Summary and Analysis
Book 7: Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere:
The Healing of Sir Urry
Sir Urry, grieved by seven wounds that will never heal until the wounds have been treated by the best knight in the world, comes to Arthur's court at Pentecost. Arthur and all his court try to help him, but only Launcelot is effective, not through his own virtue but through his humble appeal to the Trinity. Urry follows Launcelot from that day forward, along with Sir Lavine. But on the night of the miraculous healing, Gawain's wicked brothers, jealous of Launcelot's success, lie in wait for him in the queen's bedroom, hoping to catch him with her.
If Le Morte d'Arthur ended with the Grail section, its message would be one of ascetic Christianity: renounce the world. But it does not. Galahad's way may be the best, but it is not of this world. Launcelot is the best possible worldly man. Malory, in other words, rejects all-or-nothing Christianity, or at any rate allows degrees of virtue. So important is this point, in fact, that he repeatedly drops his usual narrative manner to introduce in this section direct address to the reader. This, for instance:
Therefore, lyke as May moneth flowryth and floryshyth in every mannes gardyne, so in lyke wyse lat every man of worshyp florysh hys herte in thys worlde: firste unto God, and nexte unto the joy of them that he promysed hys feythe unto, for there was never worshypfull man nor worshypfull woman but they loved one bettir than another; and worshyp in armys may never by foyled. But firste reserve the honoure to God, and secundely thy quarell muste corn of thy lady. And such love I calle vertuouse love.
(from the opening of "The Knight of the Cart")
Launcelot's first loyalty is to Guinevere. That is his sin, and he admits it. But his sin is mitigated by the fact, first, that he has learned humility — whatever good he can do (for instance, the healing of Urry) he does by God's might, not his own — and by the fact that, second, it is not unnatural in a "worshypfull" man to love one woman "bettir than another."
Reserving "the honoure to God" and fighting not for his own sake but for his lady, Launcelot is the ideal embodiment of "vertuouse love." In "The Poisoned Apple" he fights for his lady's life, despite her cruel treatment of him. (It should be observed, however, that Malory's moving presentation of Guinevere's irrational jealousy makes her treatment of Launcelot not so much "cruel" as poignantly and infuriatingly feminine, so that Launcelot's return to defend her comes as no surprise.) In "The Fair Maid of Astalot" he fights because to stay away might be to endanger her reputation. In "The Great Tournament" he fights because she asks him to — and fights despite a wound which makes it all but impossible for him to ride.
"The Knight of the Cart" introduces new complications: here Launcelot does not fight, though he wants to with all his heart, and the reason is that Guinevere forbids it. (Launcelot's huge and beautiful horse has been stupidly murdered by Melliagaunce's archers. Torn apart by arrows fired by cowards who will not stand and fight, the horse trails its master until it drops. When Guinevere sees Launcelot approaching on his cart, Malory says, "she was ware where cam hys horse after the charyotte, and ever lie trode hys guttis and hys paunche undir hys feete." Malory could hardly have provided more shockingly dramatic justification for the rage Launcelot stifles at his queen's request.)
At the end of "The Great Tournament," on the other hand, Launcelot kills Melliagaunce because, looking to the queen for a signal, he sees that "anone the quene wagged hir hede uppon sir Launcelot, as ho seyth 'sle hym.' " He offers to lash one hand behind his back and fight with his left side exposed because he cannot honorably slay a beaten knight otherwise. "The Healing of Sir Urry," a secular parallel to Galahad's healing of the Maimed King, is Malory's dramatic demonstration that within his sphere Launcelot is virtuous.
But the fact remains, Launcelot's absolute faithfulness to Guinevere forces him into a loyalty conflict. He now jousts consistently on the side opposed to King Arthur. Worshipfully loving "one bettir than another," Launcelot has had to choose between queen and king.