decorated initial 'I'n William Morris's "King Arthur's Tomb," Launcelot and Guenevere recount the history of their affair, on the occasion of Arthur's death. First the knight and then his mistress reminisce about their early encounters and transgressions in long monologues. Launcelot dwells on memories of physical things, like the queen's hair and the way she "Would drop her hand and arm most tenderly, And touch [his] mouth." Guenevere is more preoccupied with the sinful nature of the relationship. Her thoughts cycle from memories of her beloved to memories of her husband to prayers to heaven. Both monologues in the poem cycle in this way. Launcelot's thoughts always revolve around Guenevere and Guenevere's revolve around the dual subjects of Launcelot and her own sin.

Much of this poem resembles "stream of consciousness" writing, especially when Guenevere flits rapidly from one subject to another. At times she speaks of some image or memory with personal associations the reader can only partially understand. This will inspire some rumination on her love or sin, or perhaps lead abruptly to an address to Launcelot or God. For example:

'They bite — bite me, Lord God! — I shall go mad,
     Or else die kissing him, he is so pale,
He thinks me mad already, O bad! bad!
     Let me lie down a little while and wail.'

'No longer so, rise up, I pray you, love,
     And slay me realiy, then we shall be heal'd,
Perchance, in the aftertime by God above.'
     'Banner of Arthur — with black-bended shield

'Sinister-wise across the fair gold ground!
     Here let me tell you what a knight you are,                     370
O sword and shield of Arthur! you are found
     A crooked sword, I think, that leaves a scar

'On the bearer's arm, so be he thinks it straight,
     Twisted Malay's crease beautiful blue-grey,
Poison'd with sweet fruit; as he found too late,
     My husband Arthur, on some bitter day!

In this short passage, Guenevere speaks to Launcelot, her dead husband, God, and herself while mentioning numerous images and metaphors. It is hard to discern where one train of thought ends and another begins. The form of the poem makes it especially difficult to divide and pick apart. Sentences frequently flow across many lines and often two stanzas are linked by a split sentence or phrase. The reader must follow each monologue through to its end, caught up in the rush of unchecked ideas and emotions of the speaker.

Questions

1. At the end of the poem, Guenevere exclaims, "Now I have slain him." Both Arthur and Launcelot appear in the previous stanzas. To whom does Guenevere refer?

2. Guenevere repeatedly confuses her feelings for Launcelot with her feelings for Arthur, perhaps blaming her husband in part for inspiring her adulterous feelings for the knight. She says, in lines 45-49, "Launcelot, Launcelot, why did he take your hand, When he had kissed me in his kingly way? Saying, 'This is the knight whom all the land Calls Arthur's banner, sword, and shield to-day Cherish him, love.'" How does Guenevere resist responsibility for her actions elsewhere in the poem? Is her repentance complete?

3. What is the function of the first three stanzas? How does Morris want to present Launcelot? Why?

4.How does the Guenevere of "King Arthur's Tomb" differ from the Guenevere of "The Defense of Guenevere"?

Related Materials


Victorian Web Overview Visual Arts William Morris Discussion questions for William Morris

Last modified 5 July 2007