If we consider patriarchal to be where "women are seen as passive and 'simple' creatures who need men to protect them" (see previous post),
then Morris's THE SQUIRE'S TALE is not patriarchal.
Consider the women of the novel individually: the Very Ugly Woman (Lady Lorie), Morgan, Lady Alisoun, Lady Ettard, Nimue, and Morgause.
Lady Lorie—She is the catalyst that truly begins Sir Gawain’s quest. By guiding the hart and hound through the feast at Camelot, and challenging
Sir Gawain verbally, it is her appearance (in the physical location) that is the initiating event in the cycle of the hero’s journey. She
reappears at the end to challenge Gawain once again, allowing him to prove himself. At no point do we see her as passive and solely in need
Morgan—When Morgan le Fay first appears in THE SQUIRE’S TALE, she appears to Terence as a serpent. As an archetype, the serpent is
representative of evil, most often associated with an allusion to Genesis and the snake that tempted Eve. We find out from Sir Marhault
that Morgan is a temptress, being the woman who encouraged Marhault to boast about his abilities, which ended up getting him cursed. To Gawain,
she appears to offer guidance, which Gawain has been forewarned to heed.
Lady Alisoun—This female character is nicknamed “The Bloodthirsty,” which is an interesting way to introduce a character of the female sex.
Where she might be the first of the three to be considered particularly dainty, it turns out that Lady Alisoun has a penchant for the grotesque
and becomes bored when Gawain won’t indulge her appetites. It seems that Alisoun doesn’t need a man to save her, but she does need one to keep
her in dead bodies, whether it be of others, or of the knights she’s with, themselves.
Lady Ettard—She runs a castle, which probably rules over a portion of the land, without a man to sit behind. She and Pelleas have a symbiotic
relationship: he needs to be insulted by the woman he loves, and she needs to be the one in control. Not characteristic of a damsel in distress.
Nimue—She is the Lady of the Lake. The Lady of the Lake, in some legends, is the person who granted Arthur the sword Excalibur. In THE
SQUIRE’S TALE, is the messenger who tells Gawain he’s not yet finished with Pelleas and Ettard, and one who almost botches the reparation of
that relatioship. Legend has it that Nimue is the character that the Merlin was in love with, and she sealed him in a cave. While this is not
explicitly said, familiarity with the legend lends itself to that inference given the statement made by Kai that "[Merlin] announced one
day that he’d done here, and he was off to take his rest. He walked out of the gates and met a lady—a faery beauty if I know anything—on a white
horse. They rode away together" (Morris, 1998, 192).
Morgause—She is a controlling woman, sending her husband off to war against Arthur only to be killed. She is known as “The Enchantress,”
whose sole purpose is to unseat all of the kings and princes and take over rule of the land.
All of the women in THE SQUIRE’S TALE are neither passive nor simple in the parts they play in the story. Indeed, many of the women seem to have
their own agenda to fulfill and see about using the other characters to do so. By the definition given, I cannot support the idea that this
particular story is patriarchal or masochistic in nature. Because the main characters are male and the story follows the exploits of these men
is not enough reason to give it that label.
Morris, G. (1998). THE SQUIRE'S TALE. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
The Squire's Tale (Part 2)
The third question (yes, I realize I skipped the second) asks about our impressions of the novel from a patriarchal standpoint. And my response is as follows: