Morgause

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Morgause /mɔrˈɡz/ is a character in later Arthurian traditions, appearing in Thomas Malory's 15th-century text Le Morte d'Arthur as the mother of Gawain and Mordred, both key players in the story of King Arthur and his downfall. The latter is fathered by Arthur in inadvertent incest, Morgause being the king's estranged half-sister.[Notes 1] She is also a sister of Morgan le Fay and the wife of King Lot of Orkney, as well as the mother of Gareth, Agravain, and Gaheris.

Earlier counterparts[edit]

The corresponding character in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th-century Latin chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae is named Anna; in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, Anna is replaced by Sangive (whom Der Pleier calls Seife), while her parallel in Arthour and Merlin (late 14th century) is Belisent. And the mother of Gawain's Welsh forerunner, Gwalchmei ap Gwyar, is thought to be Gwyar (a name meaning "gore").[Notes 2]

The earliest known form of Morgause's name is Orcades, given in the First Continuation of Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval (the former of which was once attributed to Wauchier de Denain and dated c. 1200), in which she is the mother of Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth and Mordred and daughters Clarissant and Soredamor. As Morcades she also appears in Les Enfances Gauvain (early 13th century) and again in Heinrich von dem Türlin’s Diu Crône (c. 1230). It appears her name was originally a place name, as "Orcades" coincides with the Latin name for the Orkney Islands, the land traditionally ruled by Gawain's parents. Medievalist Roger Sherman Loomis suggests that the toponym was corrupted into "Morcades" (or Morchades, Morcads) and finally "Morgause" due to the influence of the name "Morgan" (le Fay).[7]

Le Morte d'Arthur[edit]

Her character is fully developed in Malory's 1485 compilation of Arthurian legends Le Morte d'Arthur, in which Morgause (or Margawse) is one of three daughters born to Gorlois of Tintagel, Duke of Cornwall, and the Lady Igraine. According to Malory, her mother is widowed and then remarried to Uther Pendragon, after which she and her sisters, Elaine and Morgan ("le Fay", later the mother of Ywain), are married off to allies or vassals of their stepfather. Morgause is wed to the Orcadian king Lot and bears him four sons, all of whom go on to serve Arthur as Knights of the Round Table: Gawain, one of his greatest knights; Agravain, a wretched traitor; Gaheris; and Gareth, a gentle and loving knight.

Years later, her spouse joins the failed rebellions against Arthur that follow in the wake of King Uther's death and the subsequent coronation of his heir. Shortly after her husband's defeat, Morgause visits the young king Arthur in his bedchamber, ignorant of their familial relationship, and they conceive Mordred.

Her husband, who has unsuspectingly raised Mordred as his own son, is slain in battle by King Pellinore. Her sons depart their father's court to take service at Camelot, where Gawain and Gaheris avenge Lot's death by killing Pellinore, thereby launching a blood feud between the two families. Nevertheless, Morgause has an affair with Sir Lamorak, a son of Pellinore and one of Arthur's best knights. Her son Gaheris discovers them in flagrante and swiftly beheads Morgause in bed, but spares her unarmed lover, whom he frames as her killer. Gawain, Agravain and Mordred join Gaheris (Gareth takes no part) in ambushing and killing Lamorak, thinking him to blame. Eventually the Orkney brothers find out the truth about Gaheris' matricide and the guilty party is banished from court (though he reappears later in the narrative).

Modern adaptations[edit]

What becomes clear on reading Le Morte d'Arthur and its medieval predecessors is that Morgause was not a villain until the modern period.
E. R. Huber for The Camelot Project[8]

In modern Arthuriana, the character of Morgause is often conflated with that of Morgan le Fay; in John Boorman's film Excalibur (1981), for example, Morgause's role as the mother of Mordred is transferred to "Morgana".

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Dr Thomas Green of www.Arthuriana.co.uk notes: "In the later Vulgate Mort Artu, Morguase -- Arthur's supposed half-sister -- is made to be Medraut [Mordred]'s mother and this incest motif is preserved in the romances based upon the Mort Artu (for example, Malory's Morte Darthur). Both this parentage and the incest motif are, however, clearly inventions of the Mort Artu, despite their modern popularity, and in all unrelated accounts the portrayal of Medraut is solidly Galfridian."[1]
  2. ^ In later Welsh Arthurian literature, Gawain is considered synonymous with the native champion Gwalchmei; Gwyar (meaning "gore"[2] or "spilled blood/bloodshed"[3]) is likely the name of Gwalchmei's mother, rather than his father as is the standard in the Welsh Triads.[4] Matronyms were sometimes used in Wales, as in the case of Math fab Mathonwy and Gwydion fab Dôn, and were also fairly common in early Ireland.[4] Gwyar is named as a female, a daughter of Amlawdd Wledig, in one version of the hagiographical genealogy Bonedd y Saint, while the fourteenth-century Birth of Arthur substitutes Gwyar for Geoffrey's Anna as Gwalchmei/Gawain's mother.[5] Other sources do not follow this substitution, however, indicating that Gwyar and Anna/Morgause originated independently.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Green, Thomas. "Pre-Galfridian Arthurian Characters". Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Pughe, p.195
  3. ^ Rhys, p. 169
  4. ^ a b Bromwich, p. 369.
  5. ^ Bromwich, pp. 369–370.
  6. ^ Bromwich, p. 370.
  7. ^ R. S. Loomis, Scotland and the Arthurian Legend. Retrieved January 26, 2010.
  8. ^ Huber, Emily Rebekah. "Morgause: Background". The Camelot Project at The University of Rochester. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]