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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Arthurian adultery in English literature, with special emphasis on Malory, Tennyson, E.A. Robinson, and T.H. White Cameron, John Ronald


The purpose of this thesis is to examine the history in English literature of the relationship between King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, in order to show how various authors have enriched the legend by developing the psychological potential of the chief characters, and by projecting the standards of their respective ages into their versions of the story. Special emphasis has been placed on the work of Sir Thomas Malory, Alfred Tennyson, E.A. Robinson, and T.H. White. The Arthurian legend is particularly appropriate for such a comparative study. It has received the attention of English writers for eight centuries, and, for the past hundred years, of writers in America as well. In the fifteenth century Malory used the legend to argue for a strong monarchy, and to remind his aristocratic countrymen of the neglected ideals of chivalry; in the nineteenth century Tennyson hoped that the re-telling of the story for its elements of moral and spiritual allegory would inspire the Victorians to rise above the materialism and sensuality which to him were signs of the times; early in the twentieth century Edwin Arlington Robinson suggested a comparison between the disintegration of Camelot and the disruption of European society after World War I, and he questioned the traditionally accepted greatness of Arthur and his kingdom; in the last decade Terence Hanbury White has seen that the problem facing King Arthur also confronts the strife-torn twentieth century how can the energies of men be harnessed for constructive rather than destructive action? The adultery between Guinevere and Lancelot has been made the focal point of this study because it involves the three best-known characters of the legend, and because it has attracted the interest of writers more than has any other element of the Arthuriad, particularly in the past one hundred years.

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