Deviance and the Medieval Woman


We chose to focus on the narrative of Morgan la Fay, the central antagonist in the Arthurian narrative, especially in Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. While engaging with the modes of deviance in the medieval woman, the relationship between magic and female liberation became interesting to consider. Magic and sorcery exist as counterparts for women to demonstrate knowledge of the natural world and reason.  It is seen to straddle the lines between the healing power and the supernatural when associated with the identity of the woman. It is therefore interesting to note the way Morgan la Faye’s association to magic changes through different medieval authors’ interpretations of her. We chose to centralise our rewriting of Morgan’s magic in Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, to rationalize and explain the male dominated narrative that subsequently antagonises her magic and her role as a sorceress. We locate this moment to be aligned with Morgan’s refuge in the nunnery after her exile for attempting to kill King Urien, the moment when she realises her lover Sir Accolon is murdered by Arthur. We wanted to explore the construction of Morgan’s evil magic, and possibly contest her antagonism as warranted by the text in the first place. Having engaged with the revered roles of other powerful female sorceresses (e.g. Medea in Ovid’s Metamorphosis and Hecate/Circe) we wanted to explore potential origin points for Morgan’s magic to be antagonised. Subsequently we wanted to explore the extent to which the milieu of the woman affects the nature of her magic in an ethical sense. Contextualising Morgan amidst the patriarchal influences of Arthur’s court and her unwitting marriage, it would be useful to use the workings of the patrilineal power systems as a rationale for her magic to be in direct response to the male dominant field of magic and sorcery. Despite Morgan Le Fay’s characterisation as the primary antagonist, she is often sidelined in the narrative. Centering her narrative provides her with a voice to rationalise her deviance and see the process by which her transgressions take place because of the antagonism she faces from the patriarchy. By exploring the reasons for female’s magic to be transgressing into the male realm of power instead of the nurturing value of healing, Morgan la Fay’s value as a mouthpiece for the deviant medieval woman becomes important, especially in understanding the manipulation of magical knowledge and its antagonism if done against the male order of knowledge.