vahinkoelain: A picture of Morgana LeFay, played by Katie McGrath (Default)
[personal profile] vahinkoelain
Being in the Merlin fandom and shipping Arthur/Merlin has made me really interested in the Middle Ages. I've read some books about medieval women's status, work and everyday lives, which has made me realize that the show's depiction of Morgana is really historically inaccurate. What first made me think about this was meta on somebody else's journal, but it's been a while, so I can't find it. Here's [ profile] adarog 's journal entry that mentions it: and reminded me of it.

For example, Morgana would be the one holding the keys of the castle, not Arthur. Well, maybe in season two, where Morgana is seen as more mentally unstable and unreliable, the keys could be passed to someone else. But that's not what's happened in the canon.

[ profile] adarog says that the writers seem to have thought of Victorian England, not England in the Middle Ages. I think that's true, also in the sense that Morgana is depicted as hysterical because of her magic deviancy. Hysteria as an illness was recognized since Ancient Greece, at least, but as far as I know, the notion of women as frail flowers who need plenty of bed rest, peace and quiet in order to not become hysterical, and the use of this excuse to not take strong-willed women seriously, are of Victorian origin. The treatment of Morgana on the show sometimes makes my blood boil - Gaius refuses to tell her she's magical and powerful, Merlin doesn't tell her about his own magic (even though Morgana tells about hers) and nobody in general believes her (except Gwen).

I can't remember which episode it was, but in one episode Uther had Gaius escort her away from the throne room because she disagreed vehemently/"had upset herself". Such a classic silencing move. My father has done the same thing with me.

I've also read parts of "Rakkaus samaan sukupuoleen: homoseksuaalisuuden historia" (Love towards the same sex: a history of homosexuality) by Robert Aldrich and Veli-Pekka Ketola, which is a good general source if you're a Finnish-speaker. Today, I read an essay titled The Experience of Homosexuality in the Middle Ages by Paul Halsall.

Stuff I've learned that can be applied to Merlin: The European attitudes towards homosexuality changed radically around the 13th century. Before that, sodomy was of course a sin, but sort of your own business. Sodomy could refer to sex between men or heterosexual sex acts that were not aimed towards procreation (I don't know if it referred to lesbian sex, probably not) and basically, everybody sinned in some way anyway. Just confess it to your local priest, say a few Ave Marias and you're good to go! But around the 13th century, new laws were created, old laws were written down officially and started to be enforced. People started accusing monarchs/important people they didn't like of sodomy. That was a good excuse to get them executed.

So, how does Camelot view its adorably gay Crown Prince? We don't knooow! *wail* We'd need to know when the show is set. If the real King Arthur had existed, he probably would have lived around the 6th Century. But the show looks like it's set much later than that. I've personally thought the show is set at year 1300 or later, any thoughts on that? Also, Christianity is mysteriously absent from Camelot, and in the real world, Christianity was the basis for persecution of gay people.

Paul Halsall talks about homosexual networks/subcultures but also a lot about homosexual sex. Fact: pretty much everything that's done today has been done then. Also, interfemoral intercourse aka sex between the thighs was, for a lack of a better word, popular. (Which it might be today, it just doesn't appear in porn, erotica or popular culture that much.) Which, incidentally, reminds me of this really hot fanfic: It's NC-17 and contains SPOILERS for 1x10 of Merlin.

What I've also learned: I feel pretty silly reading an academic paper about sex. And a bit embarrassed writing a journal entry about it.

I laughed when I read this in Halsall's paper: "One of the reasons people have sex is usually overlooked. They find it pleasurable." O RLY? People overlook that all the time? Well, I guess that in academia, anything's possible.

Also: "[stuff about the Church condemning homosexuality] For people to break such persistent taboos we must acknowledge just how strong the drive for sexual pleasure is in many individuals - as strong and sometimes stronger than any moral precept." No, not really. We should acknowledge that people's own moral code may differ from that of their society, and that their personal experiences - such as feeling lust or falling in LOVE - may either make them break their own moral code OR reconsider it and find a reason to change it. Most would reconsider in order to avoid cognitive dissonance. Elsewhere in his paper he even talks about it, when he's talking about heterosexuals: "People do seem to have had psychological defenses against the ecclestial onslaughts on their sexuality--"

To say that sexual drive is often stronger than an individual's moral code is one step away from saying that when people feel lustful, even good people do bad things. In other words, rape is inevitable.

Also: "Maimonides [a Medieval Jew philosopher] took a strict view of homosexual activity and admonished both partners, but seems to have been more lenient when one of the partners was under nine years old. (Footnote: If the boy was under nine both partners were exempt from punishment, if the boy was under thirteen the boy was exempt and the adult was punished.)" What the fuck, Maimonides? What the fuck?! How is that in any way fair, or even just logical? I don't get it.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-11-25 05:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
If it makes you feel better I did a whole paper at university called sexual histories :P

I find really interesting the popular perception that there has been a linear progression towards liberalising sex attitudes. Which is clearly not true.

I think your point about hysteria is really interesting especially since the middle ages really did have a number of strong queens and other women leaders compared to later time periods.


vahinkoelain: A picture of Morgana LeFay, played by Katie McGrath (Default)

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