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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Coming of Arthur

Idylls of the King opens with the section "The Coming of Arthur," which details Arthur's marriage to Guinevere.  King Leodogran of Cameliard summons Arthur to help him restore the wasted land, overrun by beasts and heathens.  Arthur consents and, upon arriving, sees Leodogran's daughter Guinevere and immediately falls in love.  After driving out the heathen and restoring order, Arthur sends three knights to ask for Guinevere's hand.  Leodogran withholds his consent, questioning whether Arthur is Uther's true son and, therefore, a legitimate king.  There is no consensus on the story behind Arthur's birth, so he decides to sleep on it and during this sleep, he has a dream which gives him confidence in Arthur's legitimacy; thus he agrees to give Guinevere to Arthur and Lancelot delivers to the King his new bride.

The dream scene illustrates the difficulty the king faces in making his decision. Introduced by the line, "Doubted, and drowsed, nodded and slept, and saw," the dream, through the unusual grammar, creates an uneasy mood.  The alliterative d sound allows the reader to feel the doubt that Leodogran experiences while the soothing s sound eases the doubt.  Leodogran sees a land that is growing uncontrollably until a "phantom king" appears in a cloud of smoke, representing the question of his birth, "[n]ow looming, and now lost," with the l sound illustrating the elusive nature of the king .  Suddenly, a sword appears and, while there are those that doubt Arthur's being Uther's son,

With a wink his dream was changed, the haze descended,
and the solid earth became
as nothing, but the King stood out in heaven,

The haze is gone, and there is no longer any uncertainty concerning Arthur's birth, as he stands crowned in heaven.  Tennyson places a messianic mantle on Arthur as one chosen to restore order, faith, and purity to a land that had been seized by the heathen.

The above painting is King Arthur by Frank Dicksee (1853-1928).

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