Scharf, Makayla

Project title: Gendered Monstrosity in Malory’s Le Morte d'Arthur

Department: English

Faculty supervisor: Dr. Allan Mitchell

"In Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, women are far from the simple damsels we might imagine populating the chivalric world. Whether situated astride a serpent in the quest for the Grail, engaging in adulterous liaisons, or working evil magics, Malory’s women embody the seductive, the chaotic, and the destructive. Adapting Minji Lee’s and Sarah Allison Miller’s ideas of the female body as monstrous in medieval medicine and religion, my comparative character analysis seeks to highlight Malory’s literary alignment of woman and monster. Malory’s Questing Beast, for example, whose origins in a women’s moral failing are occluded in Malory, is femininely coded in its appearance just after Arthur sleeps with Morgause, his yet-unknown half-sister. The Beast is offspring of their ungodly union, as well as a prophetic emblem of Arthur’s future doom—the child born of that union is Arthur’s eventual killer, Mordred. Additionally, MaryLynn Saul argues that Morgan is figured by medieval witch hysteria, a feature that, I argue, dominates her character despite her benevolent role as Arthur’s conveyor to Avalon. Virginia Blanton goes further, exploring how Guinevere’s earlier actions leave readers viewing her as “petulant, not repentant” by the work’s end, while Lancelot’s repentance is accepted without comment. I will build on such ideas to argue that even in benign or repentant roles, Malory’s women embody an implacable threat to the social order, and that fraught relation becomes definitional within Arthurian lore. Malory’s Camelot is rife with beasts and spirits, but no fantastical monstrosity surpasses the dangerous woman."