“Sexism goes so deep that at first it’shard to see; you think it’s just reality” is a quote by Alix Kates Shulman.
Shulmanwas trying to say that sexism has been a part of history for a long time now,to the point where it has become unrecognizable. Many individuals have eitherexperienced or witnessed sexism but have not recognize it. Sexism has beenrooted into our social norms. Sexism may be defined as the stereotyping of anindividual based on his or her sex. The Arthurian films, “Excalibur” and”Knights of the Round Table”, expressed sexism through various characters. Thefilms also showed how gender roles in the community were defined and how sexismwas approved and supported by individuals within the Medieval times.In 1981, John Boorman produced an Arthurianfilm called “Excalibur”.
The film started off with Merlin, a sorcerer,retrieving the Excalibur for Uther Pendragon. The Excalibur was retrieved fromthe Lady of the Lake. Uther fell in love with Igrayne,who was the wife of his ally, Cornwall. This caused Uther and Cornwall to nolonger be allies.
The love that Uther had for Igrayne is important to notebecause it led Merlin to cast the Charm of Making onto Uther, to make him looklike Cornwall. As a result, Uther was capable of seducing Igrayne, which led toher pregnancy. Merlin ended up taking Uther’s and Igrayne baby, Arthur, due toan agreement that Merlin had with Uther prior to casting the Charm of Making onhim. The situation between Uther and Cornwall had not been resolved, instead,it worsened. Cornwall’s men ended up killingUther. Before doing so, Uther stabbed the Excalibur onto a rock. During thisscene, Merlin declared that whoever retrieves the Excalibur would become king. Fast-forwardsome years, Arthur ended up retrieving the Excalibur from the stone and thuswas crowned the king.
After some time had passed, “Excalibur”introduced Lancelot, who is significant to this Arthurian film. Lancelot andArthur started off as foes, battling each other. Arthur used the powers of theExcalibur to defeat Lancelot but later regretted his actions because hisactions caused the Excalibur to break. Eventually, the Excalibur got fixed,thanks to the Lady of the Lake.
This resolved Lancelot’s and Arthur’srelationship. They were no longer foes. I would like to also note that the landwas brought together, no longer was it separated. Around that time, Arthur setup the Round Table and married Guinevere.
However, Lancelot had developedfeelings for Guinevere, which caused him to distance himself from the RoundTable. Though, before Lancelot distanced himself, there was a scene where hewas riding a horse alongside Guinevere. During this scene, there were a groupof girls gigging at the sight of Lancelot. At this moment, Guinevere toldLancelot, “They want me to ask you if anyone of them can win your heart.”Overall, the giggling girls from this scene were portrayed as airheads thatonly cared about wanting a male’s affection. Whereas, this scene portrayedLancelot as both a superior and a gentleman.
A quote that was said by Lancelot,presenting him as being a superior figure in this scene, was, “I’m a fightingman and sworn to the quest.” Another quote that was said by Lancelot, this timepresenting him as being a gentleman in this scene, was, “I will love youalways. I will love you as my queen and as the wife of my best friend.”Anyways, after Lancelot distanced himself, Lancelot then returned and battledGawain because Gawain intended to cause trouble for Lancelotand Guinevere with accusations that had to do with Lancelot’s love forGuinevere. After the battle between Lancelot and Gawain, Lancelot headed intothe forest.
During this time, Guinevere found out that Lancelot’s love for heris mutual. While in the forest, Lancelot and Guinevere had sexual intercourseand were then caught by Arthur. This led Arthur to jab the Excalibur betweenthem, which made Lancelot and Guinevere realize that Arthur was present and foundout about their affair.
This provided Morgana with the chance to use the Charmof Making to disguise herself as Guinevere to trick Arthur. I would like tonote that Morgana did not do this out of love for Arthur, instead, she did thisout of hatred towards Arthur and his biological father, Uther. Morgana’s fatherwas Cornwall, whose wife, Igrayne, had an affair with Uther unknowingly. Inthis film, Morgana was portrayed as an unscrupulous woman.
