroughly demoralizing, and in a traitorous revolt, Arthur is mortally wounded. After his last remaining faithful knight returns Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake, three maidens come in a barge to the shore to carry Arthur away as mysteriously as he had come.


Guinevere, Arthur’s beloved queen and his inspiration. She falls in love with the courtly, gay Lancelot, whom Arthur had sent to bring her from her father’s home. Much later, when her guilty love is exposed, she goes to a nunnery, where she remains until her death.


Lancelot, a knight of the Round Table. His lifelong love for Guinevere is a source of great misery. He is loved by another woman, whom he cannot love in return. At last, the scandal with Guinevere revealed, he leaves Camelot and dies a monk.


Gareth, a knight of the Round Table and a nephew of Arthur, his sister’s youngest son. His first quest is on behalf of a lady who is disdainful of her untried knight. Victorious in his quest, he wins her approval and her hand.


Geraint, a knight of the Round Table. Married to Enid, he jealously keeps her away from the court. As a result of his absence from Camelot, his valor is doubted. Enid’s reticence on this subject convinces him that she loves another knight, but at last she is able to prove her love. They go to Camelot, where Guinevere welcomes Enid to the court.


Balan, a knight of the Round Table. Returning from a mission for Arthur, he hears mad shrieks and rushes against the knight making them, who is in fact his unrecognized brother.


Balin, Balan’s mad brother and a knight of the Round Table. Disillusioned on discovering the intimacy of Guinevere and his idol Lancelot, he leaves hanging on a tree the shield Guinevere had given him. Without the shield, he is unrecognized by his brother. In the struggle between them, Balin kills Balan and is crushed by his own horse.


Gawain, a knight of the Round Table. He falls in love with Elaine of Astolat, who rejects him because she loves Lancelot. Later, he promises to help Pelleas with Ettarre, who has rejected Pelleas’ love. At her castle, he tells her he has killed Pelleas, and he becomes intimate with her.


Pelleas, a knight of the Round Table. Suspicious on hearing nothing from Gawain, he steals into Ettarre’s castle and finds the lovers in bed together. He places his naked sword across their throats and rushes madly away. After hearing about the scandal of Lancelot and Guinevere, he returns to Camelot, where his rudeness to the queen foreshadows the ruin of the Round Table.


Galahad, the youngest and purest of the knights of the Round Table. The Holy Grail appears to him in all its splendor, but the experience proves fatal to him.


Percivale, the only other knight of the Round Table pure enough, according to Arthur’s gloomy prediction, to see the Holy Grail.


Bors, a knight of the Round Table. He reports back to Arthur that he has seen the Holy Grail.


Tristram, a knight of the Round Table. He and Lancelot, equally guilty in loving other men’s wives, fight in a tournament that Tristram wins. He then goes to Isolt of Cornwall, whom he loves. Her husband finds the lovers together and kills Tristram.


Modred, the real Judas among the knights of the Round Table. Malevolent and opportunistic, he traps Lancelot and Guinevere. He heads the revolt that ends in Arthur’s death.


Bedivere, Arthur’s last remaining knight of the Round Table. Reluctant to throw Excalibur into the lake,...

(The entire section is 1,082 words.)