English Lamp Posts Top Victorian Blog Award Winner 2011

Brought to you by English Lamp Posts

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gareth and Lynette

Gareth is youngest son of Queen Bellicent and King Lot and desires to become one of Arthur's knights.  His mother objects but consents on the condition that he serve as a kitchen maid for a year and a day, a condition from which she releases him after a month.  Arthur makes Gareth a knight, telling no one but Lancelot, and when Lynette petitions to Arthur to send Lancelot to free her sister Lyonors from the confines of four knights, Arthur sends Gareth instead.  Lynette, thinking he is a kitchen maid, feels offended and scorns Gareth, but the latter is successful in his quest and rescues Lyonors.  Lynette appreciates Gareth's quest and marries him.

This idyll is similar to Pilgrim's Progress in that it is allegorical.  On entering the gate to the city, Gareth notices on the keystone a carving of the Lady of the Lake.  She has her arms stretched out like the cross, which represents the laying down of ones life.  Water drips from each hand, signifying a spiritual cleansing.  In one hand is a sword, showing there are spiritual battles ahead , and in the other hand is a censer, which represents the prayer needed for such a journey.  Lastly, "o'ver her breast floated the sacred fish," the fish being an ancient representation of Jesus, symbolizing salvation.  Gareth proceeds on his journey having a idea of what the journey has in store.

The first knight that opposes Gareth in his quest is Morning Star, whose blue armor and blue shield exude overconfidence.  He stands gloriously just before the battle and begins mocking Gareth, saying:

'A kitchen-knave, and sent in scorn of me!
Such fight not I, but answer scorn with scorn.
For this were shame to do him further wrong
Than set him on his feet, and take his horse
And arms, and so return him to the King.
Come, therefore, leave thy lady lightly, knave.
Avoid: for it beseemeth not a knave
To ride with such a lady.'

Gareth proceeds to defeat soundly the knight, who represents Pride, and sends him to Arthur to seek pardon.
The second foe is Noonday Sun, who rides a red horse and wears blindingly bright armor.  He has a red face of "rounded foolishness."  The two meet at midstream and fight to a draw until the horse of the Sun slips in the water and the Sun is "wash'd away."  To the king Gareth also sends this defeated foe.  The Sun represents Ambition; the bright red showing it to be a deep passion, which Tennyson calls foolishness.  The stream serves as a cleansing.  Gareth has defeated Pride and Ambition. 
The third knight is Evening Star, which represents Obstinacy.  This old foe has old and tarnished armor and seems to be "one that all in later, sadder age begins to war against ill uses of a life."  He has refused to change his ways, even to the detriment of his health.  However, he is also a more difficult foe to defeat in that he keeps getting up after getting knocked down.

But up like fire he started: and as oft
As Gareth brought him grovelling on his knees,
So many a time he vaulted up again;

Neverthless, Gareth overcomes him with his persistence and throws him into the river.

Death is the final obstacle Gareth must overcome.  Everything about this knight and his residence, Castle Perilous where Lady Lyonors is being imprisoned, is black.  Gareth sees the knight

Through those black foldings, that which housed therein.
High on a nightblack horse, in nightblack arms,
With white breast-bone, and barren ribs of Death,
And crowned with fleshless laughter.

Like his other quests, Gareth refuses to back down.  He knocks the knight off his horse and uses his sword to split open the skull.  Out came a young boy who states his brothers forced him to hold the Lady Lyonors captive.  Gareth demonstrated no fear and defeated Death, which no longer a ghastly monster but now only a young boy.  Gareth has proven himself as a knight and is worthy of Lynette's hand.

The above painting is The Overcoming of the Rusty Knight (1894-1908) by Arthur Hughes.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails