Study Guide

Le Morte D'Arthur Book 16

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Book 16

Sir Gawain, Episode 2

  • Back to Gawain, on his quest for the grail.
  • Sir Gawain meets with Sir Ector de Maris, and they rest for the night at a nearby chapel.
  • That night, Gawain dreams that he sees 150 bulls in a meadow full of herbs and flowers, all black except for three white ones. They starve to death and then separate.
  • Next, Sir Ector dreams that he sees his brother, Sir Launcelot, beaten and made to ride on an ass, then unable to drink from a well. He also dreams of being refused entry to a wedding.
  • Both knights wake up and see a vision of a hand covered in red silk, bearing a candle and a bridle. What's going on with all this?
  • Hopefully, a hermit will have an answer. So Ector and Gawain ride in search of one who can interpret their visions, and are directed to a rugged mountain pass by a young squire.
  • On their way to the hermit, Sir Gawain jousts with Sir Uwayne whom he kills. They bury him in a nearby abbey, then continue on their way to the hermit's lodge.
  • The hermit explains the meaning of the knights' visions, which have to do with the Grail quest and the failure of most of Arthur's knights to achieve it except for three.
  • The hermit warns Gawain that he has lived an evil life and offers to counsel him, but Gawain stubbornly refuses.

Sir Bors de Ganys

  • Shmoopers, we feel bad. We've been neglecting Sir Bors de Ganys on his quest. Let's check in with him.
  • After leaving Camelot, Sir Bors meets a hermit who counsels him to eat only bread and water, and to wear a scarlet overcoat as a sign of penance. Sir Bors agrees. All the better to be worthy of the grail.
  • After riding away from the hermitage, Bors sees a dead tree, in which a huge bird feeds the other, starving birds with its own blood, then dies.
  • Later, Bors takes lodging in the tower of a lady whose lands have been stolen from her by another lady, and agrees to be her champion in the dispute the next day.
  • That night, Bors dreams about a white bird and a black bird, both of which ask Bors to serve him, and of a dead tree and two lilies.
  • The next day, Bors defeats the other lady's knight in the dispute, restoring her lands to her. Good one, Bors. He continues on his way.
  • When Bors comes to a fork in the road, he sees his brother, Sir Lionel, on one fork, being led away in defeat by two knights. On the other fork? A maiden being chased by a knight who wants to rape her. Which one will he choose? Well, remember that nights are all about damsels in distress, so after rescuing the maiden, Bors rides in search of Sir Lionel.
  • Unfortunately, a priest on a black horse tells Bors that Sir Lionel is dead and leads him to a body, which he helps him to bury in a nearby chapel.
  • As luck would have it, it seems this priest is well-versed in dream interpretation. He tells Bors that the white bird of his dream represents a lady who will die if Bors does not return her love, and implies that if Bors maintains his chastity, he does it out of a desire for worldly glory. Wait a minute. That doesn't sound right…
  • Bors meets the lady, who threatens to jump off a tower with twelve of her maidens if Bors does not take her as a lover. Bors refuses, and the tower and ladies disappear. Uh oh.
  • An abbot explains to Bors that the priest on the black horse was a fiend sent to distract him from his quest, and that Lionel is actually still alive. This is tricky stuff, friends. How can Bors know whom to trust?
  • He also explains the symbolism of Bors' adventures and visions (unlike the priest, this abbot actually knows what he's talking about): the lady whose lands he restored, and the bleeding bird, represented Christ. The black bird stood for Holy Church and the white bird, the devil. The dry, dead tree represents Sir Lionel, who is without virtue, while the two lilies represent the maiden and the knight Bors prevented from raping her.
  • Bors finds Lionel at a hermitage in the forest. Lionel is angry with Bors for choosing to rescue the maiden first, and so he attacks him.
  • When hermit emerges and lays his body over Bors to defend him, Lionel kills the hermit.
  • Sir Colgrevaunce, another knight of the Round Table, arrives and tries to help Bors, but Lionel kills him, too. He's pretty ruthless, we must say.
  • A miraculous cloud interposes itself between Bors and Lionel and commands Bors to flee rather than kill his brother, which he does.
  • Bors boards a ship covered in white silk, and while on board, he meets Sir Percyvale.

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