The Fall Of Camelot: A Consequence Of Its Imperfect King

2188 words - 9 pages

In Western culture, mere mention of the name “Camelot” is often enough to inspire images of courtly romance, grandeur, and valiant knights. In fact, the kingdom is nearly as legendary as the hero who ruled it, Arthur Pendragon. Regardless of whether he exists as a historical or mythical figure, Arthur continues to appear as a symbol of heroism in Western tradition through his roles as king and warrior. When modern culture searches for the qualities of a great fighter, it finds them in Arthur’s strength and his bravery. When it looks for the makings of a true leader, it need not look further than Arthur’s accomplishments: his founding of the Round Table Knights, his victory over the Saxons, and finally his unification of Britain. In short, the Arthur as described in Sir Tomas Malory’s tale of King Arthur and His Knights is depicted as nothing less than a romanticized and idealized hero. However, if Arthur and his knights had ushered in an era of peace that fostered a flawless society, Malory’s work raises the serious question, “Why then does Camelot spiral into ruin?” History reminds us that no kingdom – no matter how great – lasts forever because no kingdom is perfect. King Arthur, his court of noble knights, and Camelot are no exception. Unraveling Malory’s story from the time of Arthur’s coronation to his eventual death reveals that Camelot’s greatest strength may also have been its greatest flaw, the authoritative leadership of King Arthur.
To tarnish Arthur’s image of perfection demands a closer inspection at where his story begins. For those familiar with Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, it is common knowledge that Arthur was a child begotten by means of adultery when his father, Uther Pendragon, disguised himself with magic so as to bed the Lady Igraine. Though, conceived and raised through a series of events entirely out of his control, Arthur’s illegitimate birth is nevertheless an event that obscures his lineage. And during an age where noble blood is the most important factor in determining one’s right to the crown, the circumstances of Arthur’s birth leave Camelot without a king for some time. To fill this position, Camelot is forced to elect a new king through a trial that fails to prove an individual’s competence as a ruler. This point is also raised by Mark Allen in his article, “The Image of Arthur and the Idea of King,” when he states, “…Arthur’s kingship is defined by more than personal ability or common election; as Merlin’s prophecies suggest, he is sanctioned by a force or power superior to human affairs” (4). Of course, the test we are referring to is Arthur’s removal of the sword from the stone, a feat that should confirm his lineage: “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England” (Malory 9). What few people question in light of this miracle is whether or not Arthur deserves to be king. Has he proven his worth or as Mark Allen calls his “personal ability” by simply removing the...

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