By Ethan A. Escareno
Paper given at the 2012 National Collegiate Honors Council Conference, at Boston, Massachusetts
Introduction: In literature, the roles of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere reflect the male-female dichotomy that society wishes to impart on them. As a literary couple that has stood the test of time, their roles as leaders, and roles in their relationship with each other reflects society’s understanding and belief of where gender roles belong in respect to leadership roles. Their roles, as defined by various texts taken from the early 15th century to present day, offer different opinions of who is the dominant person in the relationship, and who becomes the dominant ruler of Britain. King Arthur and Queen Guinevere shift in their roles as leaders in literature because society needs them to; Arthur becomes a more dominant, active king, and so must Guinevere in her role become a more dominant, active queen for her husband and Britain.
Four texts are used within this essay to demonstrate the development of Arthur and Guinevere into ideal leaders they have become today. Le Morte d’Arthur, Idylls of the King, The Mists of Avalon and The Pendragon’s Banner trilogy help define the roles society wishes to reflect upon literature. Sir Thomas Malory and his Le Morte d’Arthur represents the 15th century idea in which Arthur’s dominance is only shown throughout the beginning of his reign as King of Britain. Alfred, Lord Tennyson is the epitome of what Victorian era British writers who dabbled in Arthurian romances had described Arthur to be. Malory’s Arthur is a vastly different character than Tennyson’s. Arthur’s role drastically changes over a century later with Marion Zimmer Bradley and her novel, Mists of Avalon. However, Helen Hollick rejects the Arthur and Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) of the past, strengthening the argument for a more realistic interpretation of Arthur and Guinevere in their roles as leaders, lovers and people within history. All four writers offer different sentiments as to what Arthur and Guinevere are to Britain, society, and what they shall become for future generations.