Monday, 10 December 2012

There's something wrong with Gwen...

Angel Coulby as Guinevere in BBC's 'Merlin'
Readers, as you'll have noticed by now, I love my legends of King Arthur. I moaned about 'Camelot' as I re-discovered and enjoyed 'Merlin', and I couldn't believe it when I found out Caerleon was IS Camelot. Apologies to the readers who follow for fairy tale or writing related ramblings, but this is a 'Merlin'-related rant (that may contain spoilers, so be warned!) about feminism and the depiction of women on TV.

So...anyone noticed that something is wrong with Gwen? I don't mean the way she was brainwashed by Morgana, I mean before that. And after that. The girl who was so active, so passionate, and so kind to everyone in the previous series has become passive and distant now that she has married. I used to think it was very cool to show a woman who deserved to become queen, who lived her life like a queen even though she was a servant. But now...Gwen has become Arthur's accessory.

She sits meekly at Arthur's side and does nothing. She doesn't talk kindly (at all, really) to Merlin, even though they were friends. And she has lost her passion and compassion (I'm thinking about how she obediently 'performed her duty' of sentencing a young girl to be executed. She tried to alleviate her conscience by taking a chance on the fact that the girl's father would show up and try to rescue her, which is a far cry from actually standing up for what she believed in, which is that the girl was innocent.)

Katie McGrath as Morgana
Strangely enough, when Morgana brainwashed her in that dark tower, Gwen became more like the person she used to be. She began to sneak around, actively trying to accomplish what she believed in. She acknowledged her roots, the fact that she came from a 'normal' background. She took the time to relate to Morgana and feel her pain, wanting to bring her justice, unlike the girl she sentenced to be executed, whose pain she wanted to ignore and whose fate she wanted to leave to chance.

Of course, Merlin and Arthur saved the day and 'cured' Gwen. She went back to being the docile, passive woman they had grown accustomed to. Unsurprisingly, that was the end of Gwen as a prominent part of the storyline. And did anything come of it? Well...she did say 'thank you' to Merlin, I suppose.

I feel this brings up the familiar discussions about women giving up their lives when they become married, and of the women in stories who are dangerous purely because they have agency. But what really makes me cross this time is that the BBC has shamelessly and clearly shown Gwen change from strong to weak, active to passive, admirable to deplorable. This is a children's show, it has a 19:30 time slot, and the ONLY female character who represents the force for good is sitting around looking pretty. So much for the role model.


  1. Interesting points. And I think I agree! Gwen's role in the current series has involved less independent thought, and less 'break the rules for the higher good' type of thinking. There has been a lot more general "queen" things, like assuring Arthur that he's doing the right thing (so, so much of that). I don't think I noticed it before because I was more focused on how Arthur is doing as a King. I would love to see Arthur and Gwen argue about an important issue again.

    P.s. I just came across your blog and I'm sure you'll see a bunch more comments from me as I go through all your wonderful writings! :)

    1. Yes, you're right! I hadn't even considered the assurances, but they make up the vast majority of her lines! I didn't notice it at first for the same reason, and it was only after I stopped and thought about her 'rescue' that I started to see it.

      Thank you very much~ I've stopped by your blog and it looks like a treasure trove of critical analysis, I can't wait to have a proper read :) xx

  2. I haven't been following Merlin, though I should. So this question is drawn solely on the basis of what you've told me: could it be a commentary, even an unintentional one, on how one's hands become tied, so to speak, when one is put in a position of obvious power?

    The reason I ask is because Arthur is in a similar position in Le Morte when his knights catch Guinevere in adultery with Lancelot. He sentences her to death, though he doesn't want to, and keeps his fingers crossed that someone will show up and save her. Lucky for him, Lancelot does.

    1. That's a good point, and I did consider it. I suppose for me the problem is that we see Arthur wrestling with this hands-tied-issue all the time as he tries to prove he isn't his father yet upholds his anti-druid regime. With Gwen...maybe she just doesn't get enough screen time. It would only take one line to convince me she isn't happy or doesn't agree with what's going on, but she isn't really given the opportunity. I'm sure you're right and that is what BBC intended, but for me the way they've executed it points to something else. (In the interests of balance I should have made an allowance for this in my post, I've just read it back and it sounds angrier than I though!!) Thanks so much for your comment, I love a good discussion, and it reminds me I'm not just talking to myself!