Sir Lancelot du Lac (meaning Lancelot of the Lake), alternatively also written as Launcelot and other spellings, is one of the Knights of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. He typically features as King Arthur's greatest companion, the lord of Joyous Gard and the greatest swordsman and jouster of the age – until his adulterous affair with Queen Guinevere is discovered, causing a civil war which was exploited by Mordred and brings about the end of Arthur's kingdom.
|Matter of Britain character|
|First appearance||Erec and Enide|
|Created by||Possibly Chrétien de Troyes|
|Occupation||Knight of the Round Table|
|Family||Ban, Elaine of Benoic, Lady of the Lake, Hector de Maris, Bleoberis, Blamore, among others|
|Significant other||Guinevere, Elaine of Corbenic, possibly Galehaut|
His first appearance as a main character is in Chrétien de Troyes' poem Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, written in the 12th century. Later, his exploits were expanded upon in the Prose Lancelot, which was further expanded upon for the vast Lancelot-Grail cycle. There, his and Lady Elaine's son, Galahad, becomes an even more perfect knight and achieves the Holy Grail.
Roger Sherman Loomis suggested that Lancelot is related to either the character Llenlleog (Llenlleawg) the Irishman from Culhwch and Olwen (which associates him with the "headland of Gan(i)on") or the Welsh hero Llwch Llawwynnauc (probably a version of the euhemerised Irish deity Lugh Lonbemnech), possibly via a now-forgotten epithet like "Lamhcalad". Traditional scholars thought that they are the same figure due to the fact that their names are similar and that they both wield a sword and fight for a cauldron in Preiddeu Annwn and in Culhwch.
Modern scholars are less certain, as the name may have been just an invention by the 12th-century French poet Chrétien de Troyes. Another theory is that the name may have been derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Anguselaus. Lancelot may be also a variant of the name Lancelin. Lancelot or Lancelin may instead have been the hero of an independent folk tale which had contact with and was ultimately absorbed into the Arthurian tradition. 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 Otherworld prison are all features of a well-known and widespread tale, variants of which are found in numerous examples collected by Theodore Hersart de la Villemarqué in his Barzaz Breiz, by Emmanuel Cosquin in his Contes Lorrains, and by John Francis Campbell in his Tales of the West Highlands.
Lancelot's name appears as third on a list of knights at King Arthur's court in the earliest known work by Chrétien de Troyes, Erec and Enide (1170). The fact that his name follows Gawain and Erec indicates the presumed importance of the knight at court, even though he did not figure prominently in Chrétien's tale. Lancelot reappears in Chrétien's Cligès, in which he takes a more important role as one of the knights that Cligès must overcome in his quest. It is not until Chrétien's poem Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart (Le Chevalier de la Charrette), however, that Lancelot becomes the protagonist. It is also Chrétien who first gives Lancelot the name Lancelot du Lac (Lancelot of the Lake), which was later picked up by the French authors of the Lancelot-Grail and then by Thomas Malory. He is presented as the most formidable and the bravest knight at King Arthur's court, and one whom everyone is forced to describe as uniquely perfect: he and his deeds are recounted as remarkable not only among living knights but of all men who have ever lived.
However, this supposed saint-like perfection stands at stark contrast with his adulterous relationship with King Arthur's wife Queen Guinevere, which motif too has been introduced in this text. Their affair can be seen as parallel to that of Tristan and Iseult, with him ultimately identified with the tragedy of chance and human failing that is responsible for the downfall of the Round Table. The theme of Lancelot's adulterous passion for Guinevere is entirely absent from another early work, Lanzelet, a Middle High German epic poem by Ulrich von Zatzikhoven dating from the very end of the 12th century (no earlier than 1194). Ulrich asserts that his poem is a translation from an earlier French work, the provenance of which is given and which must have differed markedly in several points from Chretien's Le Chevalier de la Charrette. In Lanzelet, the abductor of Ginover (Guinevere) is named as King Valerin, whose name (unlike that of Chrétien's Meliagant) does not appear to derive from the Welsh Melwas. Furthermore, her rescuer is not Lancelot, who, instead, ends by finding happiness in marriage with the fairy princess Iblis. It has been suggested that Lancelot was originally the hero of a story independent of the adulterous love triangle and perhaps very similar to Ulrich's version. If this is true, then the adultery motif might either have been invented by Chrétien for his Chevalier de la Charrette or been present in the (now lost) source provided him by his patroness, Marie de Champagne, a lady well known for her keen interest in matters relating to courtly love.