She was able to useher female attributes to trick Arthur into having sex with her. She was not awoman of honor. She was fighting the social norms of women during the Medieval times.
The Charm of Making proved reliable toMorgana because Arthur was fooled by Morgana’s disguise. As a result, Arthurended up making love with Morgana, thinking that she was Guinevere. As a sidenote, this situation resembles the storyline where Igrayne, Morgana’s andArthur’s mother, unknowingly made love to Uther because he was disguised asCornwall. The ingenuine sexual relationship between Morgana and Arthur led toMorgana giving birth to a boy named Mordred. This incest caused the land to be cursed.
To remove the curse, the Holy Grail needed to be found. Perceval ended upgetting his hands on the Holy Grail because of a riddle that he successfullyanswered. Perceval gave the Holy Grail to Arthur, which led to the removal ofthe curse that was placed on the land. Aside from that, Arthur and Guinevereworked things out, which led Guinevere to hand back the Excalibur to Arthur.Guinevere had kept the Excalibur with her after Arthur had jabbed it into theground when he had witnessed her affair with Lancelot in the forest. Later,during a battle against Mordred, before Lancelot died, he and Arthur had also workedthings out. Eventually, Arthur killed Mordred, who had previously killedMorgana, with the Excalibur but got stabbed by Morded when doing so.
Morgana’sdeath showcased that women who challenge the social norms of society do notsucceed. She was unsuccessful in accomplishing her goal. Morgana’s actions toobtain the throne were in vain. In the end, men were victorious compared towomen. Arthur’s last command before dying was to Perceval, whom he told tothrow the Excalibur into the water. Perceval did ashe was commanded. The Lady of the Lake caught the Excalibur. In 1953, Pandro Berman produced anArthurian film called “Knights of the Round Table”.
At the very beginning ofthe film, it was understood that King Uther was dead, by showcasing Arthur andhis half-sister, Morgan LeFay, disputing over who was the rightful heir totheir father’s, Uther’s, throne. By Morgan Le Fay’s side was Modred, who washer knight champion. By Arthur’s side was Merlin, who was like a father toArthur. Modred believed that he deserved to be the king of England. Morgan LeFay and Modred did not believe that Arthur should be king of England because hewas an illegitimate child. Even though Arthur is the son of King Uther, hismother was not King Uther’s wife.
Morgan Le Fay told Arthur that he was “bornin shame”. When she said that, Merlin said, “son, none the less”. Merlin endedup uncovering a stone with the Excalibur stabbed in it that was covered withtree branches. There were words carved on the stone, which said that whoever canpull the sword out of the stone would be the “right wise” born king of England.Morgan Le Fay questioned if that was the real sword. Modred then asked, if itwas the real sword, why was it that only Merlin knew where it was hidden?Merlin answered Modred by saying that King Uther revealed it only to him thenight before his death. Modred then said, “I shall take what is mine,” andtried to pull the Excalibur out of the stone.
This scene showed Modredstruggling to pull the sword out of the stone and failed to do so. When Arthurtried to pull the Excalibur out of the stone, he succeeded with ease. Thisshould have been enough evidence for Modred and Morgan Le Fay to see thatArthur was meant to be king of England but it was not. Instead, Modred becameangry and said, “that is not the real sword”. Merlin calmly responded, “it isthe true sword,” which led Modred to shout, “it is witchcraft”. Merlin thenresponded, saying “then we must summon a council… and they shall decide”. AfterModred and Morgan Le Fay storm out, Arthur shouted excitedly “king of England”,as he held out the Excalibur. Merlin responded to Arthur’s behavior andattitude by telling him, “Not yet, you have still to prove it by deeds notwords”.
Aside from that, another significantaspect from “Knights of the Round” was the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere,and Lancelot. Guinevere was portrayed as a woman committing adultery becauseshe found love outside her marriage. Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot showcasedher going against their social norm by fighting her husband’s authority. Womenwere willing to risk it all to be with their lover, regardless of theconsequences. The secret romance that some married women partook in with a maleprovided them with a sense of freedom that they could not obtain from theirhusbands. They hoped to one day escape their husbands and be united with theirlovers but they knew that they would not be accepted by the English society. Arthurand Guinevere were married, yet, she had an affair with Lancelot. Based on thisfilm, the penalty for Guinevere and Lancelot by law was death but King Arthurdid not order that.
