An archetype in literature is a repetitive narrative design of reoccurring character patterns of action or themes which are identifiable in a wide vary of works in literature. They often cause an emotional reaction with the audience making the main character seem more dynamic. Archetypes also help the reader recognize certain character types and better understand the characters rule in the story. In a sense an archetype can be considered the perfect image of something or what it is typically defined as.
The tempress, the villain, and the hero are three character archetypes utilized throughout the tales of Arthur commonly found in literature. Guinevere, queen of Camelot and Arthur’s wife, is known for her beauty throughout the kingdom. “Truly no man could say that he ever beheld a comelier lady than she, with her dancing gray eyes” (Fytte). The beloved queen also began the treacherous downfall of Arthur’s kingdom by having an affair with Arthur’s best friend and knight Sir Lancelot.
The temptress archetype is characterized by sensuous beauty, this woman is one to whom the protagonist is physically attracted too and who ultimately brings about his downfall. When the affair between Guinevere and Lancelot is discovered Arthur is forced to burn Guinevere at the stake for her crimes. Lancelot however escapes and civil war breaks out in Arthur’s kingdom. The knights are divided on whether to fight with their king or Sir lancelot, the most well respected knight. The battle is long and bloody and it is hard to say that either side won because in the end Camelot has fallen and Arthur is dead.
Metaphorically, the country had already fallen with the betrayal of Arthur’s love and best friend, but the death of Arthur seals the deal. Modred, the one behind exposing the affair gaines the most as he was the one who fatally wounded arthur. Sir Modred is known throughout the Arthurian legends as the traitor who killed Arthur. The villain archetype stands for the opposite of what the Hero stands for. While King Arthur wants a strong united England, Sir Mordred wants to bring Arthur’s empire down. King Arthur unknowingly was the father to Sir Modred whose sole purpose was to destroy Arthur’s kingdom.
When King Arthur left England to battle Sir Lancelot he placed Sir Mordred in charge. Sir Modred was the one who exposed Guinevere and Sir Lancelot’s affair knowing it would divide the country. Once King Arthur left Sir Modred framed King Arthur’s death and crowned himself king of Canterbury and tried to marry Queen Guenever. King Arthur was furious of the traitorous acts committed by one of his trusted knights and hurried home to force Sir Modred out who proved to be a traitor.
Once King Arthur returned Sir Modred fled with an army. King arthur drew westwards towards Salisbury, and many of Sir Mordred’s men followed after him, but they that loved Sir Lancelot went unto Sir Mordred” (End). The night before the battle Sir Gawaine told King arthur not to fight or else he would die. During battle King Arthur finds Sir Mordred resting in the battle field, ignoring Gawain’s advice King Arthur charges Sir Modred and strikes him with his spear, but Sir Modred fatally wounds King Arthur just before his death. The villain Sir Mordred succeeded in his quest to destroy King Arthur and his kingdom.
The final fight scene was the between the hero and villain, many modern stories have exciting fight scenes similar to Arthur’s. Archetypal hero’s all share common characteristics. King Arthur was born into unusual circumstances. He is the son of Uther Pendragon, King of the Britons. Merlin used magic to help Uther have a child with another man’s wife, but Uther dies shortly after Arthur’s birth and Merlin gives Arthur to a peasant who raises him as his own son. As a result Arthur grew up ignorant of his royal background.
Upon King Uther’s death, Merlin places the sword Excalibur in stone containing a spell that only the rightful king could remove. “I was never your, father, though till to-day I did not know who your father really was. You are the son of Uther Pendragon, and you were brought to me when you were born by Merlin himself” (Drawing). Arthur’s innocence helps him grow as a king because he was able to create his kingdom without disruption from the greed or corruption of others. King Arthur was forced to leave his family he grew up with to rule Camelot.
Similar to other modern stories the main character is forced to leave his/her family to fulfill bigger and better things. Like other heroes this was stressful transition because of the uncertain future. Excalibur is unique to King arthur, he was the only one capable of freeing it from the stone making him the rightful king of Arthur. Many modern heros have a special weapon that only he/she can wield. The hero often has a confrontation with the villain. Arthur fought Mordred in his final battle because Sir Modred threatened to destroy all King Arthur had worked for.
All of the stories end with Arthur’s glorious death in battle, which is the only thing a hero can ask for. Character archetypes appear throughout all mythologies and religions. These characters all share common characteristics added with just enough originality to make each seem distinct or unique. When Joseph Campbell discovered the hero’s journey it became more clear that most stories all follow a pattern. The temptress, the villain, and the hero archetype all share common characteristics and themes with other modern literature.