Study Guide

Le Morte D'Arthur Revenge (or Vengeance)

By Sir Thomas Malory

Revenge (or Vengeance)

But Kynge Pellynore bare the wyte of the dethe of Kynge Lott, wherefore Sir Gawain revenged the deth of hys fadir the tenthe yere aftir he was made knyght, and slew Kynge Pellynore hys owne hondis. (51.24-27)

Even in this moment, when Pellynore's death is still far in the future, our narrator still brings it up. Regardless of whether or not he's some sort of psychic, our narrator's mention of this tells us that this is a pretty important part of the story. This particular blood feud is as much a part of the Round Table's fall as Gwenyvere's affair with Launcelot, so the narrator drops hints, even this early in the story.

"Alas!" seyde the knyght, "I am slayne undir youre conduyte with a knyght called Garlonde. Therefore take my horse, that is bettir than youres, and ryde to the damesell and folow the queste that I was in as she woll lede you – and revenge my deth whan ye may." (53.16-20)

By promising safe conduct to this knight, Balyn was, in effect, vowing to lay his body on the line for him. Since he has failed to do that, he now really owes it to the guy to risk his life in a battle for vengeance with the knight's killer. And he barely even knows the guy.

And on the morne they founde letters of golde wretyn, how that Sir Gawain shall revenge his fadirs deth on Kynge Pellynore. (54.5-8)

Well this is odd. Balyn has just erected a tomb for yet another knight killed by this Garlonde fellow. But instead of the inscription telling <em>that </em>story, the tomb predicts the future – Gawain's revenge on Pellynore. It's a moment of foreshadowing, so that when Gawain does take his revenge, we're forced to look back on other moments of vengeance in the story.

And Kynge Pellam hymself arose up fersely, and seyde, "Knyght, why hast thou slayne my brothir? Thou shalt dey therefore or thou departe." (56.1-3)

Here, the cycle of vengeance that began with Garlonde continues. When Balyn kills him, he strikes the "dolorous stroke," which causes Pellam's whole castle to crumble. Whoops. As vengeance for <em>that, </em>fate conspires to make Balyn kill his own brother. So we're going to go ahead and say that the lesson here seems to be that vengeance is a bad idea, no matter which way you look at it.

And then the quene gryped that swerde in her honde fersely, and with all her myght she ran streyght uppon Tramtryste where he sate in his bayne – and there she had ryved hym thorowe, had nat Sir Hebes bene. (241.31-34)

It's rare to see a woman taking vengeance, especially in such a violent way. Women in this genre and time period generally resort to methods like poison or magic instead. But this queen is an <em>Irish </em>queen, which makes her different from the typical women. She's alien and strange in ways a British woman might not be.

"Sir Gawain and his three bretherne, Sir Aggravayne, Sir Gaherys, and Sir Mordred, sette upon Sir Lamorak in a pryvy place. And there they slew his horse, and so they faght with hym on foote more than three owyrs, bothe byfore hym and behynde hym; and so Sir Mordrede gaff hym his dethis wounde behynde hym at his bakke, and all tohewe hym." (416.16-22)

The cycle of vengeance that began with Lot's death at the hands of Sir Pellynore seems never-ending. Gawain has already killed Pellynore, so now he and his brothers do the same to Pellynore's son. But they don't kill the son honorably. Instead, they stab him in the back, which tells us that this blood feud is not at all chivalrous.

And thys Sir Pyonell hated Sir Gawain bycause of hys kynnesman Sir Lamorakes deth; and therefore, for pure envy and hate, Sir Pyonell enpoysonde sertayn appylls for to enpoysen Sir Gawain. (590.42-591.2)

Again, the blood feud between the kinsmen of Pellynore and Lot makes trouble for everybody, not just the major players. This time, the vengeance backfires when the apples meant for Sir Gawain poison another knight instead. In the end, it's Gwenyvere who pays the price, all because this incident took place at a feast she happened to be hosting. This plot point might be an indication that the consequences of the blood feud have reached as high as they can – to the King and Queen. And hey, don't forget that in just a few pages, it will lead to the downfall of the whole Round Table.

"Wyte you well, now I shall make you a promyse whych I shall holde be my knyghthode, that frome thys day forewarde I shall never fayle Sir Launcelot untyll that one of us have slayne that othir. And therefore I requyre you, my lorde and kynge, dresse you unto the warres, for wyte you well, I woll be revenged uppon Sir Launcelot." (659.15-18)

Gawain swears an oath of vengeance here, which tells us just how serious he is about avenging his father's death. After all, keeping his word is just about the most important thing a knight should do. For Gawain, though, it seems to be about more than just keeping his word. Vengeance is a habit he just can't get rid of; here, he even turns on his former friend for what he knows was an accidental killing.

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