Idylls of the King Characters

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Idylls of the King Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Idylls of the King by Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson.

Arthurappears in All

Arthur's origins are uncertain, and a cause for great distress for King Leodogran, who does not want his daughter to marry someone of royal blood. According to Arthur's knights, King Uther married Gorlois's widow but died before Arthur was born. In order to save the child from the ambitious, dangerous men of King Uther's court, Merlin gave Arthur over to the care of Anton, an aged knight. This story explains the rumors some people spread that Arthur is the son either of Gorlois or Anton. According to Merlin, however, Arthur is the son of man. Rather, he and his master, Bleys, found Arthur miraculously swept to shore on the ocean. They immediately knew, by the miraculous signs which surrounded his arrival, that the child was sent to be the king.

Arthur is, among all of his subjects and friends, singularly virtuous. Not once in the stories does Arthur ever commit a sinful act. In ruling his kingdom he is just, generous, and thorough. In fact, it is on account of his seemingly perfect virtue that his wife, Guinevere, cannot love him. He does seem earthly enough to her. His knights also complain that Arthur binds them to "impossible" vows, which no one, except he, can possibly fulfill.

There are several, unmistakable parallels between Arthur and Jesus Christ throughout the story. As already mentioned, Arthur seems to be without sin; if he does sin, the story never shows it. Mirroring Judas's betrayal of Christ, Arthur winds up suffering (and possibly dying) by being betrayed by his best friend, Sir Lancelot, whose affair with Guinevere unleashes chaos on the kingdom. Arthur eventually vanquishes the evil forces that spread over his realm, but at the cost of his own life. Once again, the comparison to Christ, whose death is believed to be necessary for human salvation, is obvious. Finally, even Arthur's departure from Britain is reminiscent of Christ's ascension into the heavens. Just as Christ left Earth by ascending into the heavens, Arthur disappears into the horizon on a barge. Indeed, there is even a promise that Arthur will one day return after being wounded, just as Christ prophesied his Second Coming.

Guinevereappears in All

Guinevere is King Leodogran's beautiful daughter. Arthur first sees her when he offers his power to protect her father's kingdom and immediately falls in love with her. Arthur asks for her hand in marriage as a reward for helping the king. Leodogran is reluctant, however; he is grateful, but he is worried that Arthur is not truly of royal blood. After hearing testimony from several people and receiving a prophetic dream, Leodogran agrees and Guinevere is taken to Arthur by Sir Lancelot.

It is not clear that Guinevere ever truly loves or appreciates Arthur. Though Arthur immediately falls in love with her when he sees her, she does not even notice him. She is unable to distinguish him from his soldiers. Later, when she is in the midst of her illicit affair with Lancelot, she remarks that his perfect virtue is an obstacle to loving him. His goodness seems to create a gulf between him and her and, while she reveres and respects him, she cannot feel passionately for him. It is perhaps because of her inability to love Arthur that Guinevere turns to Lancelot. Lancelot is, by all accounts, the best man in the realm after Arthur. He is, however, more human and his weaknesses make him accessible to Guinevere.

Guinevere has a reputation throughout the kingdom for exceptional purity. Thus, when rumor begins to spread of her affair, no one is willing to believe it. Indeed, her knights are jealous defenders of her, and are willing to go to blows to defend her honor. In time, due to the machinations of Vivien and Modred, the scandal becomes undeniable. The effect on the kingdom is unimaginable. The people, even many of the once virtuous knights, lose hope for ever being good or pure; for, if the great Queen can sin so gravely, what hope is there for them? The scandal ruins her marriage to Arthur, but he promises that he still loves her. He expresses his hope that they will one day meet again in Paradise. Guinevere then devotes her life to penance, hoping that God will forgive her.

Leodogranappears in The Coming of Arthur

Leodogran is a king whom Arthur saves from heathen armies. In return, he gives Arthur Guinevere's hand in marriage.

Merlinappears in The Coming of Arthur; Merlin and Vivien

Merlin is a wizard and scholar renowned throughout the realm for his wisdom. He, and his master Bleys, find the child Arthur on the beach and hide him until he becomes an adult and can take his throne.

Sir Lancelotappears in All

Sir Lancelot is the bravest of Arthur's knights and his closest friend. He is involved in a secret affair with Guinevere, which winds up tearing apart the kingdom. Afterwards, his army goes to war with Arthur's, but is defeated.

Bellicentappears in The Coming of Arthur; Gareth and Lynette

Bellicent is King Lot's wife and Gareth's mother. She tells King Leodogran the story of Arthur's miraculous arrival on Earth.

