Arthur and Excalibur
Wood-engraving; engraved by Thompson
4½ x 3½inches
Tennyson’s Poems, 1857, 191.
This illustration shows the moment in ‘Morte D’Arthur’ when the King is presented with Excalibur by the Lady in the Lake. The image is a curious design, with the Lady hiding her face while Arthur half-recoils in acknowledgment of the status and responsibility that have been passed to him. The image is dense with heraldic devices including the emblems of Pendragon, and the sword’s handle is embellished with jewels and fine metalwork in the manner described by Tennyson. The lilies in the left foreground suggest the sword’s life-giving power, which can itself be read as a phallic symbol.
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