Female space and marginality in Malory's Morte Darthur: Igraine, Morgause and Morgan
Linton, Phoebe Catherine
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Sir Thomas Malory’s fifteenth-century prose romance, Le Morte Darthur, depicts public and private identity as distinct and often incompatible halves of the Arthurian courtly community. In addition, masculine and feminine identity are represented as having different roles and functions within the text. Arthurian scholarship has predominantly focused on Malory’s portrayals of masculine and communal identity, as exemplified by central figures such as Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. However, in the past two decades an increasingly concentrated interest in the Morte’s female protagonists has emerged. As a contribution to this burgeoning site of critical inquiry I offer a tripartite case study of three marginal queens in this text: Igraine, Morgause and Morgan. Despite being the mother and sisters of King Arthur, these women have attracted comparatively little attention, either as individuals or as a family. This thesis argues that Malory presents noteworthy portraits of marginality in Igraine, Morgause and Morgan, which reveal the significance of space to the formation of identity in the Morte. Each of these protagonists is imagined in a variety of spaces in the Arthurian world: narrative, social, geographical, physical and emotional. Such spaces are contained within two principal romance locations, the court and quest wilderness, in which protagonists’ expressions and activities differ. Courts are typically governed by patriarchal authorities such as kings, knights, magicians and clerics, who privilege masculine public identity and political issues affecting the Arthurian community. By contrast, the quest wilderness encompasses places governed by what are termed ‘matriarchal’ authorities including queens, ladies, supernatural women and nuns, where private identity and individual emotions are more readily expressed. Marginal women speak and act in both the court and quest wilderness, but their identities are articulated differently in each. This thesis argues that Malory’s text presents moments when Igraine, Morgause and Morgan are marginalised by the Arthurian community critically, whilst the development of their individual identities in the quest wilderness is depicted sympathetically. As such, an examination of these protagonists’ movements across a variety of spatial boundaries in the world of the story as well as the narrative’s composite structure offers a revised reading of identity, gender and marginality in Malory studies. This thesis challenges two dominant assumptions about female voice and agency in the field. Firstly, that marginality is primarily a position of disempowerment, particularly for medieval women. Secondly, that marginal individuals are inherently subversive and threaten the Arthurian community.