Trinitarian Symbolism In Tennyson's The Passing Of Arthur

1511 words - 7 pages

It is a common proverb that all things happen in three's, and in fact many phases of life happen in combinations of three. There is the trifold concept of body, mind and spirit, which encompasses the physical, mental and spiritual makeup of a human being. There is the fact that we live first as a child then an adult and finally as an elder and there are three stages of a woman's life, that of maiden, mother and crone. There is the also the aspect of time as in the past, present and future. There are the three acts of birth, life and death. Some people believe in the combination of birth, death and rebirth (meaning life after death), and in the Christian faith tradition, the number three, ...view middle of the document...

The second test he faces a mental challenge as the second time, Bedivere determines that if he throws the Excalibur into the water, "a precious thing, one worthy of note, / Should thus be lost for ever from the earth... What good should follow this, if this were done?" (Norton, 1299, 257-60). His own intelligence gets in the way of what he knows to be true, and he has a lack of faith in his king and in mortality, as he doesn't want Arthur to be forgotten. He wants to keep the sword Excalibur so that there can material proof of all that has taken place under Arthur's reign. He will not take the leap of faith and trust that Arthur and the Roundtable were more than just a fantasy. He fears that his whole life has been spent defending an illusion, defending something that does not, and did not really exist. Thus he fails the second challenge.
The words that restore Bedivere's faith allowing him to discharge his duty are spoken by Arthur, "a man may fail in duty twice, / And the third time may prosper (Norton, 1300, 297-8)." Bedivere was able to succeed spiritually where he was not able to succeed mentally or physically. He did not look this last time at the sword "I closed mine eyelids" (Norton, 1300, 320), or spend anytime contemplating the future of Excalibur, he only worked on faith and acted. It is the third challenge, the one of spirit that Bedivere passes, and renews his faith in Arthur and in himself. This is not only Bedivere's test, but it is Arthur's third and final test in Idylls, that of giving up the sword and trusting in others with his future.
During the second and third tests, there are references to the Lady of the Lake in regards to Excalibur. The first refers to the nine years that the Lady spent making the sword, and as nine is the square of three it seems doubly significant here as Bedivere uses it as an excuse to not discharge his duty. "King Arthur's sword, Excalibur, / Wrought by the lonely maiden of the Lake. / Nine years she wrought it (Norton, 1299, 271-3)." The other reference is that of the arm which catches the sword.
But when I looked again, behold an arm,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
That caught him by the hilt, and brandished him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere. (Norton, 1300, 326-9)
It is known that this arm is the Lady of the Lake because she the only one described as being clothed in white samite. The Lady of the Lake has a third significance, as she is one of three powerful women in the Arthurian Legend.
These three women, are the Lady of the Lake, the Queen of Orkney, known here as Bellicent, and Arthur's wife Queen Guinevere. Interlaced within the story of the rise and fall of Camelot, they make their appearance together near the end of the tale as the three Queens in the barge.
Three Queens with crowns of gold: and from them rose
A cry that shivered to the tingling stars,
And, as it were one voice, an agony
Of lamentation … There those three Queens
...

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