'Wichecraft & Vilaine': Morgan le Fay in Medieval Arthurian Literature
thesisposted on 16.08.2012, 15:09 by Zoë Eve Enstone
Morgan le Fay appears in medieval literature over a period of over three hundred years and across an array of languages and genres. This study examines the development of Morgan in relation to the English romances, tracing her emergence in the English chronicle tradition, the French romance tradition, and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, combined with a detailed analysis of the four theories of origin posited by previous generations of scholars. It initially examines the potential origins of Morgan in the classical tradition, noting the analogous figures of Medea and Circe in particular; the allegorical tradition of abstract personification, including such exegetical allegories as Luxuria before discussing the possible influence of Irish and Welsh vernacular literature, focusing on such figures as the Morrigan, Medb and Modron. Morgan’s various manifestations in the French romance tradition are then examined, with particular reference to the Lancelot-Graal or Vulgate Cycle, and those texts based upon it, including the Prose Tristan and Post-Vulgate Cycle, which were in themselves highly influential in the development of later texts. This leads to an analysis of the Middle English romance tradition in the light of these French sources, focusing on a range of texts, with particular reference to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur. A series of close readings challenges previous assertions that Morgan’s character is subject to a consistent process of clerkly vilification that reaches its apogee in the later middle ages. Rather, Morgan’s character is subject to the specific context of each text and its sources. Indeed, one of the earliest, twelfth-century references to Morgan demonstrates that many of the negative aspects associated with her later incarnations are integral features of her nebulous character from the beginning.