Le Morte d’Arthur

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Themes and Colors
Honor and Chivalry Theme Icon
Jealousy, Competition, and Revenge Theme Icon
Trickery and Mistaken Identity Theme Icon
Journeys and Quests Theme Icon
Women: Weakness and Power Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Le Morte d’Arthur, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Journeys and Quests Theme Icon

The most obvious journey in the book is the quest for the Holy Grail, a holy cup with powers to grant eternal food, youth, and happiness. For most of the characters in the book, the Grail is no more than a seductive, distant goal, as they lack the spiritual purity and chivalric perfection necessary to attain it. Sir Galahad is the only one of the knights who manages to truly attain the Holy Grail, as he remains a chaste virgin, an honorable knight, and also a skilled fighter. A number of knights are deemed worthy enough to embark on a quest to seek the Grail, but only Percivale, Sir Bors, and Galahad are permitted to actually enjoy the fruits of the Grail, and only Galahad is worthy enough to actually see the spiritual mysteries that it holds.

For the rest of the knights, in the Holy Grail section and in others, journeys and quests are not entirely meant to achieve something specific—instead, they form a way of life for the knights. Every scene of feasting and quiet contentment at Arthur’s court is soon interrupted by the desire or necessity to undertake another journey or “adventure.” The knights may technically have their home around the Round Table, but their true home is on the streets and in the forests where they follow the commands of Arthur, pursue the code of chivalry, and also attempt to constantly test their own strength and skill. This image of the wandering errant knight pursuing adventures would, after Malory’s time and in no small part thanks to him, become a nostalgic ideal that many others would turn to in literature. This emphasis on journey as ethos, rather than a means to an end, can be picked up and reinterpreted even in a very different context than that of King Arthur’s court.

Journeys and Quests ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Journeys and Quests appears in each book of Le Morte d’Arthur. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Journeys and Quests Quotes in Le Morte d’Arthur

Below you will find the important quotes in Le Morte d’Arthur related to the theme of Journeys and Quests.
Book 7 Quotes

I took none heed to your words, for the more ye said the more ye angered me, and my wrath I wrecked upon them that I had do withal. And therefore all the missaying that ye missaid me furthered me in my battle, and caused me to think to show and prove myself at the end what I was; for peradventure though I had meat in King Arthur’s kitchen, yet I might have had meat enough in other places, but all that I did for to prove and assay my friends, and that shall be known another day; and whether that I be a gentleman born or none, I let you wit, fair damosel, I have done you gentleman’s service, and peradventure better service yet will I do or I depart from you.

Related Characters: Sir Gareth (Beaumains) (speaker), King Arthur
Page Number: Vol 1, 251
Explanation and Analysis:

Beaumains has traveled much of the country with the anonymous damsel, attempting to prove himself and help her on her "adventure." Beaumains has conquered a number of knights quite impressively, but has still been subject to the damsel's regular insults and mockery. Finally, the damsel begins to acknowledge that she is somewhat impressed that Beaumains has endured all of this berating so stoically. Here Beaumains attempts to explain himself. He claims that he transferred his anger and frustration towards her onto the men against whom he fought. Indeed, her dismissal of him made him more eager to prove what a strong and chivalrous knight he was. 

For Beaumains, this kind of test is similar to what he put himself through as a menial kitchen boy at King Arthur's court - although he comes from a powerful family, it was important for him to prove his worth on his own, by setting a series of challenges and quests for himself, and completing them under a false identity, without the help of others or his own noble name. As a result, Beaumains has only underlined how he was worthy of great worship all along, even if his true identity remained unknown to others. Finally, he may be frustrated by the damsel, but as a woman she is particularly prized as someone whose admiration and respect he wants to provoke.


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Book 13 Quotes

Ah Gawaine, Gawaine, ye have betrayed me; for never shall my court be amended by you, but ye will never be sorry for me as I am for you. And therewith the tears began to run down his visage.

Related Characters: King Arthur (speaker), Sir Gawaine
Related Symbols: The Holy Grail (Sangreal)
Page Number: Vol 2, 250
Explanation and Analysis:

A number of the knights of Arthur’s court have vowed to seek the Holy Grail along with Galahad, including Gawaine, whom Arthur holds particularly dear. Although this is a moment of great honor and pride for these knights, it is a time of sorrow for Arthur, since he recognizes the danger perhaps better than many of his men do. Only the most worthy knights will be permitted to achieve the Holy Grail, and while Arthur cares deeply for his knights, he knows that most of them have sinned and that it is likely that he won’t see many of them ever again.

This scene of farewell, then, underlines the treacherous nature of quests, even as it also foreshadows greater troubles to come. This is the first time that Arthur’s court has been broken up for a significant amount of time (and indeed, the Sangreal was prophecied as the object that would "break the Round Table"). Much of Arthur’s sorrow stems from the fact that he realizes that the unity the court enjoyed for so long will perhaps never be regained again, or at least not to the same extent as before. Ironically, it is the greatest journey that a knight can take – the Sangreal quest – that threatens to break this strong connection.

