Meter: A study of Idylls of the King, Part 8: Lancelot and Elaine

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Elaine the fair, Elaine the lovable,
Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat,
High in her chamber up at tower to the east
Guarded the sacred shield of Lancelot;
Which first she placed where morning's earliest ray
Might strike it, and awake her with the gleam;
Then fearing rust of soilure fashion'd for it
A case of silk, and braided thereupon
All the devices Blazon'd on the shield
In their tinct, and added, of her wit,
A border fantast of branch and flower,
And yellow-throated nestling in the nest,
Nor rested thus content, but day by day,
Leaving her household and good father, climb'd
That eastern tower, and entering barr'd her door,
Stript off the case, and read the naked shield,
Now guess'd a hidden meaning in his arms,
Now made a pretty history to herself
Of every dint a sword had beaten in it,
And every scratch a lance had made upon it,
Conjecturing when and here: this cut is fresh,
That at Caerleon-this at Camelot-
And ah, God's Mercy, what a stroke was there!
And here a thrust that might have kill'd, but God
Broke the strong lance, and roll'd his enemy down,
And saved him: so she lived in Fantasy.

(Lancelot and Elaine, lines 1-27)

Welcome to part 8 of my study of Idylls of the King. Today we will be looking at chapter 7, Lancelot and Elaine.

I'd like to start off with a scan of the above passage.

E-laine/ the fair,/ E-laine/ the lov/a-ble, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
E-laine,/ the li/ly maid /of Ast/o-lat, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
in/ her cham/ber up /at tower/ to (>) the east (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)*
ed/ the sac/red shield /of Lan/ce-lot; (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Which first /she placed /where morn/ing's earl/iest ray (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Might strike/ it, and /awake/ her with the gleam; (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Then fear/ing rust /of soil/ure fash/ion'd for (it) (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb (hyper))
A case /of silk, /and braid/ed there/upon (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
the/ devic/es Blaz/on'd on /the shield (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
/their tinct, /and add/ed, of/ her wit, (Headless Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Double Iamb)
A bord/er fan/t-ast /of branch/ and flower, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And yell/ow-throat/ed nest/ling in /the nest, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Nor rest/ed thus /content, /but day/ by day, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Leaving/ her house/hold and/ good fath/er, climb'd (Trochee/Iamb/Double Iamb/Iamb)
That east/ern tower,/ and ent/ering barr'd /her door, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Stript off/ the case,/ and read/ the nak/ed shield, (Spondee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Now guess'd /a hidd/en mean/ing in/ his arms, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Now made/ a pret/ty hist/ory to/herself (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Of eve/ry dint /a sword /had beat/en in (it), (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb (hyper))
And eve/ry scratch/ a lance/ had made /upon (it,) (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb (hyper))
Conject/uring when /and here:/ this cut is fresh, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
That at/ Caerle/on-this/ at Cam/e-lot- (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And ah,/ God's Mer/cy, what/ a stroke /was there! (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And here/ a thrust /that might/ have kill'd, /but God (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
the/ strong lance,/ and roll'd /his en/emy down, (Trochee/Spondee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And saved /him: so /she lived/ in Fan/ta-sy. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

*I just want to make a note that like how some people would say 'flour' is one syllable, they apply the same pronunciation to words like flower and tower. Being from Midwest, these pronunciation do catch me off guard here and there, but this is the point I want to make; it is so important to learn how a region pronounces a word vs. your own. If you don't take the time to learn how different people say the same word as you, differently, than you are going to really struggle at reading other people's metrical writing. The East cost, West cost, Mountain region, Mid-west, South, Deep south, Canada, U.K, Aussie, and a few I am sure I am forgetting, all say the same word differently, and have different speech habits.

The story of Lancelot and Elaine is a tragedy. The story starts off with Arthur holding a tournament where the winner will receive a large diamond. Meanwhile, Lancelot and the Queens relationship is having some troubles, and she demands he enter the tournament. Lancelot agrees but decides he will disguise himself as a way to get more people to enter it (He has won every Tournament that Arthur has hosted.)

Lancelot goes to Astolat, where he meets Elaine, and ask the lord for old armor and a blank shield so no one will recognize him. During this time, Elaine falls madly in love Lancelot and gives him her pearl arm-band to wear, which he does.

Lancelot wins the tournament but is gravely injured, and retreats into the wild before he can receive his award. Arthur, correctly, guesses that the unknown knight was Lancelot in disguise and sends one of his knights, a lazy one at that, to find him. Arthur reveals his concerns to the queen, who confirms that the unknown knight was indeed Lancelot, but he also tells her that Lancelot wore the arm-ban of another woman. The queen goes into a jealous rage; here is her response.

"Thy hopes are mine," and saying that, she choked,
And sharply turn'd about to hide her face,
Past to her chamber, and there flung herself
Down on the great King's couch, and writhed upon it,
And clench'd her fingers till they bit her palm,
And shriek'd out "Traitor!"

(Lines 603-608)

Elsewhere, Elaine meets the lazy knight. The Lazy knight, Gawain, sees that Elaine is madly in love with Lancelot, and wanting her for himself, tries to destroy her love by telling her that Lancelot and the Queen are having an affair. Elaine is hurt by this and ask the man to leave. Elaine then sets out, finds Lancelot, and nurses him back to health.

With Lancelot in full health, he ask Elaine if he can grant her anything. Elaine begs Lancelot to take her with him, not as his wife, but as another lover. (This is a huge deal. Back then, having sex with someone and not being married to them would be on the same level as being a drug dealer today. This also shows that she believes the rumors about him and the queen, but loves him despite that.) Lancelot -being an honorable man- is unable to do that and refuses to grant her request. He leaves, and Elaine becomes heartbroken.

Elaine dies of heartbreak

Lancelot returns and is greeted as a hero by all expect the Queen, who believes that he has a new lover. When the two are alone they have an argument over the ordeal which further causes Lancelot to despise his relationship with the queen.

Lancelot then learns of the death of Elaine and become remorseful over his actions towards her. He buries her himself with all the jewels he's won over the years at the tournament and comes to despise himself as a man over these events.


Before we finish this up today, I want to make note of a few lines where I thought the meter was excellent.

"They are broken, they are broken!' for the king. (Line 309)

"^ They/ are brok/en, they/ are brok/en!' for /the king.

This line is an Alexander (a 6 beat line) that is used when of something of great importance is said or done (in this case, when King Arthur defeated the heathen host.) But also, look how the line starts with an Headless Iamb, this is done so that the 'They are broken' can be repeated twice, but the meter will be the same. This is an example of a Rhetoric device, metrical dialogue that is meant to persuade the listener.


His honor rooted in dishonor stood,
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true. (Lines 871-872)

The above is some excellent word play. As a writer becomes better versed in writing meter, Words play and Rhetoric devices will become important to take your writing to the next level. This is where meter gains its power. Most of Shakespeare's best writing and quoted sayings are his word play and Rhetoric that is done in meter.


This concludes my look at Chapter 7, Lancelot and Elaine (the longest chapter in the book.)


If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave a comment or a like.

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