AskDefine | Define lancelot

Dictionary Definition

Lancelot n : (Arthurian legend) one of the knights of the Round Table; friend of King Arthur until (according to some versions of the legend) he became the lover of Arthur's wife Guinevere [syn: Sir Lancelot]

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English

Alternative spellings

Launcelot

Etymology

From Lancelot, from Frankish Lanzo, pet name for male names beginning in Land-, and Old French diminutive endings -el and -ot.

Proper noun

  1. In the context of "Arthurian legend": One of the knights of the round table, a lover of Guinevere

Extensive Definition

In the Arthurian legend, Sir Lancelot (Lancelot du Lac, also Launcelot) is one of the Knights of the Round Table. In most of the French prose romances and works, he is characterized as the greatest and most trusted of Arthur's knights (at one point is called 'the most talked about knight now living), and plays a part in many of Arthur's victories – but Arthur's eventual downfall is also brought about in part by Lancelot, whose affair with Arthur's wife Guinevere destroys the unity of Arthur's court.
Lancelot is a very popular character. To the great majority of English readers the name of no knight of King Arthur's court is so familiar as is that of Sir Lancelot. The mention of Arthur and the Round Table at once brings him to mind to moderns as the most valiant member of that brotherhood and the secret lover of the Queen. Lancelot, however, is not an original member of the cycle, and the development of his story is still a source of considerable disagreement between scholars.
According to legend Lancelot's father is King Ban of Benioic and his mother's name is Elaine; his illegitimate half-brother is Hector de Maris, King Bors is his uncle, and Sir Bors and Sir Lionel are his cousins. With the Fisher King's daughter Elaine, he becomes the father of Galahad (in some sources, Galahad is also Lancelot's own baptismal name). His home is the castle Joyous Guard.