My sin and my wickedness have brought me unto great dishonour. For when I sought worldly adventures for worldly desires, I ever enchieved them and had the better in every place, and never was I discomfit in no quarrel, were it right or wrong. And now I take upon me the adventures of holy things, and now I see and understand that mine old sin hindereth me and shameth me, so that I had no power to stir nor speak when the holy blood appeared afore me.

Related Characters: Sir Launcelot du Lake (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Holy Grail (Sangreal)
Page Number: Vol 2, 270
Explanation and Analysis:

Half asleep, Launcelot has seen a knight be blessed by the vessel of the Holy Grail, but a voice has told him to leave this place, since he is not worthy to achieve the Sangreal himself. Now, Launcelot seems to have a total epiphany regarding his prior actions. He recognizes that, although he is perhaps the greatest knight of the Round Table, his motivations have been worldly, if not selfish. He has pursued triumph and glory for his own interests, rather for the inherent goodness of the challenges themselves. As a result (and because of his affair with Guenever), he has been physically barred from even remaining close to the holy vessel.

Launcelot’s epiphany underlines the complexity at the heart of the book’s attitude towards chivalry, fighting, and spirituality. Winning at tournaments and triumphing over enemies is shown to be a good in itself, a source of great honor for knights; however, the book also signals that there is a greater good in being holy and selfless and acknowledging a religious rather than earthly hierarchy. It is in this latter category that Launcelot has failed, showing his only weakness. His love for Guenever is alternately portrayed as chivalrous and as weak or wrong, since it is an adulterous love. Without definitively abandoning this love, it is difficult to see how Launcelot will fulfill the terms of his vow to be a better person—at least according to the dogmatic Christian rules of the Sangreal.

Book 17 Quotes

He called to Galahad, and said to him: Come forth the servant of Jesu Christ, and thou shalt see that thou hast much desired to see. And then he began to tremble right hard when the deadly flesh began to hold the spiritual things. Then he held up his hands toward heaven and said: Lord, I thank thee, for now I see that that hath been my desire many a day. Now, blessed Lord, would I not longer live, if it might please thee, Lord.

Related Characters: Sir Galahad (speaker), Joseph of Arimathea (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Holy Grail (Sangreal)
Page Number: Vol 2, 369
Explanation and Analysis:

Joseph of Arimathea has called to Galahad in order to reveal to him all the secrets of the Holy Grail – “spiritual things” that are denied to most humans, who are deemed not worthy enough to receive them. Galahad, however, has been destined all along to “achieve” the Holy Grail, which here is shown to mean seeing what others cannot. Indeed, even the narrator refrains from describing exactly what Galahad sees, emphasizing how no one on earth can know such mysteries unless one is specifically chosen by God. While other knights desire earthly pleasures and worldly triumphs, Galahad’s only desires all along have been related to the spiritual satisfaction linked with the Holy Grail. It is this limitation of desire, indeed, that has allowed Galahad to complete the quest that he and so many others of the Round Table have pursued. For Galahad, seeing the mysteries of the Holy Grail does not just mean the end of the quest, but also the end of his life, since he believes he no longer needs to live longer; there is nothing more he needs to do.

Book 21 Quotes

Thou Sir Launcelot, there thou liest, that thou were never matched of earthly knight’s hand. And thou were the courteoust knight that ever bare shield. And thou were the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrad horse. And thou were the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved woman. And thou were the kindest man that ever struck with sword. And thou were the goodliest person that ever came among press of knights. And thou was the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies. And thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.

Related Characters: Sir Ector de Maris (speaker), Sir Launcelot du Lake
Page Number: Vol 2, 530
Explanation and Analysis:

As Launcelot had paid a visit to Guenever’s body to honor her at her burial, so too does his brother Sir Ector de Maris make his own pilgrimage to see Launcelot’s tomb and to honor his life. Ector’s words serve to recall Launcelot’s greatness – even if this greatness was marred at the end of his life by guilt and tragedy – through a series of superlatives, from “most curious” and “truest” to “meekest” and “gentlest.” Launcelot’s might, of course, largely lay in his powerful skill in jousting and in his chivalry among other knights. But Ector also acknowledges his qualities off the battlefield, at peacetime and among friends. Ector even suggests that his relationship with Guenever had much that was defensible and honorable about it, since his love for her was so powerful and he remained loyal to her at all costs. Ector’s final declaration thus underlines all the paradoxes and contradictions of Launcelot’s life, as the knight fought valiantly to fulfill the values of honor and chivalry, even as these values sometimes contradicted those of loyalty and love.