Women in Malory: Necessary Evil?
So the thing about women is, Malory doesn’t understand them. This is painfully obvious whenever he has to treat a female character as dramatic subject, rather than object. I’ve read Chip n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers fanfiction with a better grasp of female characters than Malory.
Yes, I’ve read Chip n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers fanfiction. That’s not the point here. We’re not talking about my issues. We’re talking Malory and his horrible interpretations of female characters.
His solution is that, whenever possible in Le Morte D’Arthur, women are omitted, and to the extent that they must be included, they’re downplayed as much as Malory possibly can downplay them. This book totally fails the Bechdel Test. Even relatively significant characters are often left unnamed; I have to invent names for Percivale’s sister the Grail nun (Magdalena), Tristram’s evil stepmother (Hestia), and Sir Bors’s would-be seductress (Catherine).
Nevertheless, a few named women have wormed their way into the Le Morte D’Arthur canon. Here for your joy I list them, by name, and in order of their appearance. I’ve erred on the side of inclusion; Lady of the Lands is far from a well-developed character, but is identified by some kind of name, so onto the list she goes.
Igraine. Arthur’s mother. Duchess of Tintagil, and later Queen of Logris. Wife of Gorlas the Duke of Tintagil, then Uther Pendragon the King of Logris. Mother of Margawse, Elaine, Morgan, and Arthur.
Margawse. Arthur’s eldest half-sister. Queen of Orkney. Wife of Lot the King of Orkney. Mother of Gawaine, Gaheris, Gareth, Agravaine, and Mordred.
Elaine 1. Arthur’s middle half-sister. Queen of Garlot. Wife of Nentres the King of Garlot.
Morgan le Fay. Arthur’s youngest half-sister. Queen of Gore. Wife of Uriens the King of Gore. Mother of Sir Uwaine. Necromancer and wielder of plot-relevant magic. Tries to kill Arthur, fails. Exiles her husband from Gore and rules it. Aboard the magical barge that bears Arthur to Avalon.
Lionors. Lover of Arthur, mother of Sir Borre.
Guenever. Arthur’s wife. Launcelot’s longtime lover. Queen of Logris. Daughter of King Leodegrance of Cameliard. Eventually becomes a nun.
Lady of the Lake. Gives Arthur Excalibur. Gets her head lopped off by Sir Balin.
Lile of Avalon. Queen of the mystical island of Avalon and enchantress; dispatches a maiden with a cursed sword.
Columbe. Lover of Sir Lanceor, kills herself under suspicious circumstances after Sir Balin kills Sir Lanceor.
Lady de Vance. Lover of Rience.
Queen of the Waste Land. Sister of Pellinore, and thus aunt of Elaine, Sir Percivale, Sir Lamorak, Sir Tor, and Sir Aglovale. Malory doesn’t mention it, but in many traditions she’s Pellam’s wife or mother. In versions wherein Pellam is two people, she’s wife of one and mother of the other.
Elaine 2. Pellinore’s illegitimate daughter. Kills herself to spite Pellinore.
Nimue. Merlin’s infinitely more capable protege and cousin of Sir Meliot of Logris.
Lady of the Rule. Mother of Elaine 2.
Ettard. Pellas the Good’s ex. Supposedly dies of grief after Nimue steals Pellas away from her.
Lady of the Rock. Associate of the earl Fergus. Antagonized the Red Castle brothers.
Elaine 3. Wife of King Ban and mother of Launcelot.
Clarisin. Duchess-countess of a besieged Italian city-state which is definitely not Florence.
The Queen of Northgalis (aka the Enchantress of Northgalis). Morgan le Fay’s confidante and traveling companion.
The Queen of Eastland. Morgan le Fay’s other traveling companion.
The Queen of the Out Islands. Morgan le Fay’s third traveling companion.
Hellawes. Widow of Sir Gilbert the Bastard. Indeterminate witch.
Linet. The more shrewish of the Fabulous L Sisters, with an endless supply of magic healing potion. Marries Sir Gaheris.
Lionesse. The less shrewish of the Fabulous L Sisters. Marries Sir Gareth.
Laurel. The niece of Lionesse and Linet. Marries Sir Agravaine.
Elizabeth. Beloved wife of Melodias. Mother of Tristram.
