Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1082
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, he falsely reports to Arthur that he has done so but is sent back again. When he finally brings the report that an arm reached from the lake to take the sword, Arthur knows that Bedivere has truly done his bidding.
Merlin, the magician who reared Arthur. Tricked by the wanton Vivien into teaching her his magic powers, he is enchanted by her and left forever a prisoner in a hollow tree.
Kay, a surly knight and Arthur’s seneschal.
Lynette, the disdainful lady won by Gareth.
Enid, the faithful wife of Geraint.
Vivien, a vain and coquettish woman of the court. Unsuccessful in her efforts to seduce Arthur, she goes to work on Merlin.
Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat. In love with but rejected by Lancelot, she is loved by Gawain, whom she rejects. She dies of grief and, according to her dying wish, is sent floating in a boat to Camelot, where Arthur and Lancelot find her. She is buried in Camelot.
Ettarre, who is loved by Pelleas, whom she rejects, and by Gawain, to whom she succumbs.
Isolt of the White Hands
Isolt of the White Hands, Tristram’s bride, whom he leaves.
Isolt of Cornwall
Isolt of Cornwall, the wife of King Mark. She is loved by Tristram.
King Mark of Cornwall
King Mark of Cornwall, the husband of Isolt of Cornwall and the slayer of Tristram.
Ygerne, the mother of Arthur.
Gorlois, the first husband of Ygerne and possibly Arthur’s father.
King Uther, who overcomes Gorlois in battle and immediately forces the widow Ygerne to marry him. Thus, he is possibly Arthur’s father.
Bellicent, the daughter of Gorlois and Ygerne and the mother of Gareth.
Morning Star, the first knight overcome by Gareth on Lynette’s behalf.
Death, Gareth’s fourth opponent in his quest. Death proves to be a mere boy, forced by his brothers to assume a fearful disguise.
Earl Yniol, the impoverished father of Enid.
King Pellam, whose refusal to pay his yearly tribute to Arthur is the occasion for Balan’s leaving the court, thus neglecting the care of his mad brother.
Lavaine, the brother of Elaine of Astolat.
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