Posted: August 1st, 2022
Depiction of gender stereotypes in Arthurian Lore
I had no idea that the tales of Arthur and his knights of the round table were so extensive, having only been exposed to Arthurian lore through modern film and television. I initially found the Old English vocabulary quite difficult to follow, but eventually was able to read between the lines so to speak.
Once again, the depiction of men and different is like the mythological tales of different eras we have already covered. The events leading up to Arthur’s conception and birth begin with a powerful man, Uther Pendragon lusting after another man’s wife. Rightfully so, the Duke’s wife Ingraine refuses to lay with Uther and counsels her husband that they should flee to protect her honor (Malory, 33). This invokes the wrath of Uther, and he sets out to make war with the Duke. Ultimately, through some clever magic, Ingraine is tricked into sleeping with Uther, believing him to be her husband the Duke. This shows woman being portrayed as mere sexual objects for the desires of powerful men who abuse their power.
The conception of Galahad plays out in a similar fashion, but I noticed some differences regarding the portrayal of men and woman. King Pelles desired that Lancelot should have sex with his daughter Elaine, that he may begat a child upon her. “And fain would King Pelles have found the mean to have had Sir Launcelot to have lain by his daughter, fair Elaine”. (Malory, 501). The subtle difference I noticed here was King Pelles was counselled by another woman in how to achieve his aims of Lancelot impregnating his daughter Elaine. The Dame Brisen came forward to explain that Lancelot only loved Guenever and for him to sleep with Elaine he would have to believe it was in fact Guenever (Malory, 502). And so it came to pass that Lancelot was fooled into sleeping with Elaine, believing it was Guenever. Upon waking and discovering the ruse, he was furious and shameful, and desired to murder Elaine for her deception.
Much of the Arthurian tales depict men as having to overcome great battles and earn honor and praise through their heroic deeds, waited upon hand and foot by their many maidens, while the woman are portrayed as mere pawns. Of course, many of these battles are fought over woman. One could argue that this portrays woman as the root cause of all war and conflict.
Malory, Thomas. Le Morte d’Arthur. Oxford University Press, 2008.
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