Lancelot is constantly tied to the Christian motifs associated with Arthurian legend. Lancelot's quest for Guinevere in Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart is similar to Christ's quest for the human soul. This becomes intensified when he becomes the prophesied saviour of the captives of Logres. His adventure among the tombs is described in terms that suggest Christ's "harrowing of Hell" and resurrection: he effortlessly lifts the lid off the sarcophagus, which bears an inscription foretelling his freeing of the captives. Lancelot was later associated with the Grail Quest, but Chrétien does not include him at all in his final romance Perceval, le Conte du Graal. This story introduces the Holy Grail motif in medieval literature, and Perceval is the sole seeker of the Grail in Chrétien's treatment. Lancelot's involvement in the Grail legend is first recorded in the romance Perlesvaus written between 1200 and 1210.
Later amplifications and versionsEdit
Lancelot's character is perhaps most fully developed during the 13th century in the Old French Vulgate Cycle, where he appears prominently in the later parts, known as the Prose Lancelot (or Lancelot du Lac) and the Queste del Saint Graal (The Quest for the Holy Grail) respectively. Gaston Paris argued that the Guinevere-Meleagant episode of the Prose Lancelot is an almost literal adaptation of Chrétien's poem, though it can be seen as a considerable amplification. Chrétien treats Lancelot as if his audience were already familiar with the character's background, yet most of the exploits that are today associated with Lancelot are first mentioned here (e.g. Lancelot's parentage; Lancelot and the Grail; Lancelot, Guinevere and the fall of Camelot). Much of the Lancelot material from the Vulgate Cycle has been later removed in the rewriting known as the Post-Vulgate Cycle.
The Middle Dutch so-called Lancelot Compilation (The Hague, KB129 A 10) contains seven Arthurian romances folded into the three parts of the cycle. Lanceloet en het hert met het witte voet ("Lancelot and the hart with the white foot") is an original romance in which Lancelot fights seven lions to get the white foot from a hart (deer) which will allow him to marry a princess. The creation of a new story indicates Lancelot's widespread popularity.
In French prose romances and Le Morte d'ArthurEdit
Birth and childhoodEdit
Lancelot is the son of the French King Ban of Benwick (or Benoic) and Elaine. While Lancelot is an infant, his father is driven from his kingdom by his enemy Claudas. Ban and Elaine flee, carrying the child with them. As Elaine is tending to her wounded husband, Lancelot is carried off by the Lady of the Lake who raises the child in her magical realm. It is from this upbringing that Lancelot earns the surname du Lac ("of the Lake").
Lancelot's double-cousins Lionel and Bors, sons of King Bors of Gaunnes and Elaine of Benoic's sister Evaine, are first taken by a knight of Claudas and later spirited away to the Lady of the Lake. They become Lancelot's companions. Both Evaine and Elaine enter a nunnery. Following a vision of Lancelot and his cousins in the Lady of the Lake's garden, both queens are happy and Evaine dies.
Arthur and GuinevereEdit
As the White Knight, Lancelot is sent by the Lady of the Lake to King Arthur's court, where he becomes a knight at the behest of Sir Gawain, whom he rescued from captivity, having also defeated Arthur himself when the king dueled Lancelot without being known. Almost immediately upon his arrival, Lancelot falls in love with Queen Guinevere, and one of his very first adventures is saving her from Arthur's enemy Maleagant. The exact timing and sequence of events varies from one source to another, and some details are only found in certain sources. For example, in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the adulterous relationship is postponed for several years, as Lancelot's rescue of the Queen from Meleagant takes place following the Grail Quest (after which, as Malory wrote, "Sir Launcelot wente to bedde with the Quene and toke no force of his hurte honed, but toke his plesaunce and hys lyknge untyll hit was the dawning of the day").
Early on, Lancelot wins his own castle in Britain, known as Joyous Gard, where he learns his real name and heritage. His other early adventures included in Malory's compilation range from proving victorious in a tournament fighting on behalf of King Bagdemagus, slaying the mighty Sir Turquine who had been holding several of Arthur's knights prisoner, to overcoming a damsel's betrayal to defend himself unarmed against Sir Phelot. Later, with the help of King Arthur, Lancelot defeats Claudas and recovers his father's kingdom. However, he again decides to remain at Camelot with his cousins Sir Bors and Sir Lionel and his illegitimate half-brother Ector de Maris (Hector).
