Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Justine Van Meter
Over the past 1,400 years, the many retellings of Arthurian legend have served as a lens by which readers have been able to explore issues of power, ethics, and identity. The Arthurian canon has been appropriated by different generations, cultures, and ideological groups over the centuries to subtly (or not so subtly) promote their own priorities. But regardless of the culture and social structure in which a text is composed, one trope continues to be reused across the centuries, despite the stretch of imagination it requires. In the plot device known as the bedtrick, people are duped into having sex with someone who is pretending to be someone else. This form of rape, while usually not violent, still raises questions of gender, power, and identity, particularly within the Arthurian world’s strict codes of gender performativity.
Within Arthurian literature, there are two occasions in which the bedtrick ploy is used with the specific intent of engendering a prophesied child. Each involves a third-party enchanter who uses magic and disguise to bring about the encounter. The first is the conception of the future King Arthur by Uther and Igraine with the assistance of the enchanter Merlin. The second is the conception of Galahad by Lancelot and Elaine with the assistance of the enchantress Brusen. A comparative analysis of several early and modern interpretations of these two bedtricks shows how the actions and motivations of each character either reflect or subvert expected societal and gender roles, both within the text itself and within the larger world at the time in which the text was written. Over time, clear perpetrators and victims are lost in favor of moral ambiguity, reflecting literature’s overall transition into modernity.
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Yacono, Candice. ‘Amore Captus:’ Turning Bedtricks in the Arthurian Canon. 2020. Chapman University, MA Thesis. Chapman University Digital Commons, https://doi.org/10.36837/chapman.000185