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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter X. The Lady of Shalott
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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter X. The Lady of Shalott Post by :Shawn_Mason Category :Nonfictions Author :Thomas Bulfinch Date :January 2011 Read :2843

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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter X. The Lady of Shalott

King Arthur proclaimed a solemn tournament to be held at
Winchester. The king, not less impatient than his knights for this
festival, set off some days before to superintend the
preparations, leaving the queen with her court at Camelot. Sir
Launcelot, under pretence of indisposition, remained behind also.
His intention was to attend the tournament--in disguise; and
having communicated his project to Guenever, he mounted his horse,
set off without any attendant, and, counterfeiting the feebleness
of age, took the most unfrequented road to Winchester, and passed
unnoticed as an old knight who was going to be a spectator of the
sports. Even Arthur and Gawain, who happened to behold him from
the windows of a castle under which he passed, were the dupes of
his disguise. But an accident betrayed him. His horse happened to
stumble, and the hero, forgetting for a moment his assumed
character, recovered the animal with a strength and agility so
peculiar to himself, that they instantly recognized the inimitable
Launcelot. They suffered him, however, to proceed on his journey
without interruption, convinced that his extraordinary feats of
arms must discover him at the approaching festival.

In the evening Launcelot was magnificently entertained as a
stranger knight at the neighboring castle of Shalott. The lord of
this castle had a daughter of exquisite beauty, and two sons
lately received into the order of knighthood, one of whom was at
that time ill in bed, and thereby prevented from attending the
tournament, for which both brothers had long made preparation.
Launcelot offered to attend the other, if he were permitted to
borrow the armor of the invalid, and the lord of Shalott, without
knowing the name of his guest, being satisfied from his appearance
that his son could not have a better assistant in arms, most
thankfully accepted the offer. In the meantime the young lady, who
had been much struck by the first appearance of the stranger
knight, continued to survey him with increased attention, and,
before the conclusion of supper, became so deeply enamoured of
him, that after frequent changes of color, and other symptoms
which Sir Launcelot could not possibly mistake, she was obliged to
retire to her chamber, and seek relief in tears. Sir Launcelot
hastened to convey to her, by means of her brother, the
information that his heart was already disposed of, but that it
would be his pride and pleasure to act as her knight at the
approaching tournament. The lady, obliged to be satisfied with
that courtesy, presented him her scarf to be worn at the
tournament.

Launcelot set off in the morning with the young knight, who, on
their approaching Winchester, carried him to the castle of a lady,
sister to the lord of Shalott, by whom they were hospitably
entertained. The next day they put on their armor, which was
perfectly plain and without any device, as was usual to youths
during the first year of knighthood, their shields being only
painted red, as some color was necessary to enable them to be
recognized by their attendants. Launcelot wore on his crest the
scarf of the maid of Shalott, and, thus equipped, proceeded to the
tournament, where the knights were divided into two companies, the
one commanded by Sir Galehaut, the other by King Arthur. Having
surveyed the combat for a short time from without the lists, and
observed that Sir Galehaut's party began to give way, they joined
the press and attacked the royal knights, the young man choosing
such adversaries as were suited to his strength, while his
companion selected the principal champions of the Round Table, and
successively overthrew Gawain, Bohort, and Lionel. The
astonishment of the spectators was extreme, for it was thought
that no one but Launcelot could possess such invincible force; yet
the favor on his crest seemed to preclude the possibility of his
being thus disguised, for Launcelot had never been known to wear
the badge of any but his sovereign lady. At length Sir Hector,
Launcelot's brother, engaged him, and, after a dreadful combat,
wounded him dangerously in the head, but was himself completely
stunned by a blow on the helmet, and felled to the ground; after
which the conqueror rode off at full speed, attended by his
companion.

They returned to the castle of Shalott, where Launcelot was
attended with the greatest care by the good earl, by his two sons,
and, above all, by his fair daughter, whose medical skill probably
much hastened the period of his recovery. His health was almost
completely restored, when Sir Hector, Sir Bohort, and Sir Lionel,
who, after the return of the court to Camelot, had undertaken the
quest of their relation, discovered him walking on the walls of
the castle. Their meeting was very joyful; they passed three days
in the castle amidst constant festivities, and bantered each other
on the events of the tournament. Launcelot, though he began by
vowing vengeance against the author of his wound, yet ended by
declaring that he felt rewarded for the pain by the pride he took
in witnessing his brother's extraordinary prowess. He then
dismissed them with a message to the queen, promising to follow
immediately, it being necessary that he should first take a formal
leave of his kind hosts, as well as of the fair maid of Shalott.

The young lady, after vainly attempting to detain him by her tears
and solicitations, saw him depart without leaving her any ground
for hope.

It was early summer when the tournament took place; but some
months had passed since Launcelot's departure, and winter was now
near at hand. The health and strength of the Lady of Shalott had
gradually sunk, and she felt that she could not live apart from
the object of her affections. She left the castle, and descending
to the river's brink placed herself in a boat, which she loosed
from its moorings, and suffered to bear her down the current
toward Camelot.

One morning, as Arthur and Sir Lionel looked from the window of
the tower, the walls of which were washed by a river, they
descried a boat richly ornamented, and covered with an awning of
cloth of gold, which appeared to be floating down the stream
without any human guidance. It struck the shore while they watched
it, and they hastened down to examine it. Beneath the awning they
discovered the dead body of a beautiful woman, in whose features
Sir Lionel easily recognized the lovely maid of Shalott. Pursuing
their search, they discovered a purse richly embroidered with gold
and jewels, and within the purse a letter, which Arthur opened,
and found addressed to himself and all the knights of the Round
Table, stating that Launcelot of the Lake, the most accomplished
of knights and most beautiful of men, but at the same time the
most cruel and inflexible, had by his rigor produced the death of
the wretched maiden, whose love was no less invincible than his
cruelty. The king immediately gave orders for the interment of the
lady with all the honors suited to her rank, at the same time
explaining to the knights the history of her affection for
Launcelot, which moved the compassion and regret of all.

Tennyson has chosen the story of the "Lady of Shalott" for the
subject of a poem. The catastrophe is told thus:

"Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
A corse between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
'The Lady of Shalott'

"Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,

All the knights at Camelot.
But Launcelot mused a little space;
He said, 'She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.'"

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