Early prose and poetry

Briefly summarized, the outline of his career, as given in the French Prose Lancelot and the German Lanzelet by Ulrich von Zatzikhoven is as follows:
Lancelot was the only child of the great King Ban (Pant) of Benoic (Genewis) and his queen Helaine (Clarine). While yet an infant, his father was driven from his kingdom, either by a revolt of his subjects, caused by his own harshness (Lanzelet), or by the action of his enemy Claudas de la Deserte (Lancelot). King and queen flee, carrying the child with them, and while the wife is tending her husband, who dies of a broken heart on his flight, the infant is carried off by a friendly water-fay, the Lady of the Lake, who brings the boy up in her mysterious kingdom. In the German poem this is a veritable “Isle of Maidens,” where no man ever enters, and where it is perpetual spring. In the prose Lancelot, on the other hand, the Lake is but a mirage, and the Lady's court does not lack its complement of gallant knights; moreover the boy has the companionship of his cousins, Lionel and Bors (sons of his father's younger brother Bors), who, like himself, have been driven from their kingdom by Claudas. When he reaches the customary age (fifteen or eighteen by different texts and calculations), the young Lancelot, suitably equipped, is sent out into the world. In both versions his name and parentage are unknown to him. In Lanzelet he lacks all knightly accomplishments (not unnatural when we remember he has here been brought up entirely by women) and his inability to handle a steed is emphasized. He rides forth in search of what adventure may bring. In the prose Lancelot he goes with a fitting escort and equipment to Arthur's court, where the Lady of the Lake asks that he be knighted.
The subsequent adventures differ widely, but in both tales he rides about the land accompanied by a woman who later abandons him, and in both he eventually learns his true name and lineage, regaining his rightful heritage peaceably because none dares stand against him. But in the Prose Lancelot the tale is extended by a description of Claudas' war against the Knights of the Round Table, in which neither side gains the upper hand until word comes that Arthur and Lancelot themselves are coming with reinforcements. Claudas immediately flees alone into exile.
In Lanzelet the hero then reigns in peace over a land inherited though his wife Iblis, while King Ban's kingdom is ruled by an uncle. Both Lancelot and his wife live to see their children's children, and they die on the same day. The whole of Lanzelet has much more the character of folklore than that of a knightly romance.
In the prose version, Lancelot, from his first appearance at court, conceives a passion for the queen, who is very considerably his senior, his birth taking place some time after her marriage to Arthur. This infatuation colours his whole later career. He frees her from imprisonment in the castle of Meleagant, who kidnapped her (a similar adventure is related in Lanzelet, where he fights a duel against a would-be abductor Valerin, but when Valerin later succeeds in taking the queen, Lanzelet is not the rescuer). Although he recovers his kingdom from Claudas, he prefers to remain a simple knight of Arthur's court along with his cousins and illegitimate half-brother Hector de Maris who also refused to retire from knighthood to take on lordship. Tricked into a liaison with the Fisher King's daughter (called Elaine in a few later texts), he becomes the father of Galahad, the Grail winner, and, as a result of the queen's jealous anger at his relations with the lady, goes mad (for the third time), and remains an exile from the court for some years. He takes part in the Grail quest, but is granted only a fleeting glimpse of the sacred Vessel; this induces unconsciousness that lasts for as many days as he has spent years in sin. Finally, his relations with Guinevere are revealed to Arthur by King Lot's sons except for Gawain, Guerrehet and Gaheriet (in Malory Gawain, Gaheris, and Gareth), who take no part in the disclosure. Surprised together with the queen, Lancelot escapes, and the queen is condemned to be burnt at the stake. As her death sentence is about to be carried out, Lancelot and his kinsmen come to the queen's rescue, but in the fight that ensues many of Arthur's knights, including three of Gawain's brothers, are slain. Now Lancelot's enemy, Gawain urges Arthur to wage war against him, and there follows a desperate struggle between Arthur and the race of Ban. This is interrupted by an invasion of Gaul by the Romans. But no sooner has Arthur defeated the Romans than tidings come of Mordred's treachery. Lancelot, taking no part in the last fatal conflict, outlives both the king and queen, as well as the downfall of the Round Table. Finally, retiring to a hermitage, he ends his days in the odour of sanctity.
The process whereby the independent hero of the Lanzelette - who has only minimal contact with Arthur, and who is the faithful husband of Iblis - was converted into the principal ornament of Arthur's court and the devoted lover of the queen, is by no means easy to follow, nor do other works of the cycle explain the transformation. In the pseudo-chronicles, the Historia of Geoffrey and the translations by Robert Wace and Layamon, Lancelot does not appear at all; the queen's lover, whose guilty passion is fully returned, is Mordred.
Chrétien de Troyes' treatment of Lancelot is contradictory; in Erec and Enide, his earliest extant poem, Lancelot's name appears as third on the list of the knights of Arthur's court. (Of course Gawain is first and Erec, the hero of the tale, is second, so third position indicates Lancelot's general high status.) In Chrétien's Cligès Lancelot actually makes an appearance as one of the formidable knights the story's hero must overcome. In Le Chevalier de la Charrette, however, which followed Cligès, Lancelot is the hero of the poem and therefore of course the best knight of the court, and also the queen's lover; this is precisely the position he occupies in the prose romance, where the section dealing with this adventure is, as Gaston Paris clearly proved, an almost literal adaptation of Chrétien's poem. The subject of the poem is the rescue of the queen from her abductor Meleagant; and what makes the matter more perplexing is that Chrétien handles the situation as if his audience were already familiar with it: it is Lancelot, not Arthur, to whom the role of rescuer naturally belongs. In Perceval, le Conte du Graal, Chrétien's last work, Lancelot does not appear at all, although much of the action takes place at Arthur's court. In the Continuations added at various times to Chrétien's unfinished work, the role assigned to Lancelot is also modest. Among the fifteen knights selected by Arthur to accompany him to Chastel Orguellous he only ranks ninth. In a Tristan episode inserted by Gerbert de Montreuil in his continuation, Lancelot is one of the knights publicly overthrown and shamed by Tristan.
