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Queen Guenever is the third figure in the love triangle
that dominates the novel’s second half. She is also the least developed
of the novel’s central triad, which is consistent with White’s tendency
to focus on male characters. White often stereotypically describes women
as being girlish or needy, like Elaine, or as cruel vamps, like Morgause.
Unlike Arthur and Lancelot, Guenever does not seem to have any particularly
remarkable qualities that mark her as a great or noteworthy queen.
She is beautiful, but she is also jealous, selfish, petty, and shallow.
Guenever is capable of love, and she loves Arthur as genuinely as
she loves Lancelot, though not as passionately. While Lancelot’s
guilt about their affair reaches epic proportions and threatens
to destroy him, any guilt Guenever feels is secondary to her constant
craving to be with Lancelot. She even handles their cover-up badly,
and at one point she is visibly excited to be reunited with Lancelot
even in front of Arthur. As Guenever ages, she tries desperately
to stay young and beautiful, as her pathetic attempts to cover her
flaws with too much makeup demonstrate. In the novel’s third book,
“The Ill-Made Knight,” White writes that it is “difficult to imagine”
Guenever, and this difficulty translates to her role in the novel.
She is a central character, but she is important more for the way
others feel about her than for anything she herself does or feels.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Once and Future King!