MICHAEL HANCOCK F ALL THE ILLICIT AFFAIRS IN THE IDYLLS OF THE KING, NONE IS MORE unusual than "bold" Sir Bedivere's relation with Excalibur (PA, l. 207).1 Commanded to cast the kingdom's founding sword into the lake where it surfaced, the Round Table's first knight finds himself dazzled by the brand's moonlit handle, which "twinkle[s] with diamond sparks, / Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work / Of subtlest jewellery" (PA, ll. 224-226).2 Thinking of how the gems might please "the eyes of many men" by being preserved for posterity "in some treasure-house of mighty kings" (PA, ll. 259, 269), an enthralled Bedivere tries to salvage the sword through disobedience and deceit. Only when Arthur threatens to slay the faithless knight does Bedivere return Excalibur to its source. The precious stones in the sword, as objects of desire, thus become an obstacle almost as difficult to overcome as the very vows that make and break Camelot. The conversion of Excalibur from sword into stones is hardly an anomaly in the Idylls. Tennyson's poem is itself a collection like Arthur's sword, encrusted with a dragon's hoard of jewels. These gems are more than colorful baubles, as they come out of nature
Victorian Poetry – West Virginia University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2001
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