Nowhere outside of Le Chevalier de la Charette is Lancelot treated with anything approaching the importance assigned to him in the prose romances. Welsh tradition does not know him (Roger Sherman Loomis posited that Lancelot derived from the character Lloch Llawwynnyawc or Lugh Llenlleawg found in Culhwch and Olwen and referenced in the poems Pa Gur and Preiddeu Annwfn, and claimed he could be traced back to Lleu Llaw Gyffes or even the Celtic god Lugh or Lugus, but this view is no longer widely accepted). Nor do early Italian records - which have preserved the names of Arthur and Gawain - make any reference to Lancelot. What appears to be the most probable solution is that Lancelot was the hero of an independent and widely diffused folk-tale, which, owing to certain special circumstances, was brought into contact with, and incorporated into, the Arthurian tradition. This has been proved of the adventures recounted in the Lanzelet: the theft of an infant by a water-fairy, the appearance of the hero at a tournament on three consecutive days in three different disguises, and the rescue of a queen or princess from an Other-World prison are all features of a well-known and widespread folk-tale, variants of which are found in almost every land, and numerous examples of which have been collected by Emmanuel Cosquin in his Contes Lorrains, and by J. F. Campbell in his Tales of the West Highlands.
The story of the love between Lancelot and Guinevere as related by Chrétien has nothing spontaneous and genuine about it; in no way can it be compared with the story of Tristan and Iseult. It is the exposition of a relationship governed by artificial and arbitrary rules, to which the principal actors in the drama must perforce conform. Chrétien states that he composed the poem (which he left to be completed by Godefroi de Leigni) at the request of the countess Marie de Champagne, who provided him with matière et san. Marie was the daughter of Louis VII of France and of Eleanor of Aquitaine, subsequently wife of Henry II of Anjou and England. Both mother and daughter were active agents in fostering the view of the social relations of the sexes which found its most famous expression in the "Courts of Love", and which was responsible for the dictum that love between husband and wife was impossible. The logical conclusion appears to be that the Charrette poem is a Tendenz-Schrift, composed under particular conditions in response to a special demand. The story of Tristan and Iseult, immensely popular as it was, was too genuine to satisfy the taste of the court for which Chrétien was writing. Moreover, the Arthurian story was the popular story of the day, and Tristan did not belong to the magic circle, although he was ultimately brought within its bounds. The Arthurian cycle must have its own love-tale; Guinevere, the leading lady of that cycle, had to have a lover like the courtly ladies of the day, so one had to be found for her. Lancelot, already popular hero of a tale in which an adventure parallel to that of the Charrette figured prominently, was pressed into service. Mordred, Guinevere's earlier lover, was too unsympathetic a character; moreover, he was required for the final role of traitor.
But to whom is the story to be assigned? Here we must distinguish between Lancelot proper and the Lancelot/Guinevere versions; so far as the latter are concerned, we cannot trace it any further than Chrétien's version. Nowhere prior to the composition of the Chevalier de la Charrette is there any evidence of the existence of such a story. Yet Chrétien does not claim to have invented the situation. Did it spring from the fertile brain of some court lady - Marie or another? The authorship of the Lancelot proper, on the other hand, is frequently ascribed to Walter Map, the chancellor of Henry II, as are the majority of the Arthurian prose romances. However, Walter had died before the prose Lancelot could have been composed. Some, however, accept Map as the possible author of a Lancelot romance that formed the basis for later developments, and there is a growing tendency to identify this hypothetical original Lancelot with the source of the German Lanzelet. The author, Ulrich von Zatzikhoven, tells us that he translated his poem from a French (welsches) book in the possession of Hugo de Morville, one of the English hostages who, in 1194, replaced Richard Coeur de Lion in the prison of Leopold V of Austria.
To the student of the earliest medieval Arthurian romances, Lancelot is an infinitely less interesting hero than Gawain, Perceval or Tristan, each of whom possesses a well-marked personality, and is the centre of what we may call individual adventures. Except for his being stolen and brought up by a water-fairy (the whole story probably started from a Lai relating this adventure ), there is nothing much in the material common to the French and German tales to distinguish Lancelot from any other romantic hero of the period.
But in the Perlesvaus, possibly the earliest French prose Arthurian romance, Lancelot's love affair with Guinevere suddenly re-emerges and Lancelot plays a part in this Grail romance almost equal to that of Perceval the hero and Gawain. But in this romance, Lancelot - unlike Perceval, Gawain and Arthur - never sees the Grail.
The language of the prose Lancelot itself is good, easy and graceful, but except for the earlier sections involving Lancelot and his friend Galehot, most of Lancelot's own adventures lack originality and interest. Situations repeat themselves in a wearisome manner. English readers who know the story only through the medium of Malory's prose and Tennyson's verse have an impression entirely different from that produced by the original literature. The Lancelot story, in its rise and development, belongs exclusively to the later stage of Arthurian romance; it was a story for the court, not for the folk, and it lacks both the dramatic force and human appeal of the genuine popular tale.
The prose Lancelot was frequently printed; J. C. Brunet chronicles editions of 1488, 1494, 1513, 1520 and 1533; there are two from this last date, one published by Jehan Petit, the other by Philippe Lenoire; the Lenoire edition is far better, being printed from a much fuller manuscript. There is now a critical edition in nine volumes by Alexandre Micha, as well as an edition by Elspeth Kennedy of an alternative Old French version. There is also a translation into English by a team of scholars directed by Norris J. Lacy; the only version available for the general reader of French is the modernized and abridged text published by Paulin Paris in vols. iii. to v. of Romans de la Table Ronde. A Dutch verse translation of the 13th century was published by W. J. A. Jonckbloet in 1850, under the title of Roman van Lanceleet. This begins with what Paulin Paris terms the Agravain section, the whole previous part with Guinevere's rescue from Meleagant having been lost; but the text is an excellent one, agreeing closely with the Lenoire edition of 1533. The Books devoted by Malory to Lancelot are also drawn from this latter section of the romance; there is no sign that the English translator had any of the earlier part before him. Malory's version of the Charrette adventure differs in many respects from any other extant form, and the source of this special section of his work is still a question of debate among scholars.

