Decorative Initial A rthur's third trial comes when after defeating both Modred and his own doubts, he commands Bedivere to cast away Excalibur. In his struggle to make Bedivere obey him by sheer force of will, and in the knight's struggle to keep faith with his beloved king, we have the climactic double-test of "The Passing of Arthur." This idyll's pattern of three tests recapitulates the structure of the opening section of The Idylls of the King, where after Arthur has proved himself rightful lord of the realm by defending Leodogran's lands and conquering the rebel barons, he must next obtain the hand of Guinevere from her father, the grateful, yet still doubting Leodogran. In both the "Coming" and the "Passing," Arthur's chief test, to which all builds, is a matter of making another man move in harmony with his will, for he must convince both the king of Cameliard and his last knight to believe in him enough to act as he desires. In thus placing Arthur off-stage during the central action of each Idyll, Tennyson not only emphasizes the king's oblique role in the ten central sections, but also enforces the poem's themes of doubt, faith, and their relation to noble action.

Bedivere, whose loyalty to Arthur provides a large part of the concluding idyll's subject, is the average man at his best.* Intolerantly loyal, he cannot understand why others do not believe in Arthur, and in "The Coming of Arthur" he tells Leodogran that the only reason the barons do not accept his lord is that they are too bestial. While this explanation is in part correct, it obviously much oversimplifies the problems that some men, including Leodogran, have in granting Arthur's authenticity. Just as he easily dismisses the doubts of others, so, too, Bedivere pays little attention to the possibility that his king is of miraculous origin, for such suggestions have no appeal to the commonsense warrior. These limitations, this same lack of imagination, this inability to distinguish between true and false, appear when he twice disobeys his lord, thus providing one of Arthur's most painful trials.

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[This lexia has been adapted from George P. Landow, "Closing the Frame: Having Faith and Keeping Faith in Tennyson's 'The Passing of Arthur.'" Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 56 (1974), 423 — 42.]

Last modified 30 November 2004