Lancelot also plays a decisive role in a war between Arthur and Galehaut (Galahaut). Galahaut is Arthur's enemy and poised to become the victor, but he is taken by Lancelot's battlefield performance and offers him a boon in return for the privilege of one night's company in the bivouac. Lancelot accepts and uses his boon to demand that Galahaut surrender peacefully to Arthur. Initially, Lancelot continues to serve Galahaut, but eventually Arthur invites Lancelot to become a member of the Round Table, and Galahaut as well. In spite of this happy outcome, Galahaut is the one who convinces Guinevere that she may return Lancelot's affection, an action that at least partially will result in the fall of Camelot.
Galahad and the GrailEdit
Lancelot has become one of the most famous Knights of the Round Table (even attested as the best knight in the world in Malory's episode of Sir Urry of Hungary) and an object of desire by many ladies. Faithful to Queen Guinevere, he refuses the forceful advances of Queen Morgan le Fay, Arthur's enchantress sister constantly attempting to seduce Lancelot, whom she at once greatly loves and hates with the same intensity, and even kidnapping him on occasions, including once when she does it together with her coven of fellow magical queens including Sebile. On one of these occasions (as told in the Prose Lancelot), Morgan helds agrees to let him go save Gawain if Lancelot will return to her immediately afterwards, and then sets him free on promise that he will not spend any time with neither Guinevere nor Galehaut for a year. This condition causes Lancelot to go half-mad, and Galehaut to fall sick out of longing for him and eventually to die of anguish after he receives false rumour of Lancelot's suicide. Another sorceress, Hellawes, wants him for herself so obsessively that, failing in having him either dead or alive in Malory's chapel perilous episode, she soon herself dies from sorrow. Similarly, Elaine of Astolat (in modern times better known as "the Lady of Shalott") too dies of heartbreak due to her unrequited love of Lancelot.
Elaine of Corbenic, daughter of the Fisher King, also falls in love with him, and she is more successful than the others. With the help of magic, Elaine tricks Lancelot into believing that she is Guinevere and he sleeps with her, and the ensuing pregnancy results in the birth of his son, Galahad. Guinevere eventually learns of that affair and is furious, banishing him from Camelot. Broken by Guinevere's reaction, Lancelot goes mad and wanders the wilderness for years until he arrives at Corbenic where he is recognised by Elaine; Lancelot is shown the Holy Grail through a veil which cures his madness. (Alternatively, he is found and healed by the Lady of the Lake.) Shortly after he recovers, he returns to Camelot after being found by Sir Percival and Sir Ector, who have been both sent to look for him by Guinevere.
Upon his return to court, Lancelot takes part in the Grail Quest with Percival and Galahad, though he is only allowed a glimpse of the Grail itself because he is an adulterer and distracted by earthly honours that have come with his knightly prowess. It is instead his son Galahad who ultimately achieves the Grail to drink from, along with Lancelot's cousin Sir Bors and Sir Percival, the son of King Pellinore.
Later years and deathEdit
Ultimately, Lancelot's affair with Guinevere is a destructive force. Once revealed to Arthur by Morgan (with Maleagant previously having been killed by Lancelot when he tried to prove it), it results in the death of three of Gawain's brothers (Agravain, Gaheris and Gareth) by Lancelot's hand during his violent rescue of Guinevere from being burned at the stake for her infidelity, a war waged against Lancelot by the vengeful Gawain and King Arthur in France, and Mordred's betrayal of Arthur to seize the throne for himself. Gawain challenges Lancelot to a duel twice, each time resulting in Lancelot delaying because of Gawain's enchantment to grow stronger between morning and noon, then striking down Gawain but sparing his life.
Upon hearing the news of Arthur's death by Mordred at Camlann in a letter from the dying Gawain, Lancelot returns to Dover and mourns the deaths of his comrades. In Britain, he kills a son of Mordred and finds that Guinevere has become a nun. She blames all the destruction of the Round Table upon their adulterous relationship, which is the seed of all the dismay that followed. She refuses to kiss Lancelot one last time, telling him to return to his lands and that he will never see her face again. Instead, Lancelot declares that, if she will take a life of penitence, then so will he.
Lancelot then retires to a hermitage to seek redemption, with eight of his kin joining him in monastic life, including Sirs Bors, Hector, Blamore, and Bleoberis. As a monk, he conducts rites over the deceased body of Guinevere (who had become an abbess). As she had indicated, he never saw her face again in life. He had a dream warning him that she was dying, so he set out to visit her. But Guinevere prayed that she might die before he arrived, and so she did, half an hour before his arrival.
