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Summary and Notes
Gawaine and Mordred come to Camelot, leaving Agravaine behind. Agravaine’s murder of his mother was foreshadowed by his murder of the unicorn; both were crimes of passion, and his two brothers are furious at him. Gawaine is anxious about Arthur’s reaction to the crime, and hopes that he will be punished justly. Gawaine, in the chapter becomes a more distinct character in his own right, and a fairly sympathetic one.
The brothers enter the court, and the reader’s first impression of the physical Mordred is that he is slight, shrewd and slightly physically deformed (like Richard III, the author writes - not an accidental allusion, after all, Richard III is one of the most heinous, and most charming, of the canon’s characters).
The men ask for pardon from the King, Gawaine sincerely and Mordred ironically. Arthur pardons them but is clearly still angry and asks them to leave his chamber.
Once the brothers leave, Arthur turns to Lancelot and Guenever for advice. He reminisces about the lesson that Merlyn taught him, and decides that although the Round Table has been a good idea for restructuring the country, now it is time for some revisions. He thinks that the major problem has been that the knighthood established Right through Might, but now that they have justice, there are knights running round with lots of excess energy and outlet.
If there were still dragons and villains to conquer, Arthur continues, then these petty jealousies between the Orkney brothers and the Pellinore family wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand. The idleness among the knights in peacetime has led to unrest.
Arthur has an epiphany at this point: the way to keep the knights occupied, and good, is to make them busy with good. The Table was a “temporal ideal,” he says, but now it must be made into a “spiritual ideal.” In other words, the Table should work for God now. Lancelot is excited by this idea, and the Queen is very reserved and clearly troubled about the presence of God in their lives; this will take Lancelot away from her.
Lancelot and Arthur begin brainstorming ways to bring the spiritual into the knighthood: Crusades, a search for relics, the True Cross, etc. Each is dismissed for some conflict or another, and then Lancelot hits upon a search for the Holy Grail.
The chapter ends with a couple of foreboding and complicated ideas. Arthur, liking the idea of the Holy Grail, muses, “What if someone were to find God?” and simultaneously an announcement arrives that a fine young man named Galahad is being knighted at the abbey. This is Lancelot’s son Galahad.
In this chapter, the spiritual quest is introduced as the major motivating force for the rest of Book Three. Although the struggle between personal purity and earthly pleasures has been an ongoing struggle for Lancelot, it has been a private one, and one, for the time being, that he seems to have lost. This quest for spiritual rigor and perfection has been made public in this chapter, and will occupy the major and minor characters for the rest of the novel.