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In the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the struggle for power plays a major part in the lives of all the characters. The king and his knights wield physical power they fight to wage war, to earn respect as knights and to protect the weak. Women, on the other hand, assert more subtle forms of power. Even as they live in a male-dominated world, the Arthurian women assume power through marriage, motherhood and magic.
The Arthurian women assume power through marriage by using their marriage to obtain a higher rank or wealth. Having these can help one attain authority and supremacy. When Igraine married King Utha after Sir Gurloise died, she did not marry him because she would gain power for she “fought her own heart” not to love him. Years later, Morgan La Fay uses her marriage with King Uriens only to be a wealthy queen. Unlike Igraine, this marriage was not for love, but for power and protection. She used him and his kingdom as protection “[she] fled to her husband’s kingdom of Gore” from the backfires of her evil plans. Meanwhile, she attempted to use Sir Accalon to “seize the throne of Britain between them as she had always had [this plan] in her dark mind. Although she loved Sir Accalon, she designed this generally for her gain of power.
Many of the women in the Arthurian legend gain power by mothering a child. Morgawse gains power when she “[bores] a fifth son, and his father was not Lot of Orkney, but Arthur the High King”. The power was hers because her son was heir to the throne, and because she was his mother, she could persuade him into doing almost anything. Afterwards, Elaine the Lily uses her child to guilt Sir Lancelot into “[giving her] an honorable burial, and [praying] for her soul”. Elaine also uses her power over Lancelot to give him a “new grief and a new guilt”. Her living memory and Galahad stayed with Lancelot all of his days.
The Arthurian women attain power by using magic to cast spells and enchantments. Morgan La Fay uses magic to destroy Arthur so she can take the throne and gain power. She attempts to use magic eradicate him when she enchants a mantle to demolish the wearer and “sends [Arthur] the mantle, begging that [he] will wear it often, and find pleasure in it. Lady Nimue, however, warns Arthur and this is prevented. Shortly after this, Brisson, the nurse of Elaine uses her magic to aid her lady’s longing for Lancelot and to “bring the wastelands out of the shadows” by setting up the conceiving of Galahad. She gave the power to Elaine (discussed in the previous paragraph) and to King Pelles.
Power is not necessarily shown through strength and nobility, it can be shown subtly through marriage, motherhood and magic. These women attain their power by these three ways and although their power is understated, they do indeed have power that sometimes doesn’t show unless one looks for it.
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