The representation of women in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain bothers me.
None of them have any voices! And this isn’t a social commentary, almost none of the women featured in the text (or at least Part 4 and 6, which lead up to King Arthur) speak or give their own input. The only one who does that is Merlin’s mother, and she’s not mentioned again after she’s done talking.
I mean, clearly, there’s nothing I can do about this. This book was written in the middle ages, and gender norms were very different from how they are today (at least, in contemporary Western countries…I like to believe so, anyway). The most I can do is talk about how the lack of real representation can create a morphed view of how a woman is. Since Monmouth had intended this to be a historical text, it’s clear that this was catering to a particular audience; it’s also clear that audience was given a warped view of any events that might have happened, as well as a warped view of the characters featured in these events.
For example, Arthur is clearly the product of rape. Because Uther Pendragon was an obsessive and thirsty border-line psychopath who kept chasing after Arthur’s to-be mother Ygerna–despite the fact that she was married. The only way he managed to get her to sleep with him was to disguise himself as her husband–using Merlin’s magic drugs–which might as well be rape, because she certainly didn’t consent to lay with Uther but her husband.
After her husband is dead (in a battle between his and Uther’s armies), Uther takes her to be his wife, and apparently it’s a happy marriage? Really.
Sure, it’s not as if it’s possible that Uther Pendragon blackmailed her into staying with him–you know, considering the stigma around illegitimate children and women who are “unfaithful.” Of course not. And he never would have spread rumors about her “infidelity” to the kingdom, ergo ruining not just her life but also the life of their child. I mean, he’s just the King. What sort of influence could he have over the people, right? Right?
Knowing that, of course Ygerna would have married him. Of course, it would have been a “happy marriage between equals.” Because it’s just as possible that she was manipulated and basically silenced–both in the narrative and her situation.
The main point really is that Uther Pendragon really was as demented as he was portrayed in BBC’s Merlin, though that show focuses more on his hate for magic and magic users, rather than his obsession for Ygerna.
And even though there’s no use getting angry over this, these issues need to be addressed rather than pushed to the side.
Note: Slightly edited, because I was pinged back by someone who wrote a similar (and much more professional) blog post.
A link to Mr. Leggett’s blog post is at the bottom, in the comment section, if anyone is interested.