After the queen's death, Lancelot and his fellow knights escort her body to be interred beside King Arthur (it was in the same place that Gawain's skull was kept). The distraught Lancelot's health then begins to fail (in fact, even before this time, Le Morte d'Arthur states that he had lost a cubit of height due to his fastings and prayers). Lancelot dies six weeks after the death of the queen. It is implied that he wished to be buried beside the king and queen; however, he had made a vow some time before to be buried at Joyous Gard next to Galehaut, so he asks to be buried there so as not to break his word. His eight companions return to France in order to take care of the affairs of their lands after his death. Then, acting on Lancelot's death-bed request, they go on a crusade to the Holy Land and all die there fighting the Saracens ("Turks" in Malory).
In modern cultureEdit
Lancelot appeared as a character in many Arthurian films and television productions, sometimes even as the protagonistic titular character. He has been played by Robert Taylor in Knights of the Round Table (1953), William Russell in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956–1957), Robert Goulet in Camelot (1960), Cornell Wilde in Sword of Lancelot (1963), Franco Nero in Camelot (1967), Luc Simon in Lancelot du Lac (1974), Nicholas Clay in Excalibur (1981), Richard Gere in First Knight (1995), Jeremy Sheffield in Merlin (1998), Phil Cornwell in King Arthur's Disasters (2005–2006), Thomas Cousseau in Kaamelott (2005–2009), Santiago Cabrera in Merlin (2008–2011), Christopher Tavarez in Avalon High (2010), Sinqua Walls in Once Upon a Time (2012, 2015), Dan Stevens in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014), and Martin McCreadie in Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), among others.
- T. H. White's novel The Once and Future King (1958) portrays Lancelot very differently from his usual image in the legend. Here, Lancelot is immensely ugly and introverted, having difficulty dealing with people.
- Lancelot is played by John Cleese in the Arthurian parody Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). He is portrayed as an awkward knight prone to sudden and uncontrolled outbursts of violence in the section "Sir Lancelot the Brave" that shows his misguided rampage to save a princess who turned out to be a prince and who did not really need to be rescued. He is also a principal character in the follow-up musical Spamalot (2005), played by Hank Azaria.
- In Roger Zelazny's short story "The Last Defender of Camelot" (1979), the magically-immortal Lancelot finally dies helping Morgana save the world from the mad Merlin in the 20th century. He is played by Richard Kiley in a 1986 episode of The Twilight Zone based on the story.
- In Marion Zimmer Bradley's novel The Mists of Avalon (1982), Lancelet is another name of Galahad, there an estranged son of the Lady of the Lake, Viviane. A handsome and great warrior, he is the protagonist Morgaine's cousin and first love interest, himself bisexual and loving both Gwenhwyfar and Arthur. He is played by Michael Vartan in the novel's film adaptation (2001).
- Lancelot is a major character in Bernard Cornwell's The Warlord Chronicles trilogy of novels (1995–1997). This version of Lancelot is presented as a self-serving, narcissistic and cowardly prince of the lost kingdom of Benoic, left by him to be destroyed by Frankish barbarians. To seize the throne of Dumnonia, Lancelot conspires against Arthur with Guinevere, incites a Christian rebellion, and defects to the invading Saxons, ending up being hanged by his own half-brother Galahad and by the narrator Derfel (who had lost his daughter to Lancelot's scheming). Lancelot's glowing depictions in legend are explained as merely an influence of the stories invented by the bards hired by his mother.
- The 2003 Canadian novel "Clothar the Frank" by Jack Whyte is told from the perspective of Lancelot, and follows his journeys from being a young child until his arrival in Camelot and his meeting with Merlyn and Arthur Pendragon.
- Lancelot is played by Ioan Gruffudd in King Arthur (2004), where he is one of the warriors of Arthur. He is mortally wounded when he saves the young Guinevere and slays the Saxon chieftain Cynric during the Battle of Badon Hill.
- Jason Griffith portrayed him in the video game Sonic and the Black Knight (2009) in Lancelot's appearance is based on Shadow the Hedgehog.
- Lancelot appears in the light novel and its 2011 anime adaptation Fate/Zero as the Servant "Berserker", played by Ryōtarō Okiayu/Kyle Herbert. Lancelot also appears in the mobile game Fate/Grand Order as a Berserker but also as a Saber class Servant.
- Sophie Cookson's character in the film Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) has the code name Lancelot.
- Lancelot is the primary antagonist in the first season of The Librarians (2014), portrayed by both Matt Frewer and Jerry O'Connell. He gained immortality sometime after the fall of Camelot through magic, and has spent centuries seeking to reverse the events that brought about its destruction. As the mysterious Dulaque, he leads the Serpent Brotherhood, a cult that has long opposed the Library's mission to keep magic out of the hands of humans.