Further reading

  • Lancelot and the Grail: A Study of the Prose Lancelot, Elspeth Kennedy (Clarendon Press, 1986)
  • Lancelot Do Lac, the Non-Cyclic Old French Prose Romance, Two Volumes, Elspeth Kennedy (ed.) (OUP, 1980)
  • Lancelot of the Lake, Introduction Elspeth Kennedy. Translation and notes Corin Corley (Oxford World's Classics)
  • William Cole. "First and Otherwise Notable Editions of Medieval French Texts Printed from 1742 to 1874: A Bibliographical Catalogue of My Collection". Sitges: Cole & Contreras, 2005.
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Modern interpretations

In the modern world, interpretations of Lancelot have varied with him most stereotypically being portrayed in novels and film as a near-perfect warrior, skilled, handsome, and charismatic. In most films, Guinevere and Arthur are the same age as Lancelot.

In books

  • In Marion Zimmer Bradley's highly revisionist The Mists of Avalon, Lancelot is bisexual.
  • In Bernard Cornwell's The Warlord Chronicles, Lancelot is depicted as Galahad's cowardly older brother, who nevertheless has an impossibly grand reputation as a heroic fighter thanks to his mother commissioning a great many poems in his honour.
  • Lancelot's modern incarnation in Meg Cabot's young adult novel Avalon High is Lance, an attractive high school football player.
  • In the light novel Fate/Zero, Lancelot was summoned the servant Berserker to fight in the Holy Grail War. Upon his defeat by Saber, he said that he had wanted his king to strike him down to atone for his sins like a faithful knight
  • In the young adults book Shalott, by Felicity Pulman, 5 young Australians are sent back in time to king Arthur's court to try and change history and tennyson's poem on the Lady of Shalott(Astolat)

