Do you remember the tale of King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table? It’s a series of legends that means so many different things to so many different people. The tales revolve around such high order concepts like honor, courage, & equality. This tradition is not just an amazing story: but a series of numerous amazing stories that, taken together, create a context for an idealized age. The theme that stood out the most for me as a student was the love triangle involving King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, & Sir Lancelot. This particular sub-plot highlights what is to me the most treasured of all high order concepts–FIDELITY.
The entire premise behind the Round Table was equality. Unlike a traditional table that takes the shape of a square or rectangle, there is no “head of the table.” Any point around the circle’s outline stood an equal distance from the center. Any one knight seated there could take center stage at any given moment. Each man, whether lord or vassal, was equal part speaker & listener; performer & spectator; leader & follower. The Round Table served as a stirring symbol for an ideal for which we still strive even today. So imagine the shameful scandal it must have been when the leader behind such a beautiful idea fell victim to the common sin of adultery.
Click on the highlighted link that follows to see a YouTube video clip from the 1981 movie Excalibur. In this scene, the King asks the rhetorical question, “What is the greatest quality of knighthood?” The answer he receives foreshadows the betrayal that is yet to come.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Arthur’s Queen Guinevere, the iconic pure lady in the most elevated legend written from the courtly love tradition, not only cheated on her husband . . . but did so with the his best friend . . . Lancelot!
Sir Lancelot was Arthur’s greatest Knight. On multiple occasions, depending on which tradition of the legends you cite, Lancelot fought & defeated the entire lot of knights all on his own. He was the champion who would defend the King’s, or the Queen’s, honor in single combat in situations that didn’t warrant involving the entire army. Lancelot was supposed to be the Guardian of Purity; but he betrayed his King–and best friend–by sleeping with the Queen. The affair between Lancelot & Guinevere was the betrayal of Betrayals! It was a sin interwoven into a sin. Not only did the King of idealistic Camelot lose his wife to such a profane sin of adultery; but did so knowing that it was his best friend & bodyguard who stole his wife away! Why didn’t they just stab him in the back & then urinate on his bleeding corpse as they ridiculed him while he toiled through his last painful breaths? Where were their 30 pieces of silver, as they had “betrayed their master with a kiss“?
Here is another link from the 1981 movie. I couldn’t find a clip in English but that shouldn’t matter as the action requires no words. Fast forward to the 1:18 mark & witness for yourself the death of fidelity.
But when it comes to stabbing people in the back, it was Arthur who had the last word. After having endured so many whispers of this tragic betrayal, the King tracked his Queen into the woods only to find the unclothed bodies of the two people who he loved the most asleep in an intimate embrace. The brave warrior held mighty Excalibur over the pair of evil-doers, ready to slay them as was his right as husband & king. But instead, the King of Camelot, Champion of Equality & advocate of righteousness, plunged his sword in between the two lovers & left them alive to awaken & live with the guilt of their sin. While Guinevere & Lancelot chose to strike their King down with infidelity, their King responded not with violence but forgiveness. Arthur was too faithful to his wife & friend to end their lives.
Editor’s Note: The following content involves the use of characters both named & un-named. Any likeness to other people, real or imagined, is completely coincidental.
Fidelity. In my own life, my pursuit for this lone ideal above all others has been the biggest source of my frustration as well as the greatest block to finding lasting love for myself. Although I don’t claim to be “king” or any form of “royalty” for that matter, I’ve often played the role of Arthur in my life’s intimate relationships. On more than one occasion, I’ve dealt with the aftermath of some unseen betrayal–or, worse yet–borne witness to such betrayal, at least in my own eyes, similar to the ghastly scene that Arthur discovered in the woods. I even shared one such instance with my wise pastor. I told him that every time I closed my eyes, I’d see my beloved Lorraine with that corrupt monster who stole her from me. I could never free myself from the pain of that disappointing image; I could never feel pace, whether my eyes were opened or closed. For months afterwards, all I saw was PAIN. My pastor responded in a factual but sympathetic way: “It’s true what they say. Once you see something that horrible, you can’t un-see it.”
In more practical terms, he followed this up with: “You have to forgive.”
“Forgive?” I asked, confused.
“Forgive them. Forgive her. But forgive him too.”
I stormed out of his office in anger. I was disgusted with my pastor’s weakling advice. I could forgive her, of course . . . she was pretty! But forgive that fat, ugly beast? NO! I wanted to slay this pile of walking pollution as was my right as a man betrayed. I would un-sheath my Excalibur & not re-sheath him until he had feasted on my enemy’s blood! (This is figurative language used for dramatic effect only).
At the time this conversation occurred, there was no talk of “Arthur” or “Round Table.” I only bring it up now because, after countless painful nights & deep reflection, I, too, chose not to strike down those who had wronged me. At first, my pastor’s plea to forgive seemed like vile weakness; but eventually, I saw forgiveness in this case as strength. Like King Arthur, I did attention to betrayal; but then walked away. Today was the day that this same pastor invoked the legend of Arthur & “The Sword in the Stone.” And today was the day I finally decided to heed that wise man’s plea & put the betrayal behind me, not in front of me. It only took . . . oh, I don’t know…..a year or so. (Statement inserted for humorous effect only).
Today’s sermon haunted me as I went about my Sunday’s chores. At some point, I realized something. It wasn’t so much the loss of Lorraine that I had been mourning; but the failure of faithfulness. I had witnessed what I believed to be the loss of a sweet girl’s innocence, & I regretted that perceived loss. She wasn’t the love of my life; but she was my Camelot. She was validation of an impossibly child-like expectation I have always held onto. She was my fairy tale. And her betrayal was the death of my innocent vision.
In every Arthurian legend, his death evokes both pain & hope. Pain, because the Warrior King who was not too proud to show mercy when warranted had passed; hope, because of a prophecy that declared that when the need arose, on a future date the King would return. If I’m not mistaken his epitaph read:
Arthur: the Once and Future King.
For me, fidelity died with when Lorraine disappointed me. But it wasn’t her job to uphold my world view anyway. Concepts like Fidelity are bigger than one person or one moment. Fidelity, like love & courage–can be vanquished for a time, but not forever; so I mused.
I’ve mourned the death of my personal Camelot as I saw it sink beneath the dark waves of The Lake. My treasured dream had ended. But after today’s sermon, I realized that my use of the word ended is premature. The place where I am now is neither an end nor a beginning; but a continuation. Life, spiritual growth, triumph–these high order ideals often occur in cycles. I had witnessed what I thought was the death of fidelity; but it was simply a set-up for its re-emergence. My cycle continues. I’m still learning. I’m still improving. I hurt but then heal. I hate but then love. I fight but then forgive. Just like the legend says about King Arthur, when the need arises on a future date, my Camelot will come again. I treasured Lorraine. I treasured what she represented for me; what I made her out to be. But doing so was unfair to both of us–and foolish. When I experience my own personal Camelot, it doesn’t have to have anyone else’s name on it other than my own.
My Camelot . . . will come again.