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Free Study Guide-The Once and Future King-T.H. White-Free Book Summary
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Chapter 16

Summary and Notes

Elaine is preparing to “capture” Lancelot. This is a futile cause, because Lancelot does not and never will love her; she has nothing as leverage except the baby, which will only remind Lancelot of her treachery. She is no match for Guenever, although she is truly in love with the knight.

Meanwhile, in the castle, Lancelot is unconsciously dreading Elaine’s arrival; that is, he cannot directly recognize what he has done because it is too great for his mind to bear. Again the reader sees Lancelot’s fragility when it comes to the issue of Guenever.

Guenever, on the other hand, is steeling herself for her rival’s arrival. She is jealous, not so much of Elaine, but of the baby Galahad, and she tortures herself with her envy; because of her jealousy, she becomes cruel.

Furthermore, Arthur is miserable. The author points out that he is unsuited for jealousy because he is only a “simple and affectionate man,” and therefore, unequipped for some of the problems in his court. He understands what is happening between his best friend and his wife, but instead of reacting with overt anger, he believes that they are good people and will do the right thing eventually.

This is Arthur’s “fatal flaw,” and therein lies a whole discussion about whether he is really such a great king or not. It is useful to remember this chapter later in the novel: the author is quite clear that Arthur has no malice or cunning, and therefore cannot always take the best route when presented with others’ darker natures.

Arthur makes one effort to confront the problem: he asks Lancelot whether he will marry Elaine. Lancelot replies that he does not love her, and Arthur leaves it at that. Lancelot feels an uncontrollable desire to tell Arthur his sin, but cannot; Guenever arrives shortly thereafter to tell Lancelot that Elaine will be at the castle that evening. She asks Lancelot to keep Elaine away from her, but to marry Elaine if he likes.

This is a magnanimous gesture on Guenever’s part, and the reader should recognize her self-control and generosity.

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