Queen Isoud of Ireland (Isoud 1).
The lovely Isoud. Isoud’s daughter (Isoud 2).
Lady of the Lands. Cousin of the lovely Isoud. Her hand was the prize in Tristram’s first tournament.
Bragwaine. Isoud’s henchwoman.
Isoud the White, aka Isoud la Blanche Mains (Isoud 3). Tristram’s wife. Princess, then Queen of Brittany.
“Marcie” aka Ill-Tongue (Maledisant) aka Clear-Sighted (Bienpensant) aka Sweet Living (Beauvivante). Sir Breunor’s lady friend with three nicknames and no given name.
Lady Annowre. A sorceress who wants to marry King Arthur and won’t take no for an answer.
Anglides. mother of Sir Alisander and sister-in-law of King Mark.
Alice the Lovely Pilgrim. Beloved of Sir Alisander.
Elaine 4. Pellam’s daughter. Launcelot’s rapist and lover and wife. Galahad’s mother.
Dame Brisen. Elaine’s advisor and enchantress.
Elaine 5. Bors’s daughter by the daughter of King Brandegore (unless she was a guy named Sir Helin or Sir Elian).
Elaine 6. Elaine le Blank. The Fair Maid of Astolat. The Maiden of Shallot. Launcelot’s maybe-lover.
Felelolie. Sister of Sir Urre. That is her actual name.
By itself, Le Morte D’Arthur is pretty dry. That’s the whole point of this project, after all: to take the narrative as presented by Sir Thomas Malory and convert into something that is fun to read, or failing that, something that isn’t painful to read. Part of that recasting that I do requires invention, and I’d hate for anyone to misunderstand. Don’t go to a dinner party and note that the whiteboard dates back at least to the fifteenth century, or remark on what a coincidence it is that the teleporting dwarf in Le Morte D’Arthur shares a name with actor Peter Dinklage. Don’t do that. You don’t deserve that.
Many of the odder things people say are paraphrases of actual bizarre Malory dialogue, but by no means is this true in every case.
So here I list off the major anachronisms, interpolations, and inventions included in Arthur Dies at the End. There are certainly more than these; if in the slightest doubt check the text of Le Morte D’Arthur.
- Every word that is not bolded. Only words and phrases in bold text are verbatim quotations from Le Morte D’Arthur.
- The royal whiteboard is invented.
- The names of most of the female characters are invented. Named female characters are listed separately; if a woman is not named on that list, she goes unnamed by Malory. This includes Percivale’s sister the Grail nun and Tristram’s evil stepmother and Sir Bors’s special temptress lady-friend.
- Arthur does not assert that he thinks it’s a bad idea to send away all the little boys to die, nor does Malory present it as Merlin’s idea that Arthur reluctantly goes along with.
- Wilma, in Book II, does not textually express sexual interest in Balin.
- The assumption that all the various royals already know Merlin, in Book I and Book II, is an interpolation.
- The character of Peter is invented; while every scene featuring Peter is one that features a dwarf, Malory never gives any indication that he means the same character every time.
- Peter’s ability to teleport is based on some dodgy reading of his activities in the tail end of Book VII, as he travels easily from inside a besieged castle to outside it to a distant lodge in less time than it takes Sir Gareth to eat breakfast.
- The relationship between Merlin and Nimue as presented at the start of Book IV is hyperbolic but based on my reading of the text.
- In the original text, fewer of the people Launcelot meets in Book VI make direct reference to his affair with Guenever.
- Sir Gawaine’s reference to Arthur as “Uncle Sire” is invented.
- The Knights of the Round Table never arm-wrestled, caber-tossed, or played Team Fortress 2 or Magic: the Gathering.
- At no point does any character in Le Morte D’Arthur ever break the fourth wall, Merlin included.
- Arthur never mistakenly assumes he is speaking to Merlin in disguise.
- No one ever misses Merlin or makes reference to it being bad that he is gone, with the sole exception of Arthur, once, just before Arthur’s death.
- While Arthur never displays any affection towards Guenever after Book I, he is never explicitly cold to her, either; he never asserts that their marriage is purely political.
- Arthur’s realm is generally referred to as one of a) England, b) Britain, c) Logris (also spelled Logurs) or d) simply ‘Arthur’s realm.’ It is never called England-Britain-Logris, or any permutation thereof.
