Book 6 Chapters 1-9
Sir Launcelot sets out on an adventure with his nephew Sir Lionel, who is captured by a vile knight and imprisoned. Before Launcelot can intervene, he is kidnapped by four queens and sequestered in a tower. He escapes and defeats the vile knight.
Soon after King Arthur’s return from Rome, the Knights of the Round Table held many jousts and tournaments, where Sir Launcelot du Lake surpassed all others in prowess and noble deeds. Queen Guenever loved him best of all the other knights, and he returned her affections.
One day, Sir Launcelot and his nephew, Sir Lionel, set out to seek adventure away from Camelot. The weather was hot and Launcelot soon fell into a deep slumber under a tree in a forest. Lionel, standing guard, saw three knights fleeing from another, much stronger knight. The strong knight soon overtook them, tied them to the reins of their horses, and began to lead them away. Sir Lionel charged forward, without waking Launcelot, and he too was kidnapped by the strong knight (Sir Turquine, though his name is not yet given) and brought to his castle. There, the knight beat his prisoners with thorns and then put them into a cell with many other knights.
In the meantime, Sir Ector de Maris set out in search of Launcelot, his brother. He came upon a castle, near which stood a tree filled with the shields of knights, many of them Arthur’s men. Sir Ector immediately recognized Lionel’s shield and was much enraged. He soon encountered Sir Turquine, and though Ector fought well, he was eventually beaten and taken prisoner.
Meanwhile, Sir Launcelot continued to sleep and was hence unaware of the kidnappings. Around noon, four queens rode by, including Morgan le Fay. They saw Launcelot and lusted after him. Morgan cast a spell to keep him asleep, and they then led him away to her castle. When he awoke, he refused their sexual advances, so the queens left him to die alone. A maiden arrived in Launcelot’s rooms and promised to help him escape if he would fight for her father, King Bagdemagus, in a tournament. Launcelot agreed, and she freed him. Even though fighting for King Bagdemagus meant he would fight other Knights of the Round Table, Launcelot repeated his promise and painted his shield white to disguise his identity. So great was his power that Launcelot smote five knights with one spear, and won the prize of the day.
The next morning, Launcelot left to seek Sir Lionel. After some adventure, Launcelot eventually returned to the place where he had last seen Lionel. There, he saw a lady, who directed him to Sir Turquine’s castle.
Sir Turquine soon appeared with a wounded Sir Gaheris ready to be made prisoner. Launcelot asked the lady to help Gaheris, and then demanded Turquine free the prisoners. When Turquine refused and confessed his hatred of the Round Table, Launcelot attacked him. They fought for two hours, and both were deeply wounded. Breathless, they stood together, leaning against their swords. Turquine said Launcelot was the best knight he had ever encountered, and promised to release the prisoners if Launcelot revealed his name. Before he replied, Launcelot asked Turquine why he hated the Knights of the Round Table. Turquine confessed he hated them mostly because of Sir Launcelot du Lake, who had killed his brother. To avenge his brother's death, Sir Turquine had killed a hundred good knights, but still hoped to one day kill Launcelot. Launcelot revealed himself and killed Turquine by stabbing him in the neck. He then freed the prisoners, including Sir Kay, Sir Ector de Maris, and Sir Lionel. Launcelot did not stay to celebrate, however, but instead rode off with the lady he had met, since she requested his help. The newly released prisoners rode off after him.
Book 6 Chapter 10-13
Launcelot kills two giants, saves a lady from a villainous knight, and steals Sir Kay’s armor.
The damosel told Launcelot of a rapist knight, and Launcelot set out to destroy him. After he beheaded the knight, the lady asked if Launcelot was married - she knew he was not, and in fact knew of his love for Guenever. Launcelot confessed he would never marry because he did not want to be tied down, when he could instead live a life of adventure.
Soon afterwards, Launcelot came upon two giants armed with clubs, and he killed them. On another day, he saw Sir Kay being chased by three others knights, and he saved him. Kay then stayed the night with Launcelot, but woke to find his companion and his armor gone. Launcelot had switched their armor and their horses so that he could continue to seek adventure without being so easily recognizable.
Launcelot was deep in the forest when he came across four Knights of the Round Table: Sir Gawaine, Sir Ector de Maris, Sir Uwaine, and Sir Sagramour. Seeing Launcelot, they thought he was Sir Kay and set out to embarrass him in a joust. One by one, they joust and are bested. They begin to believe this knight has murdered their comrade Sir Kay, but are unable to overcome him even from vengeance.
Book 6 Chapter 14-28
Still on adventure, Launcelot heals a good knight with the sword and cloth he obtained from the Castle Perilous. He is also deceived into saving a falcon for a false knight, and is unable to save a woman from being killed by her husband.