- Lancelot is a playable character in the mobile game Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (2016).
- Giles Kristian's novel Lancelot (2018) is an original telling of the Lancelot story.
- The immortal Lancelot Du Lac, voiced by Gareth David-Lloyd, is a co-protagonist of Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death (2019), an adventure video game set in the Victorian London.
- Sir Lancelot, Biography : Lancelot Archived 8 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- Bruce, Christopher W (1998). The Arthurian name dictionary. Lancelot: Routledge. p. 305. ISBN 978-0-8153-2865-0.
- Goulven Péron, "La légende de Lancelot du Lac en Anjou". Les Cahiers du Baugeois, n°92 (March 2012), pp. 55–63, ISSN 0999-6001.
- Bruce, Christopher W (1998). The Arthurian name dictionary. Lancelot: Routledge. pp. 305–06. ISBN 978-0-8153-2865-0.
- William Farina, Chretien de Troyes and the Dawn of Arthurian Romance (2010). Page 13: "Strictly speaking, the name Lancelot du Lac ("Lancelot of the Lake") first appears in Chrétien's Arthurian debut, Erec and Enide (line 1674), as a member of the Roundtable."
- Elizabeth Archibald, Anthony Stockwell Garfield Edwards, A Companion to Malory (1996). p. 170: "This is the book of my lord Lancelot du Lac in which all his deeds and chivalric conduct are contained and the coming of the Holy Grail and his quest (which was) made and achieved by the good knights, Galahad."
- Raabe, 1987.
- MacBain, 1993.
- Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages : A Collaborative History ed. Roger Sherman Loomis, pub. Oxford University Press 1959, special edition for Sandpiper Books Ltd. 2001, ISBN 0 19 811588 1 pp. 436–39 in Essay 33 Hartmann von Aue and his Successors by Hendricus Spaarnay.
- Schultz, James A. (1991). "Ulrich von Zatzikhoven". In Norris J. Lacy, The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, pp. 481–82. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
- Pyle, Howard (1993). King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. New York City: Waldman Publishing Corporation. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-86611-982-5.
- Joe, Jimmy. "Grail Legends (Perceval's Tradition)". timelessmyths.com. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
- Brandsma, Frank (1998). "Lancelot". In Gerritsen, Willem P.; van Melle, Anthony G.; Guest, Tanis (trans.) (eds.). A Dictionary of Medieval Heroes. Boydell and Brewer. pp. 160–70. ISBN 978-0851153810.
- Lancelot at the Camelot Project. Archived 10 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- Lacy, Norris J. (Ed.) (1995). Lancelot–Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, Volume 3 of 5. New York: Garland.
- Mike Ashley, Michael Ashley (2005). The Mammoth Book of King Arthur. Running Press. p. 582. ISBN 978-0-7867-1566-4.
- "BnF – La légende du roi Arthur". expositions.bnf.fr (in French). Retrieved 7 October 2018.
- Dover, Carol (2003). A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. D.S.Brewer. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-85991-783-4.
- Umland, Samuel J (1996). The Use of Arthurian Legend in Hollywood Film: From Connecticut Yankees to Fisher Kings. Praeger. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-313-29798-4.
- Roland, Meg (2006). "Arthur and the Turks". Arthuriana. 16 (4): 29–42. ISSN 1078-6279. JSTOR 27870787.
- "The Tale of Sir Lancelot". Creative Analytics. 16 November 2015. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
- "Mobile Legends Lancelot". mobilelegendsbangbang.com. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
- MacBain, Danielle Morgan (1993). The Tristramization of Malory's Lancelot. English Studies. 74: 57–66.
- Piper, William Bowman (1986). The Whole Book of King Arthur and of His Noble Knights. Modern Language Quarterly. 47: 219–35.
- Raabe, Pamela (1987). Chretien's Lancelot and the Sublimity of Adultery. Toronto Quarterly. 57: 259–70.
- Kennedy, Elspeth (1986). Lancelot and the Grail: A Study of the Prose Lancelot. Clarendon Press.
- Kennedy, Elspeth (1980). Lancelot Do Lac, the Non-Cyclic Old French Prose Romance, Two Volumes.
- Lancelot of the Lake. Introduction Elspeth Kennedy. Translation and notes Corin Corley (Oxford World's Classics).
- William Cole (2005). First and Otherwise Notable Editions of Medieval French Texts Printed from 1742 to 1874: A Bibliographical Catalogue of My Collection. Sitges: Cole & Contreras.
- K. Sarah-Jane Murray (2008). From Plato to Lancelot: A Preface to Chretien de Troyes. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-3160-X.