- I interpolated Morgan le Fay’s more anachronistic feminist principles as well as her antimarriage stance. She merely complains that society favors Arthur more than her on account of he’s male, which is pretty basic Feminism 101 stuff.
- Arthur’s level of shock at Morgan’s betrayal is exaggerated.
- The titles of Emperor Lucius are a mix of text and my hyperbole. He is never referred to as Caesar Augustus Caesar Lucius.
- Arthur’s hatred of strange adventures is hyperbolic exaggeration.
- There were no potatoes in Logris. Ditto tomatoes.
- The lovely Isoud and her mother don’t explicitly decide to clean Tramtrist’s broken sword before they discover the truth.
- The characterization of Sally Segwarides is all me. She’s basically just an inanimate object in Malory. I also combined several anonymous ladies into one: Segwarides’s wife and Gawaine’s lover in Book VIII are not presented by Malory as the same person.
- At no point does Sir Tristram cook bratwursts.
- Sir Tristram does not react at all with surprise when Marcie explains she had a baby she was going to give to Sir Launcelot.
- Sir Dinadan does not react when Sir Tristram calls Sir Palomides one of the best knights living in this realm.
- The messenger at the beginning of Book XIII is not called out as being Brisen. Malory does not state that she tramples the feast.
- The nuns’ enthusiasm for Galahad’s hotness is hyperbole.
- Bors does not question the nonsensical dream interpretation he receives from the abbott.
- Catherine is far less explicit in her offer, but it’s a pretty reasonable interpolation. I bet Bors later kicked himself when he realized that Catherine, unlike the Devil, was genuine. At least he might have gone to the Tower of the Hot Chick after the Grail Quest ended, just to say hi. They totally hook up in my Le Morte D’Arthur fanfic.
- Nacien isn’t Nacien every time. For more explanation, see the separate article on Nacien.
- The Mystery Knight’s squire is not explicitly Jesus, but he does explicitly assert that it isn’t sinful for the Mystery Knight to steal Launcelot’s stuff if the squire gives him permission.
- Bors’s protests at Magdalena’s stories in Book XVII are my invention.
- Horses are not cars.
- No one is ever named Sir Arglebargle, nor is the name ‘Sir Guy Incognito’ every tossed around.
- Trudy’s multiple appearances can more easily be attributed to different ladies. But come on, I’ve got to amuse myself somehow.
Additional bonus material! The funny knight names, or the ones I liked at least. Knights in italics are part of a set.
Mister 100, the King with a Hundred Knights
King Brandegoris of Stranggore aka Morgamore aka Brangoris aka Brandegore
King Agwisance of Ireland aka Anguish
Sir Brian of the Forest
Sir Brian of the Isles
The King of the Lake
Sir Wisshard, the worst knight name
The Duke of Dutchmen
Sir Gilbert the Bastard
Sir Percard, the Red Knight of the Red Lands
Sir Ironside, the other Red Knight of the Red Lands (not Sir Percard, a different guy)
Sir Grummore Grummursum
Sir Dinas, not the same knight as Sir Dinadan, Sir Dodinas, or Sir Dinant
Sir Dodinas the Thug, not the same knight as Sir Dinas, Sir Dinadan, or Sir Dinant
Sir Dinadan, not the same knight as Sir Dinas, Sir Dodinas, or Sir Dinant
Sir Dinant, not the same knight as Sir Dinas, Sir Dodinas, or Sir Dinadan
Sir Famous Hebes, aka Sir Hebes le Renoumes
Pitiless Bruce, aka Breuse Sans Pity
Sir Kehydius, son of Howel and brother of Isoud the White
Sir Frol of the Outer Islands
Sir Belliance the Orgulous
Sir Dagonet, Arthur’s jester
Sir Daname, Darras’s nephew
Sir Hemison, Morgan’s lover
Sir “Good Uwaine” Uwaine, Sir Uwaine’s brother also named Uwaine
Sir Cari from Gomeret
Sir Guy from Cameliard
King of the best part of Wales with many other countries
Sir Weird Kainus, aka Sir Kainus le Strange
Sir Plaine the Forceful aka Plaine de Fors aka Plaine de Force
Sir Plaine the Lusty aka Plaine de Amours
The Earl of Plaines