Morgan Le Fay, a powerful female figure in the Arthur legends, represents control, sorcery, and manipulation. She uses underhanded, often manipulative methods to create her power. During King Arthur's reign, and in various romances and folk tales, Morgan shows up as a shape-shifter. She is a fairy, a queen, a mermaid, a beautiful young woman, a crone, a hag, an enchantress or a witch. In some accounts, Morgan has a bad reputation; she is evil, sexual, a temptress. Elsewhere, Morgan is a heroine. The inconsistency of the research material available makes it difficult to pinpoint who Morgan Le Fay actually was. But one thing is for certain: Morgan is a woman of mystery.

Morgan is often said to be the half-sister of King Arthur, who had a child with him. Sometimes she is the mistress of Merlin, who taught her magic. Others say she learned her magical arts in a nunnery. It is said that Morgan was the most intelligent and educated woman of her time:

"At King Arthur's Court, prior to the year 542, only priests and priestesses were educated in reading, writing, astronomy, oratory, and philosophy. The princes were educated principally in warfare, etiquette, physical prowess, and oratory. Lancelot was able to read the names on tombstones. Arthur was not able to do that, but Perceval could read. Arthur's half-sister Morgan was known from early childhood to be the most intelligent, and the best educated of the priestesses, and she outlived Arthur, with whom she was never on good terms" (Goodrich 18).

Traditionally, in most of the legends, Morgan and Arthur are not on good terms. It is never explained exactly why they don't get along, but some researchers have presented their own ideas. According to the Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, "Morgan, invariably portrayed as evil, plotted against Arthur to steal his sword, Excalibur, or otherwise bring him down" (236). According to Henry Pyle, author of The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, Morgan had a vendetta with Arthur:

"After Queen Morgana Le Fay had come to the Island of Avalon as aforetold, she brooded a great deal over the afront which she deemed King Arthur had placed upon her house; and the more she brooded upon it the more big it became in her mind. Wherefore, at last it seemed to her that she could have no pleasure in life unless she could punish King Arthur for that which he had done. Yea, she would have been glad to see him down at her feet because of the great anger that she felt against him" (163).

Morgan needs to be in control of people and situations. In some of the legends, Morgan is said to have been a mistress of Merlin. She uses and manipulates him by way of seduction in order to gain knowledge of his spells. Hence the name Morgaine may be read as an anagram, "Gain More." Morgan Le Fay manipulates situations in order to cause pain for people, especially Arthur. For instance, in courtship of Guinevere and Lancelot, Morgan uses her powers to destroy the ties in the court of Arthur to ruin his reputation and pride: "The Kingdom now enjoyed a long, glorious, peace with Arthur maintaining justice and the knights helping those in distress. Lancelot was the bravest and most courageous. But he loved Arthur's wife, Guinevere, and he was her own favourite among the knights" (Ashe 35).

The best way for Morgan to hurt Arthur and cause him the most pain is to manipulate this situation between Guinevere and Lancelot, both of whom have the highest part of Arthur's love and pride. Morgan "distressed Camelot with hints about Lancelot's motives, and the intrigue, now serious, between him and Guinevere" (Ashe 39). She slanders Lancelot and Guinevere's name in Camelot, and the rest of England, without any remorse or regret: "At Lancelot's knighting, Arthur forgets to gird on his sword; it is Guinevere who does this, thus creating a formal feudal bond between them which is soon reinforced by that of love. And Lancelot and Guinevere become lovers on the night Arthur sleeps with the enchantress Camille. Arthur then repudiates Guinevere in favour of the false Guinevere, a magical creation of Morgan Le Fay, thus further weakening his claim to her loyalty" (Barber73).

Morgan does quite a good job in the destroying King Arthur and his kingdom. All of this chaos is created by Morgan; her shape-shifting creation, Camille, sleeps with Arthur, causing his adultery. The name "Camille" may also be read as an anagram, "came ill" or "ill came," a most appropriate explanation for Morgan's doings.

In some texts, however, Morgan shows up as a heroine. In the novel The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, she is a high priestess and queen. The entire novel is told from the perspective of the women of King Arthur's court, and their strength and loyalty is emphasized. The main character in the novel is the wondrous, pagan high queen, Morgan Le Fay. Too much emphasis is given to the negative view of Morgan and not enough on the positive.

Morgan indeed has great power. Her name and character are vital to the Arthur story. No one can pinpoint exactly who she really was and what her purpose in the Arthurian legend is. But maybe, someday, if the Isle of Avalon is finally revealed, she, and not Arthur as scholars have formerly believed, will be shown to be immortal, the "ONCE AND FUTURE" queen who will govern again, this time openly with power, grace and magnanimity.

These are excerpts from a student paper by Laura Stagliano. Read it carefully and answer one of the following questions below:

1. Read the other entry on Morgan Le Fay; see button below. Then look at several primary sources in which Morgan or other female figures appear. (You may also wish to look at other bios in this program.) Using these sources, write your own opinion paper on the presentation of powerful women in the Arthur legends.

2. Choose three points raised by the student author and debate them, using specific examples from the texts to support your claims.

3. Create your own multimedia text on Morgan or other women in the Arthurian legend, using Linkway (or another accessible program discussed in class) and this program and the Internet as source materials.


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