Queen Guenever in The Once and Future King

Queen Guenever in The Once and Future King

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In the novel The Once and Future King, by T.H. White, the character, Queen Guenever, is depicted as a confused and lost woman in an arranged marriage. She had an internal struggle with a shameful secret, an affair with the ugly knight, Lancelot. In the time of King Arthur, women were limited to what they could do, and what decisions they were able to make. She ultimately made some wrong choices in her life, which led to the disapproval from those around her. She was in her marriage by force and had no malicious intensions, but did what she felt she needed.
Guenever’s dialogue with Lancelot shows signs of guilt, but an overall distinct feeling of love. On page 549, she states that “You (Lancelot) will be killed, and I shall be burned, and our love has come to a bitter end.” The love she has for Lancelot is obviously strong, enough for her to accept her own demise. This sad articulation of her love for him is quite powerful. She understands her actions, and also shows signs of paranoia. She claims, on page 567, that “Tristram used to sleep with King Mark’s wife, and the king murdered him for it.” Guenever is thoughtful of what’s to come, for both her AND her partner. It is obvious that she knew she could not always “have her cake and eat it too.” As a woman, suffering through the psychological battle of “what is right”, Guenever had an awareness of her love and it’s outcome.
A few characters in The Once and Future King knew about Guenever’s secret and wanted to exploit her and take care of personal issues, while others were completely oblivious to the affair. King Arthur, for example, “hated knowing the future and managed to dismiss it from his mind”, as told on page 335. He knew, from Merlyn’s warning, about the affair and was too nice to believe in it. Weakness and ignorance flooded his mind, as it was right in front of his face. Mordred and Agravaine, on the other hand, hated Lancelot and Arthur, and manipulated Guenever’s private life to fit their desire of killing them. Their scheme is explained on page 522, when Agravaine cunningly states that “(he would kill them) not by using force against force, but by using our brains.” In a mischievous plot, Arthur would be given actual proof of the affair and, in time, he and Lancelot would eventually obliterate each other.

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They see Guenever as an unimportant accomplice in their strategy of getting even, when Arthur tries to simply ignore it.
I believe that Guenever is definitely guilty of her actions, but under her circumstances, she was given the “short end of the stick.” Her marriage with Arthur was arranged, which was a standard given in her culture, and was not based on true love. Guenever knew her circumstance, and even said that Arthur would kill her if he caught her (541). In those days, you could not simply divorce your husband, especially in royalty, or you would be found and killed. Any sort of affair had to be kept “under wraps”, or the sin of the act could become fatal. She was a beautiful woman who fell for a hideous knight, Lancelot (315). His hideous appearance also favors the certainty of their love. Appearance and attraction are important factors in most affairs, but for Guenever, it was not the case. This makes me believe that she indeed was in love with Lancelot, and was not a typical “lady of the evening”, but was solely a victim of her era.
With marriage, normally comes a lot of attention and unconditional love. It seemed that Arthur gave too little of both. Arthur was focused on a new system, and a new way of thinking with “might for right”, or taking action without violence or conflict (246). With his high position came an ego, which caused him to focus on his grand idea, rather than on anything else. Too focused, in my belief, to spend time with Guenever, as well. If she spent so much time with Lancelot, that’s time that Arthur didn’t arrange to spend with her. Lancelot cared a lot for Guenever, or “Jenny” as he called her, as he called her “his special good lady”(570), and made her feel comfortable. His image was unimportant to Guenever, but his effort to care seemed to be. The affair was obvious, and Arthur had been warned and told about it, though he chose to not pay attention to it, as his focus left no awareness of her at all. This marriage proved to be weak and insufficient, just like it would be for many undeserved brides.
The relationship between Guenever and Arthur was very brief prior to their marriage, as it was arranged and made for them. King Leodegrance, Guen’s father, had organized her matrimony with the great King Arthur. No love can be forced, and you can’t create ”chemistry”, at random, with a person you are supposed to spend the rest of your life with. Guenever was not prepared for a life partner, and was not truly in love. No sign of passion, or willingness to sacrifice for Arthur was mentioned, as she wouldn’t burn for King Arthur, but she would for Lancelot, she would die. That seems more genuine than an arranged relationship with royalty could ever be. This situation, without the royalty, occurs daily in the world today, as forced marriages, for multiple reasons, eventually crumble. Arthur and Guenever had the same chance of that happening, as everyone else does.
Guenever deserves more credit that many give her. She was young, unprepared, and not given what she deserved. If she had lived in modern times, she would divorce and go on with her life, but she found another way out of her unhappiness, with one secret. A constant fear of death and an ignorant King for a husband left her to do no more than continue doing the wrong thing. Her conscious could do nothing but eat her alive, as she sought after what she needed. She just happened to find what it was that she needed in a kind, unsightly knight.

Works Cited
White, T.H. The Once and Future King. New York: Ace Books. 1987.
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