Psychoanalysis of The Lancelot Character in T.h. White’s "The once and Future King"

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Words: 1893 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Oct 26, 2018

Words: 1893|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Oct 26, 2018

“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” Vladimir Nabakov often told stories of men and women destroyed by unknowing forces and desires driving them to madness. The character often gives into their deepest, darkest desires and allows those desires to control their actions. The characters downfalls are love, hate, lust, distrust, and innocence. As he wrote these, Nabokov would often discover parts of himself he did not know existed. Much like Nabakov, T.H. White wrote The Once and Future King during World War II. He saw the world falling to pieces around him and could not figure out why. His characters desperately sought for answers, starting with the purest intentions and falling from grace. While writing, White discovered that he himself had given into his basic desires. It is because his mind has told him to give in to his utmost passions. Lancelot struggles to refrain from his desires and eventually gets too caught up in them to realize his world is in shambles. In T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, because Lancelot struggles to understand his underlying motives throughout his relationships with Arthur and Guenever, the relationships and Lancelot’s psyche are destroyed.

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Lancelot’s love for Arthur and his need for his approval is the driving force to his mind’s destruction of itself. Lancelot idolizes Arthur from their first meeting. After Lancelot meets Arthur as a child, he becomes infatuated with the idea of being exactly like Arthur and serving as one of his knights. White even describes Lancelot as a child watching Arthur and being, “in love with him” (White 311). His admiration for Arthur drives him to become the renowned knight he is. Arthur is additionally a god-like figure to Lancelot. Layaman compares Arthur to Christ arguing when Arthur lives in the human world he atones for others sins and brings a community of saintly people together. Lancelot always feels the need to atone for his beastly appearance comprehending, “he [is] as a ugly as a [monster] in the King’s menagerie” (White 313). The dynamic of their relationship switches when Lancelot comes to court and sees Arthur as more of a father. Being with Arthur in France and being in his righteous presence provides Lancelot with the epitome of what he wishes to become. When Arthur sees Lancelot again for the first time in years, “he… knighted [him] the first day.”(White 326). When Arthur accepts Lancelot and solidifies their father-son relationship, their relationship changes into a psychological war in Lancelot’s mind between what is right and what Lancelot knows he should not do.

As Lancelot and Arthur become closer, an oedipal complex destroys it. The first person to realize, “Lancelot and Guenever were falling in love with each other…[was] King Arthur himself”’ (White 331). As the oedipal complex states, the child fears his love for the mother will be met by emasculation from the father (Sayer 5). After this occurs, Lancelot and Arthur’s friendship comes to a halt as fear of Arthur as the father, penetrates their relationship. This causes a rift in what Lancelot feels is right to do for his friend and his actual desires, or a war between his id and superego. When this struggle becomes more prominent, what his ego should do, becomes clouded. Layaman describes Arthur as a pure and uncorrupted individual and as Lancelot sees this he becomes even more lost. He is unable to compare himself or connect to Arthur anymore. Lancelot acts either upon his basic desires or what society tells him to, not what is a healthy balance between them.

Lancelot’s love for Guenever, or his mother, was met through anger and the desire for castration of Lancelot by Arthur. Without Arthur’s presence Lancelot succumbs to the pressure of his id and his affection for Guenever and his love of bloodshed start to define him (Sayers 6). Lancelot and Arthur’s hostility towards one another comes to an overextension when Arthur is forced by law to pursue Lancelot for his transgressions; but as Lancelot fights Arthur, Lancelot fears for himself and the blood spilled of his comrades through a battle that he does not want to fight. Lancelot even goes as far to murder his supporter and voice of reason at court, Gareth, in a fit of passion. Lancelot continues to decline in morals and is eventually consumed by cruelty. Arthur is too consumed with his battle against his best friend to realize what has happened back in England. Arthur, possessing a withdrawn id and a prominent ego, takes his troops and continues home. Thereafter Arthur dies, murdered by Mordred in battle (412 Malory Modern Library Edition). Lancelot’s fear of emasculation ceases and he realizes his affection for Guenever has killed his best friend. Lancelot realizes “That [his] grief would be incalculable at the passing of Arthur” (Layamon 126). Lancelot quickly attempts to suppress his feelings and his id. Much like Oedipus in mythology, he believes he committed, “…murder [and looks] up. [He sees] the fates circling. They [had] found [him]. [He was convinced] soon their shadows [would] rush cool across [his] shoulders” (McLaughlin 353). He cut out his id completely, absolving and discontinued the path of destruction he had begun. He dedicated the rest of his life to religion and God, siding on the extreme of the superego (443 Malory Modern Library Edition). Lancelot and Arthur’s interwoven paths and love for each other caused them both great pain and eventually cost them both their lives.

