One might say that the love triangle is the most common theme in Arthurian lore. There is, of course, the one that everyone knows, the one between King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Queen Guinevere. However, there are also countless others that seem to go unmentioned.
The earliest triangle in the legends goes back before Arthur is even born. Uther Pendragon, the King of Britain, falls in lust with the Duchess of Cornwall, Igraine. Igraine is, however, already married to the Duke of Cornwall. So with the help of Merlin, Uther magically disguises himself as the duke and appears in the duchess’ bedchamber. Some stuff happens and the result is a baby who will become King Arthur.
Tristan and Isolde from the 2006 film
Perhaps the second most widely-known Arthurian love triangle is that of King Mark, Sir Tristan, and Queen Isolde. Sir Tristan was a Knight of the Round Table and his middle-aged uncle, King Mark of Cornwall (don’t ask me how it went from being a duchy to a kingdom), was to wed a young princess from across the sea. Sir Tristan, being a good nephew, agreed to fetch his future aunt, the lovely Isolde. Isolde’s father wished for her to have a happy marriage and gave her a love potion that she was supposed to give Mark on their wedding night. However, there was a bit of a mix-up on the sail back to Cornwall and Tristan and Isolde ended up drinking it, falling madly, completely and irrevocably in love. Their story ended predictably in tragedy.
The funny thing is, some people could be involved in more than one love triangle. Lancelot for instance, was in the triangle of Guinevere-Lancelot-Arthur plus the triangle of Elaine-Guinevere-Lancelot. Sir Gawain had a thing for the ladies and one might say he was in a love dodecagon until he was finally forced to marry a nice girl, settled down, and ultimately fell for her. And there are literally dozens more.
One must ask, why is the love triangle such a common theme? Well, it must be taken into account that many of the medieval texts documenting the Arthurian legends were written by writers on commission from noblewomen who had been pushed into arranged marriages. Most love triangles in Arthurian lore involve a married woman finding true love outside the bonds of wedlock, an idea those women would probably have found appealing. Not to mention that the male lovers in the stories tend to be obedient and devoted slaves to their ladies, something else that the noblewomen of the English courts probably enjoyed. Just hope that their husbands didn’t get a look at what their wives were reading…
But no matter. I will forever be grateful to those capitalist authors for preserving these (slightly altered) stories for future generations. Because without them, we would probably have no King Arthur, no Merlin, no Lady of the Lake, no Mordred, no Questing Beast, and a world without them would be a sad place indeed.
So what do you think of Arthurian love triangles? Love triangles in general?