The Tradition of King Arthur
Character Study: Lancelot in “The Knight of the Cart” by Chretien de Troyes
One of the most important characters associated with any Arthurian Legend is without a doubt Lancelot. Lancelot plays a large part in the Arthurian Legends, as he is one of the most important Knights of the Round Table. One of Lancelot’s most important roles is in the story “The Knight of the Cart” by Chretien de Troyes. “The Knight of the Cart” is one of de Troyes most famous works, and one of the most important Arthurian Legends in history. Lancelot is the central character in this story. The plot follows him on his quest to save Guinevere, his lover, and to defeat Meleagant, his foil character. To examine and understand Lancelot as a character, the reader must closely examine, Lancelot’s role in the plot, his importance to the themes of the story, and the growth in his personality.
Lancelot plays the role of the protagonist in this story, as it closely follows him on his quest into the fictional Kingdom of Logres to save Guinevere from the evil Meleagant. Lancelot as the protagonist is naturally the hero of the story as well. Due to the time the poem was written, and the types of poems and stories from this time, it is easy to categorize Lancelot as both. The reader is first introduced to Lancelot early in the story when Gawain sees Lancelot approaching “slowly on a horse that was sore and tired” (Chretien de Troyes 126). Unbeknownst to the reader that this character is Lancelot, the story begins with him requesting a horse as either a loan of a gift from Gawain. Lancelot immediately foreshadows for the reader his importance in the plot through two actions: first, not wasting any time to inspect the two horses Gawain had with him, but “rather he leapt upon the one that was nearest him, and rode off with full speed” (de Troyes 126). Peter Noble, author of “Love and Marriage in Chretien de Troyes”, says the same thing about this scene in his book, “Lancelot himself appears on the scene shortly afterwards when he begs a horse from Gauvain and without waiting to choose the better horse leaps onto the nearer one to save every possible second and rides off to try to rescue his lady” (Peter Noble 66). The second of his early actions that foreshadows his importance is when he climbs into the cart driven by the dwarf. de Troyes explains that in his day, riding in a “…cart was for all criminals alike, for all traitors and for all those who had stolen another’s possessions by larceny or snatched them by force on the highways” (de Troyes 127). Lancelot reveals his quest in this scene when he asks the dwarf, “Dwarf, in the name of God, tell me if you have seen my lady the queen pass by this way?” (de Troyes 127). By asking this question the reader can see Lancelot’s intense interest in finding out where the Guinevere is, and uses the term “my lady”, which shows his personal connection to her. Further down the page Lancelot explains his thought process to the reader as to why he climbed into the cart, explaining that “Reason does not follow Love’s command…but Love, who held sway within his heart, urged and commanded him to climb into the cart at once…since Love ruled his action, the disgrace did not matter” (de Troyes 127). Peter Noble comments in his book on the scene in a similar fashion, saying “He is on foot and encounters the cart, which Chretien is careful to explain brings great shame on any who enter into it. Nevertheless as the dwarf driving it will only consent to give any news of the Queen to anyone who will get into it, Lancelot after a brief inner struggle mounts the cart. Chretien makes it clear that there is a struggle between common and love, which love rapidly wins” (Noble 66). This scene not only begins to define the plot of the story, but also introduces the first of multiple themes in the story, which are intertwined around Lancelot’s character.
Lancelot plays a crucial role not only in the...