Lancelot’s relationship with Guenever causes an inner struggle in Lancelot’s mind and drives him to madness. As he falls in love with her, he struggles with the idea of not being able to work a miracle. Lancelot even “[prays] to God that he would let [him] work a miracle” (White 372). When Lancelot is tricked into sleeping with Elaine, he believes he can no longer work any miracles. His dream is shattered when Lancelot’s superego’s way of suppressing his secret desires to be with Guenever. With this destroyed, his id takes control and he gives into his desire to pursue a relationship with her. With the revelation of succumbing to his desires and his disappointment in not being pure anymore, he seeks comfort in Guenever. At first she, “[confronts the] problem with which [he is] intimately and passionately concerned” (White 375). Lancelot and Guenever’s love grows so strong that they ignore that Guenever is married to Arthur because they are consumed in their passion. Guenever soon after becomes jealous of Lancelot’s past lover Elaine as she has a son which ties her to Lancelot forever. She becomes bitter and vindictive towards Lancelot and his family. Guenever even tells Lancelot, “[she] will have her killed” (White 382). Lancelot’s dreams about his relationship with Guenever and his life purpose of working miracles is destroyed. With Lancelot’s loss of his id and superego’s desires, his ego is lost. His mind ceases to exist completely. Instead of providing Lancelot with the comfort he seeks, she abuses his affection and causes him to retreat to the woods away from court out of madness.

Guenever’s first time isolating Lancelot and his mind driving him to madness is unsuccessful, and Lancelot turns to Elaine and Galahad for help. Lancelot’s subconscious has a period of reorientation and soon he returns to court, leaving his son and Elaine to come back to Guenever. This represents his undying devotion to Guenever even as she abuses his love. Guenever is Lancelot’s “female master” (Walters 49). This means that Lancelot is compliant to Guenever’s wishes. This makes Guenever first to him, and the court and even his own family second. Lancelot’s desires for Guenever have replaced his higher judgement and his higher judgement, so his id has overpowered his ego (Walters 50). Guenever soon realizes that their love is tainted, “[by] seeds of hatred and fear and confusion” (White 384). After, Arthur sends Lancelot away to quest for the grail, religion takes over Lancelot’s superego and he is more resistant than he was before to Guenever. He attempts to discontinue the relationship after he returns to court. After being around her again though he succumbs to her charms and thus his id seizes control of his ego once more. Lancelot’s morals begin to deteriorate once again.

Lancelot’s infatuation with Guenever gives him supernatural gifts more than Christianity can describe. After Lancelot’s love for Guenever grows and consumes him, Lancelot does better in battle, acquiring a wide spread reputation. His bloodlust and love for Guenever control him and his id soon takes over. Although Lancelot tries to maintain the appearance that his superego is intact, his id is controlling his actions. As Lancelot ventures with his son Galahad, he cannot enter the church in which they receive the Holy Grail. In the final battle against Gawain, “The terror coursed through [him] again… [He’s] lived under its shadow so long [that he] grew used to it, could almost forget it. But [he feels] it once again, darkness hovering” (McLaughlin 306). Lancelot always knew that his gift of strength was bad for humanity because all his strength did was kill. In the final battle against Gawain, he gives into his gift and allows himself to kill a man he was once friends with. Gawain is known to have superhuman strength because a fairy put a spell on him when he was young. Gawain’s battle skills are supernatural and provides him with the strength to beat even the most difficult and unlikely opponents. Lancelot beats Gawain without much difficulty and bestows upon Gawain a fatal blow, proving that Lancelot has supernatural powers. Lancelot in killing Gawain satisfies his id’s need for blood. After the battle is won and Lancelot and Guenever face the death they caused, Lancelot decides to retreat back to the church (445 Malory Modern Library Edition). This symbolizes Lancelot wanting to cleanse himself of the supernatural gifts and reinstate his superego. Lancelot is driven, still confused, to the church to help his subconscious come back to a balanced state.

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Lancelot eventually fails in his attempt to understand his mind and failing leads to his destruction. Lancelot constantly gives into his basic desires, disregarding the consequences. He manipulates the people around him to believe that he is right. Although he believes what he is doing is the justified, he is misguided by his subconscious. He fails in finding a balance between what is right and what he wants. He refuses to learn from the past and those events are filed into his subconscious, shaping his behavior for the future. From Lancelot, humanity can learn to evaluate their psyche everyday, with intention. Humanity must strive to discern how their id and superego come into play in their day to day lives. They must find a balance between the id and the superego and seek to maintain that balance everyday. Rationalizing and ignoring the problems can lead to an impaired and unhealthy psyche. The impaired psyche can perpetuate problems and repeat the same mistakes. If humans continue to look at their past events and analyze the underlying motives of the action, then they can hope for a better tomorrow. If they fail, they will hurt themselves and the community around them ultimately leading to confusion and ruin.

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Psychoanalysis of the Lancelot Character In T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King”. (2018, October 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from
“Psychoanalysis of the Lancelot Character In T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King”.” GradesFixer, 26 Oct. 2018,
Psychoanalysis of the Lancelot Character In T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2024].
Psychoanalysis of the Lancelot Character In T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Oct 26 [cited 2024 Feb 22]. Available from:
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