Reluctantly leaving the wounded king, Bedivere makes his way down to the lake shore prepared to do his bidding. But when he draws Excalibur to hurl it into the lake,

                          the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
Of subtlest jewellery. He gazed so long
That both his eyes were dazzled as he stood,
This way and that dividing the swift mind,
In act to throw. [221-29]

Breaking faith with his king for the sake of the beautiful sword, he conceals it and then makes his way slowly back to the ruined chapel. Arthur immediately perceives that his last companion has betrayed him, and "faint and pale" (240) he rebukes him for having broken faith with his nature, his knightly vows, and his king: "Thou hast betrayed thy nature and thy name,/ Not rendering true answer, as beseemed/ Thy fealty, nor like a noble knight" (241-3).

He sends Bedivere forth a second time, for he still has faith in him, but once again when the knight sees "the wonder of the hilt" (253) he is unable to obey. Arguing with himself that if he casts away the sword, "Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,/ Should thus be lost for ever from the earth" (257-8), which might give pleasure to many men. He carries the betrayal farther, beginning to doubt the King's wisdom, for although it is, he knows, "Deep harm to disobey" (261) since one has sworn obedience, nonetheless he thinks it not "well to obey" if "a king demand/ An act unprofitable, against himself" (263-4). After all, he continues: "The King is sick, and knows not what he does" (265). With bitter irony Tennyson has Bedivere, who has now temporarily become another faithless knight, argue that without the material evidence of Excalibur no one in later time will give faith to the tales of Arthur's realm. Bedivere is, and always has been, one of those for whom the physical proofs count most.

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Source

[This lexia has been adapted from George P. Landow, "Closing the Frame: Having Faith and Keeping Faith in Tennyson's 'The Passing of Arthur.'" Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 56 (1974), 423 — 42.]


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Last modified 30 November 2004