Academic journal article Arthuriana

Kaamelott's Paradox: Lancelot between Subjugation and Individuation

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Kaamelott's Paradox: Lancelot between Subjugation and Individuation

Article excerpt

Instead of the idealized society it usually represents, imagine that King Arthur's court is comprised of well-fed idiots. Without a doubt, the most palpable level of humor throughout director Alexandre Astier's television series Kaamelott relies on this irresolvable paradox: the discrepancy between the assumed nobility of Arthurian chivalry and the rash incompetence, if not frank stupidity, of most of the king's knights. This incongruity takes a deeper meaning once it generates a gap between the sacred nature of Arthur's quest, assigned to him by the gods of old (namely, finding the Grail), and the blunt disinterest from his lords in the object itself. Kaamelott thus introduces from the very building of the Round Table an exceedingly dysfunctional society that revolves entirely around the persona of Arthur, its unlucky regent, and his foretold destiny to unite Britannia through the Grail. Through the lens of situational and discursive humor, Astier portrays Kaamelott as a disinterested, splintered, and sometimes undignified system in stark contrast with its expected exemplarity.1 In it, every single character is so remarkably imperfect that one may seriously question what makes knighthood special, superior, or privileged. Arthur himself, discouraged by this assembly, still rests assured of his fate as 'l'élu' [the chosen one] and passively waits for the promises his mystical election implies while enjoying the many pleasures of his status as King of Britannia. Among this gathering of incompetent questers however, only one, Lancelot du Lac, stands out as showing potential to fulfill Kaamelott's epic destiny: finding the Grail.

Noble, brave, courteous, intelligent, devoted, pure of flesh, heart, and soul, Lancelot embodies what Arthur has been seeking and what the audience may finally recognize as the prototype of a proficient chivalric hero. In compliance with tradition, however, Lancelot will end up responsible for the destruction of the Arthurian world in Kaamelott.2 Indeed, as the series advances, Lancelot has more and more difficulty finding his place in such a defective society and associating with its 'Law.' According to William Burgwinkle, the 'Law' is

not only any sort of regulation by which communities establish standards and norms, but also the internalized laws of exchange, prohibition, and development by which subjectivity, gender, and status are determined. Thus, Law can be a publicly disseminated set of rules, a notion of the ordered society, or a set of unexpressed assumptions, the mastery of which determines the extent to which one belongs or is excluded from full participation in a community. This latter sense of the word includes not only ethical notions and the associations made between what is wrong or evil and what is excluded, but also psychoanalytic notions of Law as that foundational prohibition which holds together and gives access to the symbolic order, makes social relations possible, instantiates the subject.3

Directed by ethical, political and gender norms that are not always clearly defined, Lancelot's emergent resistance as a subject can partly be explained by the growing disparity between King Arthur's promises and his consequential administrative procedures. We find in the works of Michel Foucault-one of the many theorists Burgwinkle draws from-the claim that given subjects, especially would-be politicians, ought first and foremost to care for themselves in order to have the ability and the right to care for (i.e. rule) others.4 Such an honorable moral code is best performed through the unflinching alignment of the subject's logos (reason/speech) and ergon (actions/behavior), and it would seem that most knights of the Round Table, and sometimes even their chief, Arthur, could not care less about ensuring that their words and actions correspond. Amidst such contentious performances, Lancelot comes to hold an uncertain, blurry position in which he is somehow both affiliated with and disengaged from Kaamelott. …

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