Instead, King Arthur ordered Guinevere to be sent to aconvent and become a nun and stay a nun until she died. As for Lancelot, KingArthur ordered him to banish from England and to never return. Later, afterKing Arthur’s death, Lancelot went to the convent to tell Guinevere that KingArthur’s final words for Guinevere were “forgiveness” and “love”. As for theExcalibur, when King Arthur spoke his final words to Lancelot, before he died,he requested Lancelot to throw the Excalibur into the lake, which he did.
The Arthurian films, “Excalibur” and “Knights of the RoundTable”, were similar in that they both showcased the events that took placeduring the reign of King Arthur. Sexism in the Arthurian films was well shownin these two movies, in various instances and through various characters (Ahem,98). The marriage between Arthur and Guinevere was one of the ways that the differencein gender roles between men and women was showcased.
In the early 1950s, marriedcouples had to balance between theirlives outside their home, which included their labor and work environment, withtheir domestic lifestyle. Men and women had to engage in different activities,which embraced morals and guided their families. In Pandro Berman’s film,”Knights of the Round Table”, Arthur was more concerned with his role as the King.
This resulted in him lacking personal time with his wife. Although Arthur lovedGuinevere, he failed to engage with his wife in activities that the social normduring that time expected a husband to follow through with. The social normbeing that as a husband, men had to put in time to spend with their wives and involvethem in important decision makings. For families to thrive, men in Medieval timeswere expected to balance between either their business or political lives withtheir lives at home. Unfortunately, some married women in the English societywere put on the side. They were not their husband’s priority, which led them tofeel emotionally and physically unwanted. As a result, this caused them to seeklove outside of their marriage. Based onthe Arthurian films, “Excalibur” and “Knights of the Round Table”, due to Arthur’srole as the King, he existed predominantly in the public atmosphere.
He focusedmainly on his kingdom’s social affairs, thus neglecting his wife. As for Lancelot,although he was a knight, Lancelot was able to balance between his public lifeand personal life. He excelled as a fighter and won various battles. However,he spared some time for Guinevere and expressed his love forher. He also listened to Guinevere’s advice and married Elaine.
Lancelot was portrayedas Guinevere’s hero, saving her after she was kidnapped. This resulted inGuinevere growing emotionally closer to Lancelot, rather than her king. Guineverewas chosen to be the bride of King Arthur.
Guinevere could not reject theking’s marriage proposal. She had no other choice but to marry King Arthur. Itwas considered an honor for her to be chosen as the wife of the king ofEngland. No woman could reject such a proposal made by a king, due to thesocial status one would obtain after marriage.In addition to that, the role of makingimportant decisions affecting the future of the land was bestowed on men. In”Knights of the Round Table”, the council of elders that determined Arthur’swin over Morgan, to take the throne, was predominantly made of men. In bothArthurian films, most knights who led during the war were men. The sorcerer,Merlin, was a man.
Perceval, in “Excalibur” and Lancelot, in “Knights of theRound Table”, who were entrusted to throw the Excalibur into the lake, weremen. This reflected a patriarchal society where men dominated all the importantpositions of power. In 1953, when Pandro Berman produced “Knights of the RoundTable”, the individuals that took positions dealing with either politics orbusiness were usually men. Men were known to be better in making crucialdecisions regarding the kingdom.
The only woman who played an important role in”Excalibur” and “Knights of the Round Table” was the Lady of the Lake, who wasthe chief custodian of the Excalibur that was used to appoint a new king. Though,the Lady of the Lake was portrayed as a supernatural figure and not as a woman.The English society consisted of both menand women but decided to only use men in national development. Men made most ofthe crucial decisions, while women were left out during such occasions. Thelives of women depended on the choices made by men.
