Guinevere

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Guinevere was the Queen consort of King Arthur. Guinevere may be an epithet - the Welsh form Gwenhwyfar (in older spelling Gwenhwyvar) can be translated The White Fay or 'white shadow' that falls over the knights of the Round Table and leads to Arthur's ruin. However, as Rachael Bromwich notes, it can also be analyzed as "Gwenhwy-vawr" or Gwen the Great in contrast to the personage "Gwenhwy-vach" -- Gwen the less. She is childless in most stories, the two exceptions being the Perlesvaus (http://www.lundyisleofavalon.co.uk/texts/perlesvaus.htm) and the Alliterative Morte Arthure (http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/alstint.htm), the latter of which contains the lone historical instance where Guinevere willingly becomes Mordred's consort and bears him two sons, though all of this is implied rather than stated in the text. There are mentions of Arthur's sons in the Welsh Triads by his three mistresses and/or Guinevere herself.

The earliest mention of Guinevere was in the Welsh tale Culhwch ap Olwen, where she appears as Arthur's queen, but little more is said about her. Caradog of Llancarfan, who wrote his Life of Gildas before 1136, recounts how she was kidnapped by Melwas, king of the Summer Country, and held prisoner at his stronghold at Glastonbury. The story states that Arthur spent a year searching for her, found her, and had assembled an army to storm Melwas' fort when Saint Gildas negotiated a peaceful resolution and restored Guinevere to Arthur. The Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym alludes to this story in two different poems. The medievalist R.S. Loomis suggested that this tale of her abduction seems "to show that she had inherited the role of a Celtic Persephone".

Geoffrey of Monmouth tells a slightly different version of Guinevere's abduction, adding that she was descended from a noble Roman family and was the ward of Cador, Duke of Cornwall. Arthur left her in the care of his nephew Mordred while he crossed over to Europe to go to war with the (fictitious) Procurator of Rome Lucius Hiberius. While he was absent, Mordred seduced Guinevere, declared himself king and took her as his own queen; consequently, Arthur returned to Britain, and fought Mordred at the fatal Battle of Camlann.

Guinevere is the foil of Morgan Le Fey, Arthur's half-sister and one of the many Ladies of the Lake. Just as Morgaine/Morgan bears a close resemblance to the aspects of a triple goddess Morrigan, who delivers war, death and vengeance, Guinevere shares aspects with the triune goddess Eriu, the sovreignty of Ireland. Throughout various retellings of Arthurian myth, there are aspect of other Guineveres: the Mabinogion's Gwenhwyvach, her sister who marries Mordred, the false Guinevere from the French version who took her place for two and a half years, and another Guinevere entirely, the first wife of Arthur who died in childbirth.

The German tale Diu Crône recounts a saucy Queen Guinevere who tries to seduce the knight Lanval. Her brother Gotegrim kidnaps her and intends to kill her for refusing to marry Gasozein, who claims to be her rightful husband. In a similar bid for power that reminds scholars of her prescient connections to the fertility and sovereignty of Britain, Valerin, King of the Tangled Wood, claims the right to marry her and carries her off to his castle. Lancelot rescues her, but Valerin kidnaps her again and places her in a magical sleep inside another castle surround by snakes, where only Malduc, a powerful sorceror can rescure her.

Chretien de Troyes tells yet another version of Guinevere's abduction, this time by Meleagant (whose name can be shown to be derived from Melwas). But instead of Arthur being Guinevere's rescuer, Chretien introduces Lancelot to the story, who sets off with his cousin Gawain to rescue her in Chretien's epic poem of the same name. Chrétien derived his version of Lancelot from the earliest mentions of the 'Best Knight in the World' from the Lancelot-Graal cycle of the latter eleventh century, also known as the Lancelot-Grail or Vulgate Cycle. There are several obscure texts extant from this period written in Old French, but the most famous are the chronicles translated in Norris J. Lacy's five-volume Lancelot-Grail Cycle.

All of these similar tales of abduction by another suitor--and this allegory includes Lancelot, who whisks her away when she is condemned to burn at the stake for their adultery--are demonstrative of a recurring Hades-snatches-Persephone theme, positing that Guinevere is like the otherworld bride Etain, who Midir, king of the Underworld, carries off from her earthly life after she has forgotten her past.

It is to these texts, both Chrétien's infamous Knight of the Cart and the Vulgate Cycle, that scholars must turn in order to find the origins of the works of Sir Thomas Malory, whose epic La Morte D'Arthur has influenced nearly every later version of the Arthurian Legends. From his exhaustive and numerous chapters on Arthur's marriage to Guinevere to her imprisonment with Meleagant to her affair with Lancelot that leads to Mordred's lust and Agravain's revenge upon the Fellowship of the Camelot, Malory remains the definitive stroyteller for Guinevere, for better or for worse.

In the later adaptations she is described as the daughter of King Leodegrance, and is betrothed to Arthur early in his career, while he was garnering support. He later sent Sir Lancelot to bring her to Camelot, and although Guinevere and Lancelot fell in love on the return journey, upon reaching Camelot she fulfilled her duty and married Arthur -- yet continuing their affair.

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In current pop culture

Motion pictures

King Arthur, the 2004 movie featured Guinevere as a Celtic warrior maiden who became Arthur's consort after he rescued her from imprisonment.

Guinevere is a 1999 motion picture that had nothing to do with King Arthur.

Guinevere is also the name of a 1994 made-for-TV-movie which centres the storytelling of the Authurian legend around the title character. Guinevere grows up with Lancelot, an orphan, as a Pagan under the tutelage of Morgan Le Fey, who harbors a grudge for King Uther and his son, Arthur due to Uther's murder of her father and seizure of her mother.

''First Knight" is a movie featuring Sean Connery as King Arthur, Julia Ormond as Guinevere, and Richard Gere as Lancelot.

Novels

  • The Guenevere Trilogy by Rosalind Miles follows the Queen of Summer Country from the time of her mother's death to the death of her husband King Arthur.
  • The Guinevere Series by Sharan Newman
  • The Tales of Guinevere by Alice Borchard
  • Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie

Guinevere Jones

The children's television show Guinevere Jones revolves around the adventures of a girl who finds that she is the reincarnation of the Guinevere of legend.

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