Lancelot, Hamlet, and Don Quixote: The Power of the Mythic Hero
Joseph Campbell (1) describes the hero as "the man of self-achieved submission" who is "able to battle past his personal or historical limitations." Such a hero is presented in myth and in fiction as a person engaged upon a quest which Campbell (2) suggests will offer something of value to society regardless of whether or not the hero is ridiculous or sublime or whether his quest is successful or not. Further, all heroes exhibit different powers of action which helps to determine both the nature and outcome of their quest and its effects. These concepts will be discussed with respect to three monomythic heroes derived from Western literature -- Lancelot du Lak, Hamlet, and Don Quixote.
Lancelot du Lak, generally regarded as King Arthur's most valorous knight, embarked upon a quest for the Holy Grail partly in reparation for his sins. As described by Sir James Knowles (295), Lancelot's pursuit of the Grail was because "he had for fourteen years served but Queen Guinevere only, and forgotten God, and done great deeds of arms for her, and not for Heaven, and had little or nothing thanked God for the honour that he won." Having dreamed of the Grail which was destined to save the land of Britain from the darkness, Lancelot learned that he had only dreamed of achieving this holy object and that "nor for his sins' sake could he follow it (Knowles, 294)."
While Lancelot did not succeed in finding the Grail for Arthur and while he did sin against Arthur by his love for Guinevere, Lancelot's quest was not without value. Learning of Guinevere's death, Lancelot "put his knightly armor off and bade farewell to all his kin and went a mighty pilgrimage for many years and after lived a hermit til his death (Knowles, 376)." His contribution to the world was penance and the provision of an example of how even the most superficially honorable man can behave dishonorab...