One of the crucialdecisions made by men regarded marriage. For example, Arthur decided to marryGuinevere and Lancelot proposed to Elaine. Aside from personal decisions,crucial societal decisions were also dealt by men.
For instance, war, whicharose conflict, was a crucial societal decision made by men, even though bothsexes in the society were to be affected by such a decision. The results of thepatriarchal society were evident after the society experienced fights andcalamities, which may have possibly been avoided if women were also involved inmaking decisions and engaged in activities that shaped their society andimproved their future lives. For example, during war, men were killed and womenwere kidnapped.
Thus, women ought to have been consulted before such crucialdecisions were made.Every individual in the world wants achance to become successful. Regardless of their sex, societies are morallysupposed to provide both males and females with opportunities to obtainsuccess. However, like many societies in the 1950s, Englandengaged men in challenging jobs involving either politics or business, whilesegregating women from vital jobs that were hiring.
That was why men stood a better chance atbecoming more successful than women. The society reserved better jobopportunities for men and less valuable jobs for women. That was because menwere thought to make decisions based on reality, consequences, and evidence,while women were known to make decisions based to their emotions. Also, duringthat time, parents educated their sons and left their daughters uneducated(Gilbert, 872). The main labor that women possessed were staying at home tocare for their children and doing household chores. That was because they wereconsidered weak to handle manual jobs. Though, there were some activities thatwomen carried out that depended on their status.
For instance, mistresses andservants assisted the men that took part in politics, while the wives of thosein power ensured that they supported their husbands emotionally. Women of theupper class did not work. It was viewed in a negative aspect because they didnot need money. Upper class women had to be role models for other women thatwere in lower social classes. As depicted in “Excalibur” and “Knights of theRound Table”, the major role that women had was to maintain a good publicimage.
For instance, in both Arthurian films, Guinevere maintained a goodpublic image of her marriage with King Arthur, even though there were problemsof infidelity within their marriage. Elaine also maintained proper behavioramong the public’s eye. Though, there were some women like Morgan that feltthat they were strong and mature enough to engage in politics. Unfortunately,their efforts were rendered unsuccessful, since women were not given a chanceto compete favorably with men.According to “Excalibur” and “Knights ofthe Round Table”, men were obligated to carry out the wishes and desires ofother men, especially those who were dying. In England’s ancient society, itwas believed that the wishes of a dying man to a fellow man, who was consideredbelow him in the social class, had to be implemented. Men respected the wishesof their fellow men and fulfilled them, regardless of how unrealistic theyseemed. For instance, John Boorman’s “Excalibur” showed Perceval being orderedby the dying King Arthur to throw the Excalibur into the lake.
AlthoughPerceval believed that it was unrealistic to throw such an important sword intothe lake, he obeyed the wish of the dying man, a royal that was placed in thehighest social class. In “Knights of the Round Table,” King Arthur askedLancelot to throw the Excalibur into the lake. Although Arthur and Lancelot haddivergent views at various instances in the movie and even fought severally,Lancelot had to fulfill the wishes of Arthur (Ahem, 102). Arthur also toldLancelot to inform Guinevere that he had forgiven her and that he loved her somuch. Although Lancelot loved Guinevere, which meant that he would feeluncomfortable to tell Guinevere that Arthur loved her too, he had to fulfillthe wishes of the dying man, who was a part of the social class higher thanhim.
This showed how men were willing to fulfill the desires of fellow men,regardless of the enmity that existed between them. This contrasted with thewomen in “Excalibur” and “Knights of the Round Table”, who did not unite andhelp each other.A second aspect of sexism that was evidentin the Arthurian films, “Excalibur” and “Knights of the Round Table”, were theissues regarding the inheritance of the throne and power. After a king died,someone had to be chosen to inherit the throne. According to both movies, toinherit the throne, one had to retrieve the Excalibur and that individual hadto be a man who was related to the previous king. Since most rulers at the timewere men, women felt neglected and discriminated.