Garethappears in Gareth and Lynette

Gareth is a young prince who desperately wants to be a knight in King Arthur's court. After working secretly as a kitchen servant, he is knighted. On his first quest, he defeats four knights who are trapping a woman in her castle.

Sir Kayappears in Gareth and Lynette

Sir Kay is the knight in charge of the domestic necessities in Arthur's Hall. He does not like Gareth, but when they fight, Gareth defeats him.

Geraintappears in The Marriage of Geraint; Geraint and Enid

Geraint is one of King Arthur's knights. He falsely comes to believe that his wife, Enid, is having an affair, putting both through a long ordeal before the truth is exposed.

Enidappears in The Marriage of Geraint; Geraint and Enid

Enid is Geraint's husband Earl Yniol's daughter. Her family's nobility was usurped by Sparrow-Hawk but restored by Geraint, whom she afterward married.

Sir Edyrn / Sparrow-Hawkappears in The Marriage of Geraint; Geraint and Enid

Edryn, also known as Sparrow-Hawk, is the usurper of Yniol's earldom. After being defeated in a tournament by Geraint, he turns his life around and becomes one of Arthur's most virtuous knights.

Balinappears in Balin and Balan

Balin is an impetuous, quick-tempered man who winds up falling into despair when he finds out the Queen is having an affair with Lancelot.

Balanappears in Balin and Balan

Balan is Balin's brother. Of the two, he is the more virtuous and keeps Balin in line. The two brothers accidentally kill one another in the woods.

Vivienappears in Balin and Balan; Merlin and Vivien

Vivien is a woman who belongs to King Mark's court and hates Arthur because her father died fighting against him. She is integral in the plot which winds up exposing Guinevere's infidelity and overthrowing his kingship.

Elaineappears in Lancelot and Elaine

Elaine is the daughter of the Lord of Astalot who falls in love with Lancelot, but dies of heartbreak when he refuses to love her back.

Sir Gawainappears in Lancelot and Elaine; Pelleas and Ettarre; The Passing of Art

Sir Gawain is one of King Arthur's knights who is notable for his selfishness and vice. He dies in battle against Lancelot's revolting forces and, as a ghost, tells Arthur of his death.

Sir Galahadappears in The Holy Grail

Sir Galahad is a knight who is revered for his great virtue. He is supernaturally taken up into a holy city while on a quest for the Holy Grail.

Sir Percivaleappears in The Holy Grail

Sir Percivale is one of the knights who quests for the Holy Grail. However, he comes to realize he is not humble enough in his search. He lives out the rest of his life as a holy monk.

Pelleasappears in Pelleas and Ettarre

Pelleas is a young knight who fills the vacancies opened by the death of those who quested for the Holy Grail. When he finds out about Lancelot and Guinevere, he nearly exposes their secret to the entire court.

Ettarreappears in Pelleas and Ettarre

Ettarre is a beautiful woman with whom Pelleas falls in love. She turns out to be cruel and manipulative, however, and is only interested in him insofar as he can win her a prize in a tournament.

Dagonetappears in The Last Tournament

Dagonet is the fool in King Arthur's court. He rebukes Tristram for his many sins.

Tristramappears in The Last Tournament

Tristram is a disgraced knight of Arthur's court. Though married to a woman in Britain, he takes a second wife in Brittany. Upon his return, he tries to reconcile with his first wife, but is killed by her captor, King Mark.

King Markappears in Merlin and Vivien; The Last Tournament

King Mark is a wicked king who hates Arthur and aids Vivien in her desire to topple his kingship.

The Red Knightappears in The Last Tournament

As news of Guinevere's scandal begins to spread, a man known as the Red Knight sets up a kingdom which is openly immoral, claiming that the only difference between it and King Arthur's is that they are honest about their sins. Arthur disbands the Red Knight's kingdom, but his hopes of doing so peacefully are dashed when his men, contrary to his desires, massacre everyone in the Red Knight's castle.

Modredappears in Guinevere; The Passing of Arthur

Modred is a member of King Arthur's court who plots to usurp Arthur's throne. With the help of Vivien, he is able to use Guinevere's scandals to convince part of Arthur's armies to join with him. He is slain by Arthur, but delivers a fatal blow first.

Sir Bedivereappears in The Passing of Arthur

Sir Bedivere is the last loyal knight with Arthur before his death. He carries Arthur to the barge which carries him out to sea.

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