|Image from the original Prose-Lancelot.|
The Prose Lancelot, otherwise known as the Fullgate Cycle, is one of the major pieces of Arthurian literature; due to its lengthy nature, however, and the fact that it was written by numerous authors across many years, lacks the level of coherence seen from even other incomplete Arthurian narratives. Because it was written by various authors who were promoting different political and religious emphasizes, the text contradicts itself. Not only that but the various branches of the text, its different parts, were written out of sync with how the text was compiled—meaning, for instance, that the first branch in the text was actually the very last one written but it was inserted ahead of the other branches and knowingly altered so as to reference what previous authors had written.
The text itself is striking in how it combines religious fervor and military activity, specifically, its conversion of non-Christians. This is not surprising, of course, since certain parts of the text were compiled at the height of the religious fervor associated with the crusades.
As an Arthurian text, what the Prose Lancelot does is demonstrate the first instance of the so-called ‘sword in the stone.’ However, against common sense interpretations, this sword in the stone is not Excalibur. King Arthur had two swords; the sword in the stone was one, but the other, Excalibur, was given to him by the Lady of the Lake; it was Merlin who took King Arthur out on the lake where he received the sword from a supernatural entity residing in the lake.
A little known fact is that upon receiving Excalibur, Arthur also receives a magical scabbard. This scabbard prevents battle wounds from bleeding, hence making it both a powerful tool and a mildly ironic device since had Arthur still retained possession of this scabbard come his final showdown, he would have survived the wound.
In the Prose Lancelot we also start to see Arthur’s familial relationships become fleshed out. Additionally, Arthur, as king, is seen to be identified with questing for the sake of questing as a main function of the Roundtable, thus making it a departure from previous Arthurian texts which focus on questing as a means of wooing royal ladies.
Questioningly, however, Merlin all but vanishes from the text after he falls in love with a woman named Vivian, who imprisons him via magic that he himself taught her. More than mildly kinky heterosexual relationships, however, the text also explores the idea of knightly fellowships: in the Prose Lancelot, knightly brotherhood is elevated onto the same level as lady wooing and sometimes even risen further. Thus marking that homosociality was a vital function of Arthurian romance.
As an aside, however, some researchers have speculated that the inclusion of so many French writers in the Arthurian tradition may have been an attempt to claim ownership over an English cultural product during a time the two people were engaged in bitter land struggles on the continent.
(For anyone interested further in the Prose Lancelot, there is a ongoing research project which seeks to form a corpus of Prose-Lancelot texts and may be worth checking out for anyone who found this post thought-provoking. The link: http://www.lancelot-project.pitt.edu/lancelot-project.html )