Morgause

Gareth and Queen Bellicent

Morgause

CharactersName Variants: Morgawse, Morcades, Bellicent, BelisentBackground Essay Author: Emily Rebekah Huber
Although Morgause remains, even in many modern Arthurian texts, a relatively minor character compared with women like Guinevere and Morgan le Fay, her small role is a crucial one. According to Thomas Malory, she is one of the three daughters of Igrayne and the Duke of Cornwall, half-sister to Arthur, and later, the wife of King Lot of Orkney and the mother of Gawaine, Gaheris, Agravaine, Gareth, and Mordred. Depending on the text, the same character has the name Anna (Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regnum Brittaniae, Layamon's Brut) or Belisent (Alliterative Morte Arthure, Tennyson's Idylls of the King). Because of her minor role, she is frequently, as in John Boorman's film Excalibur, conflated with her more infamous sister, Morgan le Fay. While she is usually eclipsed by Morgan, Morgause is best-known for committing incest when she sleeps with Arthur and conceives Mordred. In medieval texts, specifically the French Vulgate cycle and the Prose Merlin, Arthur is attracted to a woman identified only as King Lot's wife and deceives her into thinking he is her husband. It is only afterward that Arthur realizes he has committed incest. Mordred is the product of this union.

Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur depicts Morgause as a woman ignorant of her relation to King Arthur at the time of Mordred's...

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