No matter how strong andintelligent a woman would be, she could not inherit the throne. In “Excalibur”,Arthur was crowned the king since he was the son of Uther and because he was aman. In “Knights of the Round Table”, Arthur retrieved the Excalibur and wascrowned the king, although his half-sister, Morgan, was an equally worthy heir.
Morgan believed that the throne was taken unfairly from her and assumed that Merlinused witchcraft.The power to rule and guide the nation wasbestowed on the crown. However, women were denied the right to inherit thecrown, either through witchcraft or various laws and rules. Men were supposedly stronger than women, and thus the law had itthat the individual who could retrieve the Excalibur from the rock would becrowned the king (Ittmann, 82). Thislaw was simply put in place to ensure that women were locked out of the throne.
Women were not viewed as worthy leaders to hold such a title. Having a woman asa queen would mean that men would have to obey the orders of a woman. The Englishsociety was not ready for this drastic change. The roles of women were notviewed as powerful or influential.
Therefore, men would not allow a woman tohave such power and authority in Britain. It was not a part of the social normsof Britain.The women in “Excalibur”and “Knights of the Round Table” strived to gain a share of power. Sincethey were not appointed to leadership positions, the only way to rise to powerwas after being married to a man that had connections to the noble class. In JohnBoorman’s Arthurian film, “Excalibur”, Guinevere was in love with Lancelot but wasmarried to King Arthur.
Although she wanted to be with Lancelot, since hecherished their love, Guinevere assumingly stayed with the king so that she wouldremain a part of the royal family. Although Guinevere was highly ranked in thekingdom, her success was predominantly due to her marriage to the king and notdue to her deeds. In Pandro Berman’s Arthurian film, “Knights of the Round Table”,Percival brought forth Elaine, his sister, to Guinevere, so that she would makeher a lady-in-waiting. This suggests that the society during ancient Englanddid not marry its women out of love.
Instead, society tried to marry off itswomen to a man that was connected to the royal family, so to prosper in life.Thus, women believed that no matter how hard they worked it was very hard togain power and leadership in their kingdom. For men, if a man fought wellduring battles, he was almost sure that he would become a knight or aninfluential individual in the kingdom. In addition to marriage, becoming pregnantwith a man that had connections to the circle of nobles was an easy way to gainpower. Women in the society seduced men with their beauty or used witchcraft tolure them into sleeping with them (Gilbert, 873). In John Boorman’s movieentitled “Excalibur”, Morgan used witchcraft to take the form of Guinevere andseduced Arthur.
After Arthur slept with her, she became pregnant with a boy, whobecame named Mordred. In Pandro Berman’s movie, “Knights of theRound Table”, Elaine was expecting a son with Lancelot. Elaine loved Lancelot butit was also evident that bearing him a child increased her social status, sinceLancelot, a successful knight in the kingdom, was treated with high respect.Thus,bearing a child just for social status showed how women were segregated anddisregarded in running the affairs of the kingdom. During Medieval times, womenwere used to provide men with children who would inherit their family name andpass it on to the male generations that come forth.In conclusion, “Excalibur” and “Knights ofthe Round Table” showcased how sexism in the English society was present andsupported.
It was important to show how sexism occurred in ancient English societiesbecause societies were run by male dominate figures. Sexism in these Arthurian filmswere exhibited through various ways, which included marriages, gender roles andresponsibilities, inheritance, and political processes. Male dictated the livesof the women in their life. In ancientEngland’s society, after two individuals got married, the man was the head ofthe family and the wife took care of the children and household chores.
Menmade important decisions, while women only implemented the decisions. Mostleaders were men, women were denied access to the throne even when they wereits rightful heirs. This created a gender gap, which led women into deciding toengage in revolutions to protest for their rights. Throughout time, sexism hasdivided the nations sexes. Men should allow women to engage in activities that affecttheir society and not restrict them to the domestic lifestyle. Women have theability, strength, and ideas to help change and transform the world for thebetter, along with men.
Women should also respect men and avoid using underhandmethods to gain power, whether through witchcraft or seduction.