One day, Launcelot was riding in the forest when he encountered a damosel in the woods. She asked that he help heal her wounded brother, Sir Meliot. In order to do so, he had to go to the Chapel Perilous, which was inside a nearby castle owned by a sorceress. Inside the chapel was a wounded knight covered in a bloody cloth; as Sir Meliot had been injured by the knight, only that bloody cloth and the knight's sword could save him. When she said that no knight had yet to complete this adventure, Launcelot committed himself.
When Launcelot arrived at the Chapel Perilous, he saw thirty knights surrounding its entrance, all dressed in black. They scattered before he could charge them, and so he was able to enter the chapel. Inside, a dim light burnt over a corpse wrapped in silk. He cut a piece of the silk away, and the earth quaked beneath him. He saw the dead knight’s sword, and took it as he exited the chapel.
Sir Launcelot returned to Sir Meliot's sister, who led him to her wounded brother. Launcelot wiped Meliot’s wounds with the bloody cloth and the sword, and he was healed. Launcelot left the next day, but first asked Meliot to bring word to King Arthur that Launcelot would return to court at Pentecost.
Launcelot rode through strange countries. One day, he came across a castle and saw a hawk fly and land in a nearby tree. A lady exited the castle and asked him to retrieve the hawk, claiming her husband would be angry if it flew away. Launcelot disarmed himself to climb the tree, and easily caught the bird. However, Sir Phelot, the lady's husband and a vile knight, suddenly arrived and drew his sword to kill Launcelot.
Launcelot requested his sword, since no knight should fight unarmed, but Phelot refused. Therefore, Launcelot took a bough from the tree and struck Phelot to the ground with it. Then, Launcelot used his sword to behead Phelot. When he departed, he thanked God he was done with that adventure.
Launcelot returned to Camelot two days before Pentecost, and was pleased to hear tales of his adventures told by other knights. Sir Launcelot had come to be known as the greatest knight in the world.
Chivalry is the most obvious of the themes of Le Morte d’Arthur, and is prevalent in Book 6. In its most basic form, chivalry dictates a code of ethics or behaviors, much like the vows that the Knights of the Round Table renew each year at Pentecost. These behaviors include promises: not to murder; not to flee from treason; to be merciful; to be loyal to King Arthur above all others; to protect women; and to never enter into a wrongful quarrel. Chivalry also covers courtly love, which in its traditional meaning describes the platonic love between a man and a married woman, or in this case, a knight and his lord's queen.
Launcelot is the greatest knight in the world not solely because of his physical accomplishments. Indeed, these are great, and the epic is full of battles won and enemies vanquished at his hand. However, he is also distinguished by a pronounced chivalric sense. He not only treats others honorably, but he also reacts badly when others compromise the code. Sir Phelot is an example of the latter. This is not to say that Launcelot is perfect - on the contrary, his long-standing affair with Guenever shows a significant lapse. However, he and others will pay for this lapse, so that the epic overall does implicitly support the value of chivalry.
In Book 6, Sir Launcelot’s story takes center stage and the themes of chivalry and reputation are on display. His feats speak for themselves, but what pleases him most when he returns is that others speak of them as well. There is an interesting mixture of values in Le Morte d'Arthur, reflecting both the traditional Anglo-Saxon epics, like Beowulf, and Christianity. Where the earlier epics praise worldly reputation as paramount because it is the only thing that will survive once we are dust, Christianity pushes believers to await an afterlife. While this epic is deeply suffused with the Christian beliefs of the time of its publication, Launcelot reveals a similar love for reputation. What is important is not that solely that one commits great deeds, but also that others talk about them. He wants to be known as the greatest knight in the world.
It is an extremely idealized version of Launcelot that is presented in Book 6, and in many ways this conforms to the ubiquitous contemporary depiction of him. Of course, this makes sense because he has so far shown great respect for chivalry. This idealized version will later be challenged in the Sangreal Books and the finale, particularly because he no longer can claim such abiding respect for the code.
In particular, it is his affair with Guenever that will wreak the most havoc. Though the affair is not explicitly mentioned in Book 6, the extent of his love for the queen is made clear. He tells the maiden he will never marry from a love of adventure, but his constant refusal of sexual advances from other women suggests there is a purity in his affection for the queen. It is a marriage-like commitment he makes, but it unfortunately with a woman already married. Although free to seek adventure, he is not free to love. Already, his love for Guenever cannot be defined solely in moral terms (i.e., it is a bad thing to commit adultery) but also in tragic terms - he has a pure love that can never be reconciled with worldly loyalties, and so must people eventually die for it.
Skill in battle, or a knight’s prowess, remains a knight's most defining quality in this world, and the narrator spends an inordinate amount of time describing various tournaments and jousts between knights. At times, it seems that no two knights can be in the same place without challenging each other in some way. While a modern reader might criticize this as excessive violence, it is useful to think of it in terms of chivalry and feudalism. In a strict social order that seeks to ascribe value, a knight is duty-bound to defend his personal honor and reputation. Hence, these jousts are not always founded on aggression and animosity, but on self-respect. In these ways, the aggressive nature of the world is an uneasy fit with the Christianity that the characters so frequently espouse.