The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King

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The Round Table Symbol Analysis

The Round Table Symbol Icon
In Book II, The Queen of Air and Darkness, Arthur devises the idea of the Round Table. The Round Table is integral to his concept of Might vs. Right; Arthur wants to find a way to harness the power of Might to ensure Right, so that violence is only ever committed to uphold justice. Fundamental to this idea is the Order of the Round Table—a sort of club where knights keep true to the values of justice and morality to be a part of the Order. The Round Table is conceived as a mechanism for maintaining equality between the knights and so they do not squabble over rank. The Round Table becomes a symbol throughout the novel for Arthur's idea of justice—its literal non-hierarchical form symbolizes Arthur's quest to uphold morality and dissolve the superficial, hierarchical system of chivalry.

The Round Table Quotes in The Once and Future King

The The Once and Future King quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Round Table. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Ace Books edition of The Once and Future King published in 1987.
Book 3, Chapter 27 Quotes

Simple because we have got justice. We have achieved what we were fighting for, and now we still have the fighters on our hands. Don't you see what has happened? We have run out of things to fight for, so all the fighters of the Table are going to rot.

Related Characters: King Arthur or Wart (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Round Table
Page Number: 433
Explanation and Analysis:

Gareth informs Lancelot and Arthur that Mordred, Agravaine, and Gawaine have killed their mother Morgause and Sir Pellinore for having sexual relations with each other, but this does not spur Arthur to punish these three knights. Rather, it inspires him to pinpoint a flaw in the Round Table, which he had begun to notice before: his knights are growing restless, having “run out of things to fight for.” The Round Table has served its purpose, to establish “justice” in the kingdom, and Arthur’s court must occupy itself with another project of sorts. It is in this vacuity that Lancelot suggests the Quest for the Holy Grail – a quest reminiscent of the Quest for the Questing Beast, to the reader; a quest which (like all others) may not serve an actual purpose at all, but will hopefully keep the knights from starting fights with each other.


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Book 4, Chapter 14 Quotes

There would be a day—there must be a day—when he would come back to Gramayre with a new Round Table which had no corners, just as the world had none—a table without boundaries between the nations who would sit to feast there. The hope of making it would lie in culture.

Related Characters: King Arthur or Wart
Related Symbols: The Round Table
Page Number: 639
Explanation and Analysis:

The very end of this narrative is fittingly tragic; Arthur only comes to his most significant realization after he has already sent a page (the future Malory, who writes “Le Morte d’Arthur”) to share the ideals which founded the Round Table with the rest of the world. Malory’s famous text, thus, cannot express Arthur’s most important realization.

When Arthur remembers Merlyn, the character whose beliefs and lessons seem to control so much of Arthur’s actions and Arthur’s very self, Arthur finally understands that wars occur for fictitious reasons and national boundaries are merely imaginary lines. For Arthur’s Round Table to be effective, it would have to be truly “cornerless,” not affected and divided by geographical or national divisions. Arthur sees why the Round Table failed, at last – right before he dies. Death and destiny have the ultimate power, over men’s little attempts at reason and right.

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The Round Table Symbol Timeline in The Once and Future King

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Round Table appears in The Once and Future King. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 2, Chapter 8
Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
...Merlyn about his vision for the Order. Arthur decides the knights must sit at a round table , to prevent hierarchy, and that he will call them the Knights of the Round... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 8
Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Quest and The Holy Grail Theme Icon
...those he conquered to present themselves to Guenever instead. Lancelot then asks Arthur how the Round Table is; Arthur looks despairing: he confesses, he fears it is not working. Instead of the... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 14
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Fate (Time) Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
...his papers. He is tired; he has been broken by the recent two battles. The Round Table is now dispersed. He feels that he has failed the service Merlyn trained him for—to... (full context)