The Once and Future King

by: T. H. White

Lancelot

Characters Lancelot

Lancelot is the protagonist of Book III and the greatest knight in the company of the Round Table. He is Arthur’s best friend and a powerful foil for the king since he is complex and full of contradictions. Lancelot is also Arthur’s opposite in that, while he is always able to take swift and decisive action, he is rarely able to use this ability to make the world a better place. Even when Lancelot performs a heroic deed, he does so accidentally, not because he has heroic ideals or good intentions. Lancelot’s ugliness gives him a sense of unworthiness and inadequacy from a very young age, but this low self-esteem is paired with an astonishing, almost unnatural talent for all knightly skills and endeavors. The ease with which Lancelot wins glory as a knight, combined with his gnawing sense of inferiority, is the source of most of his contradictions. Lancelot is both religious and lustful, both hideous and exalted, both meek and violent. He is simultaneously Arthur’s best friend and betrayer.

Lancelot is a prisoner of such contradictions. His own complexity keeps him from growing as a person, since he is too humble to exalt in his success and allow it to improve his self-image. Cutting through all of these contradictions is Lancelot’s unyielding, passionate love for Guenever; ultimately, their affair becomes both the best and the worst thing to happen to him. Lancelot’s love for Guenever provides Lancelot with moments of bliss but also compounds his guilt and leads to his downfall.