Lancelot: Or, the Knight of the Cart

Lancelot: Or, the Knight of the Cart Summary and Analysis of Lines 6235-7121


Méléagant returns to Gorre, where King Bademagu is holding a grand celebration for his own birthday. The king asks Méléagant about his time at King Arthur’s court, and the prince tells how Lancelot refused to appear, and of his new arrangement with Gawain. The king chastises Méléagant for his arrogant assumption that Lancelot is frightened of him, suggesting that only imprisonment or death would prohibit the noble knight from appearing. Méléagant storms away in anger.

Méléagant's sister overhears the argument, and suddenly desires to find and liberate Lancelot from wherever he is imprisoned. She swears, “May I lose my place in Heaven, / …if I let myself rest / Before I find some way / To learn for sure just where / He is” (lines 6393-6397). For more than a month, she travels on a mule in search of him. Finally, she one day spies the tower that serves as Lancelot’s jail, and is intrigued by the fact that there is no house next to it. She decides to investigate.

Her closer inspection convinces her that Lancelot is here. She is about to call his name when she hears him moaning from inside, begging for death. Finally, exhausted, he falls silent. She continues calling his name until he hears her, at which point he looks out the sole window at her.

She identifies herself as the woman to whom he had given the knight's head near the Sword Bridge, and explains that she has found him to repay her debt. Grateful, he swears to be at her command until his death.

She finds a small axe nearby and passes it up to Lancelot, who uses it to widen the window and escape. However, he cannot walk from weakness, so she transports him on the mule. Knowing they would be instantly recognized if anyone were to see them, she takes a circuitous, back-woods route to one of her favorite retreats. There, she restores his health, caring for him “as if he’d been her father” (line 6676).

Once Lancelot recovers, he asks to return to Arthur’s kingdom, and they part ways. The very day that he arrives home, Méléagant also appears at Arthur’s court to seek his battle with Gawain. Gawain prepares for the battle, but sees Lancelot before the fight begins and embraces his friend. Everyone is thrilled by Lancelot's return, especially Guinevere, who nevertheless has to contain her displays of passion for the sake of propriety.

Gawain asks Lancelot for permission to fight Méléagant on his friend's behalf, but Lancelot insists that he vanquish the treacherous knight himself. Méléagant, shocked to see Lancelot, realizes his folly, but is too proud to surrender.

They travel to a valley, where Lancelot fights brilliantly. Méléagant soon realizes he will lose, but refuses to beg mercy. The narrator explains that even had he done so, Lancelot would have been hard-pressed to honor the request. No one is sorry when Lancelot finally kills Méléagant. Triumphant and happy, Lancelot is led off.

Godfrey of Lagny then explains that he, and not Chrétien, has finished the story, but that none of the details have been altered from the truth. With that, the romance is concluded.


The new author, Godfrey de Lagny, suitably maintains Chrétien's tone and stylistic elements. Particularly, he continues to use direct address, which places the romance within the troubadour tradition. Indeed, the new author is quite forceful in his direct addresses, perhaps wishing to underscore his own authority. For instance, when he mentions Méléagant’s sister, he quickly backtracks to say, “But I can’t tell you now, / Or else I’ll mix up my story / And get it all out of order, / And I don’t want to spoil it” (lines 6255-6258). He does not address the reader with the congenial ease that Chrétien did, which may be indicative of the difference in their skill levels, or of the new author’s general anxiety about finishing the work (Raffel 199).

The first part of this section is concerned with Méléagant and Badegmagu’s conversation. In this scene, the groundwork is laid for the evil Méléagant’s downfall. He boasts to his father of his own bravery, and of Lancelot’s “cowardice” for refusing to appear. His father knows Lancelot to be too worthy for such cowardice, and attempts to reason with his son. Even though he does not know of Méléagant's treachery, reputation is important enough that Bademagu feels compelled to argue the truth of Lancelot's bravery.

Méléagant’s sister shows a heroic persistence in her quest to free Lancelot. Her intensity can be understood in religious terms. She had made a vow to repay Lancelot, and refusing to do so could cost her a place in heaven. Given the seriousness with which the medieval Church and its adherents took the issue of the hereafter, this girl's honor and character appear all the more impressive. The mule also serves as a religious symbol, marking her as a savior like Christ (who entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on a mule).

She does indeed prove to be Lancelot’s savior, rescuing him both from the tower and from his ill health. In fact, Lancelot has digressed to a rather unattractive state. In his moaning, he complains that Gawain has forsaken the demands of courtly behavior by not rescuing him. The audience, of course, can note that Lancelot has often forsaken such demands himself. However, his wailing and misery are not without their poetry; he refers to Méléagant as the”foulest fiend,” a deliciously alliterative epithet (6537). Such beauty in the verse makes Lancelot’s misery all the more wrenching.

Godfrey makes a point of explaining that Méléagant's sister cared for Lancelot as if he were her father, which suggests two important ideas (6676). The first is that their relationship is in no way sexual — she is too pure and good to comprise her virtue in that way. Secondly, considering that King Bademagu represents Reason, the comparison here suggests that Lancelot is to be seen as a reasonable, wise man, in contrast with the rash and foolish Méléagant. The importance of mésure is stressed again through this contrast, and the audience is reminded that a lack of mésure is Méléagant's most tragic flaw.

When Méléagant's sister gives Lancelot a horse with which to travel, she is noting his improved virility, considering that a horse is associated with both strength and knightliness (Condren 443ff.) This gesture indicates Lancelot's restoration not only to health, but also to his former knightly and honorable glory.

When describing the court's joy on Lancelot's return, Godfrey makes a brief parenthetical reference to some who were not so pleased (6819-6820). It is unclear to whom he is referring, though he clearly does not mean to suggest Guinevere or Gawain, who are overcome with emotion. Perhaps it is meant to establish interest in a subsequent romance.

Guinevere’s reaction to Lancelot's return is particularly momentous, for she demonstrates that she has acquired a bit of mésure: “If Reason hadn’t restrained / The wild passion she felt, / The world would have known her feelings, / Which would have been folly indeed” (6851-6854). Such a display of Reason is unprecedented in the narrative, and shows how the characters have grown. That Lancelot shows a comparable restraint is implied, revealing that both lovers have matured, proving in the process that Reason need not extinguish the fire of true and passionate courtly love. Instead, it simply needs to be balanced. Mésure is key to success and happiness.

Ultimately, one can argue that Méléagant defeats himself through his brashness and folly. He notes his error when he sees Lancelot, but it is telling that his worry is not that he will be beaten by a braver knight, but that he did not properly confirm the security of Lancelot's jail before leaving Gorre. His foolishness, and lack of mésure, continues. A fool even in death, Méléagant does not have enough sense to beg for mercy.

The final battle takes place in a magical setting, and the wonder and beauty of the environs (with an ancient Sycamore and fresh water in pipes of pure gold) stands in stark contrast to the gory reality of mortal combat. That contrast is further heightened by the use of poetic language to describe the struggle (e.g. the alliterative “sharp steel” in line 7058), as Chrétien has done before. In the last lines of action, an unnamed Guinevere leads the triumphant Lancelot off, and the magical world fades from view.

In the final lines of the poem, Godfrey introduces himself and claims his authority to finish Chrétien’s masterpiece. He testifies to the story's veracity, thereby ending one of the greatest texts of the Middle Ages.