Le Morte d'Arthur Themes
There are many examples of courtly love in Le Morte d'Arthur, including the story of Sir Gareth, his defeat of the Red Knight, and his winning of the Lady Lyonesse as his wife. Gareth represents the ideal love, one that ends in marriage and is, above all else, honorable. But the story of romantic love and chivalry that most often comes to mind is the story of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere, a love that is clearly adulterous. After his introduction into the text, it is clear that many of Launcelot's heroic actions are designed to please the queen. He is clearly her favorite, and justifiably so, since in all of his adventures, Launcelot is brave, honorable, and strong. Because Launcelot fights to please and honor Guinevere, and not God, he is excluded from the quest for the Holy Grail. This image of courtly love changes when Launcelot is called upon to fight to save Guinevere's life. In the first instance, Guinevere is unjustly accused of murder, and a disguised Launcelot becomes her champion, overcoming Sir Mador and freeing the queen. According to romantic tradition, a knight entering a tournament might also wear a lady's token to express his love. Sir Launcelot wears the token of Elayne of Astalot, but does so only to enhance his disguise. Later, he wears the queen's token, thus making public his love for her. Another aspect of courtly love is the knight's rescue of his lady. Launcelot has already rescued Guinevere once, but when she is kidnapped, he rescues her again from Melliagaunce, her kidnapper. Launcelot then fights and kills Guinevere's oppressor. But because of these events, Guinevere is judged guilty of adultery and treason and is sentenced to be burned. Again, Sir Launcelot rescues his lady, but as a result, sets into motion events that will lead to the destruction of Arthur and of the Round Table. Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere's courtly love was far more than a harmless romantic interlude.
When Arthur establishes the code for the knights of his Round Table, one important element is honor. Arthur's knights owe him honor, but, more importantly, they owe honor to God. Most of the knights waver on this last requirement. For nearly all of the knights, their adventures, battles and tournaments, are fought to honor their king, or more immediately, themselves. Gawain fights for personal and family honor, and Launcelot fights for the queen's honor. Because of this, almost all of the knights fail in their quest for the Holy Grail. Only Galahad, Bors, and Percival place honor of God ahead of personal honor, vanity, and pride. Therefore, only these three knights are permitted to complete the quest for the Grail. Malory makes individual character an important element of his story, and how each character conducts himself, in an honorable fashion, is a key point in the text.
Fate and Destiny
Thanks to Merlin's prophecies and his magic, many times the readers are told of a prophecy that includes death and destruction. Characters are fated to meet one another on the battlefield or in tournaments, and fated to win or die based on an action that occurred much earlier, and for which, they may hold no responsibility. For example, Balyn easily draws out the sword affixed to a scabbard worn by the damsel. By doing do, he is fated to kill his dearest friend, his brother. In another example, the burial spot of Launcelor is fated to be the sight of the battle between Launcelot and Tristram, two knights who love one another and who would not willing fight one another, but who are destined to do so. This fate or destiny is not attributed to God or other spiritual matters, but instead to characters present in the text. Both Merlin and the Lady of the Lake act as representatives of fate, manipulating the characters and their actions to create a fate they predict.
Obedience is an element of the duty and...
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