Once and Future King Essay


The Once and Future King carries many themes beyond its literal meaning. Right, revenge, love, justice,
and loyalty are all themes present in the work which can be applied to everyday life. These issues can
teach valuable lessons about life, and the events in The Once and Future King leave no doubt of their far-
reaching effects.

Right is defined as, "qualities that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety." Arthurís goal
certainly was to achieve a society in which people could live without the constant worry of feudal wars,
robber barons, or mischievous knights. The goal throughout the entire novel was the prevalence of Right.
The majority of the body of the work was Arthurís different attempts to achieve Right. This communicates
the idea that perhaps Right cannot be obtained, but it is the struggle to obtain it that is, in essence, Right.

Revenge is also a powerful factor in the novel. It is the driving force behind many characterís
quarrels with the King. Morgause seduced Arthur and produced Mordred out of her desire for revenge on
Uther, Arthurís father, for the murder of the Duke of Cornwall, her father, and Utherís marriage to Igraine,
her mother. Mordred himself plotted the war against the King because he was the Kingís illegitimate child.
It is evident that characters in the novel were constantly working against Arthur, although he was always
trying to be fair and just to everyone. However, Arthur was not alone as the object for othersí revenge.
Lancelot was hated intensely by Agravaine, who had gone to tell Arthur of his treason with the Queen.
Lancelot is warned by Gareth, " ĎThey hate you. They wonít try a combat this time, not after Meliagrance.
They are too cunning. They will do something to trap you. They will go behind your backí " (p.562).

The love between Arthur and Guenever, Lancelot and Guenever, and the platonic love between
Arthur and Lancelot plays a very important role in the outcome of the story. Lancelot and Gueneverís
"secret" love is a risky game that is always threatening doom. Lancelotís love for Guenever allows him to
break his loyalty to his king and friend, an act of treason in those days. Arthur loves both Lancelot and
Guenever. These feelings keep him from making an issue out of their affair. As king, he is completely
entitled to have Lancelot and Guenever executed, but it is his love that spares them both. However, in the
end, the secrets are revealed and the love for his friend is no longer enough. This proves that love can hold
people together, but it can also tear them apart.

Arthurís struggle for justice runs a close parallel with his struggle for right. All through the early
parts of the novel, he wants to abolish the trials-by-battle of the old days and establish a new system of
justice, complete with codified laws and courts. By the time Lancelot and Guenever are accused of treason,
he has this system of justice and must now submit those he loves most to it. As a result of his nature for
fair treatment, he is powerless to protect his Queen and best knight.

Loyalty is essential in any situation where order is to be obtained. Lancelotís falling in love with
Guenever never would have happened if he had a sense of loyalty he could apply. Instead he has a vague
sense that his actions are hurting Arthur, but he never stops for good. If Lancelot had never fallen in love
with Guenever, Mordred and his allies would have had one less piece of ammunition to use against the
King in their rebellion. The novel clearly expresses the fact that without loyalty, an ordered environment
cannot exist.

The title of The Once and Future King means that Arthur, the King, is in power now, and will be
again sometime in the future, when England is again in need of a strong ruler.