In film

  • Lancelot was the hero of the 1950s British television series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, where he was played by William Russell. This was the first British television series ever to be made in colour.
  • In the 1953 film Knights of the Round Table, Lancelot (Robert Taylor) and Guinevere's (Ava Gardner) affair is limited to a kiss, and he defeats Mordred (Stanley Baker) after Arthur (Mel Ferrer) dies.
  • Lancelot du Lac, a French film by Robert Bresson.
  • In the 1975 comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "Sir Lancelot the Brave" (played by John Cleese) is a marvellously violent knight known to attack castle walls, farm animals, wedding guests, and flowers. At the end of the film, he is the first one to cross the Bridge of Death, but is ultimately arrested by police looking for the murderer of the historian shortly afterwards. In the 2005 Broadway version of this film, Spamalot, Lancelot's quest leads him to discover that he is gay and ends up "marrying" the effeminate Prince Herbert (his homosexuality was alluded to during the end of Galahad's quest in the original movie where Galahad accused Lancelot of being gay, but the latter claimed that he's not).
  • In John Boorman's 1981 film, Excalibur, Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) is portrayed much in the same manner as in Malory, but carries out actions usually assigned to other knights. Like Tristan he is sent to escort the king's betrothed and falls in love with her on the way. When Arthur (Nigel Terry) first meets Lancelot the two fight and Excalibur is broken (but later fixed by the Lady of the Lake). This reflects Arthur's fight with King Pellinore in Malory, where he breaks the Sword from the Stone and the Lady replaces it with Excalibur. Later, Arthur discovers the lovers in a forest, but spares them, leaving Excalibur standing between their bodies (again, from the legends of Tristan and Isolde, and similar to Pelleas' response to finding his love in the arms of Gawaine). Lancelot is driven mad by remorse, and lives as a wild man (Much as he does in Malory, and like Tristan, who temporarily suffered from amnesia - and a similar remorse-fuelled period of madness occurs to Lancelot in T. H. White's Once and Future King series) during the quest for the Grail. Later, he re-emerges during the final battle against Mordred, where he dies, reconciled with Arthur.
  • The animated series King Arthur and the Knights of Justice features a 20th century New York football team called the Knights, who are led by quarterback Arthur King. Arthur and the New York Knights are transported to Camelot by Merlin to temporarily replace the real Arthur and his knights, who have been magically imprisoned by Morgana le Faye's magic. Lancelot's counterpart is unsurprisingly named Lance, and he wields a lance.
  • In the 1995 film First Knight, Lancelot (Richard Gere), comes to the court of King Arthur (Sean Connery) as a fearless fighter without master. He rescues Guinevere (Julia Ormond) from Sir Malagant's brigands early in the film and falls in love with her at their first meeting. Following the death of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere marry and rule the kingdom justly. Notably, Arthur is noticeably older than both Lancelot and Guinevere.
  • In the 2004 film King Arthur, Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd) is portrayed as an atheist, in contrast to Arthur (Clive Owen), who is a devout Catholic, though a follower of the Pelagian heresy. Lancelot is also a Sarmatian, whose origins are of the Black Sea area of Eastern Europe. He is forced into service in Britain by tradition of the Roman Empire. In this version, his affair with Guinevere is almost non-existent - there is clearly chemistry, but they never act on their attraction.
  • In the 2007 film Shrek the Third, Lancelot is seen as the high school's head jock who bullies Artie and makes him the dummy in jousting training (voiced by John Krasinski).
Lancelot and Guinevere (alternately known as Sword of Lancelot)is a 1963 film scripted, directed by and starring Cornel Wilde.

External links

See also

lancelot in Bulgarian: Ланселот
lancelot in Catalan: Lancelot
lancelot in Welsh: Lawnslot
lancelot in Danish: Lancelot
lancelot in German: Lancelot
lancelot in Modern Greek (1453-): Λάνσελοτ
lancelot in Spanish: Lanzarote del Lago
lancelot in French: Lancelot du Lac
lancelot in Galician: Lanzarote do Lago
lancelot in Italian: Lancillotto del Lago
lancelot in Hebrew: סר לנסלוט דו לאק
lancelot in Georgian: ლანსელოტი
lancelot in Dutch: Lancelot
lancelot in Japanese: ランスロット
lancelot in Polish: Lancelot z Jeziora
lancelot in Portuguese: Lancelote
lancelot in Russian: Ланселот
lancelot in Simple English: Lancelot
lancelot in Finnish: Lancelot
lancelot in Swedish: Lancelot
lancelot in Turkish: Lancelot
lancelot in Chinese: 兰斯洛特爵士

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bayard, Don Quixote, Gawain, Ritter, Sidney, Sir Galahad, bachelor, banneret, baronet, caballero, cavalier, chevalier, companion, knight, knight bachelor, knight banneret, knight baronet, knight-errant
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