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Portraying Guenever (Minor GPC Spoilers)


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Next year is 513, and I'm going to end it with the Guenever reveal.

As part of my prep, and for my own amusement, I've been reading my way through Malory, the Vulgate, and the Post-Vulgate. So far, I don't feel as if I have a great sense of Guenever, save in her interactions with Lancelot. I won't give the players untrammeled access to the queen, but they will be interacting, and I'd like to get a sense for her.

How have you / would you run Guenever in your GPC?

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I'm not a Pendragon player, though I have read Mallory and seen the movies of Arthurian myths.

It depends on how you want to portray Guenever. She can be ingenue like Sophia Myles in 'Tristan+Isolde' [2006] or the conniving schemer Lady Kaede in 'Ran' [1985], but if I were running the game I think I'd prefer Sophie Marceau's Queen Isabelle from 'Braveheart' [1995]... A pawn in a political marriage but too stubborn to allow it to suppress her innate intelligence. In that way, she's also like Julia Ormonde's Guinevere of the really awful 'First Knight' [1995]. And God knows you can't go too far wrong with either woman's photos from the respective movies.

Obviously, your mileage will vary, but Guenever obviously isn't a Lagaertha type and that doesn't fit the trope anyway.

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My take on Guenever...

She is smart. She is ambitious. She has goals of her own. Such as giving women more of an agency via the Courtly Amour, using it to tame and civilize the brutal, warlike impulses that were in vogue during Uther and Anarchy Periods.

Her marriage to Arthur starts more of a political match, at least on her side (and Leodegrance's). Arthur might be smitten by her beauty and why not. But she finds him very agreeable husband, partner and king. He is wise, just and generous, and she plays her part as the Queen, the fountain of mercy and fashion and etiquette. She is always polite (except when the situation calls for something else), with a smile and a kind word to anyone she meets, and inspires an almost religious loyalty in (some of) her Queen's Knights. She would naturally try to elevate and advance the career of knights who share her beliefs (or could be brought around to do so), including possibly Romantic PKs, and similarly she might direct challengers or social pressure to take down/trip up knights who refuse to 'reform' themselves. I also would not be surprised if her household is a 'clearing house' of messages from damsels in distress, making her a good quest-giver, in particular via her ladies-of-waiting rather than directly. As well as receiving other gossip that can be sifted through and brought to Arthur's attention if it merits his attention. And while Kay is Arthur's Senechal, Guenever is the Queen, and they work together to ensure that the Court runs efficiently and as smoothly as possible.

Naturally, her affair with Lancelot does throw things off kilter a bit. But Love does that to you. Her marriage with Arthur, as I said, has been a very comfortable partnership, but not one of grand passion (on her side). She loves Arthur, but Lancelot is The One for her. Even so, by the time she succumbs, she is already past childbirth (or close enough), which is probably one of big disappointments in her life for her, as providing Arthur with an heir of his body and hers would have been her primary task as a Queen, and she knows evil tongues would be whispering about that behind her back. But luckily, the succession is secure in the person of Gawaine, and his children, so Guenever can allow herself (finally) to surrender to the passion. And then it turns out that Lancelot has a secret family. No wonder she blows her top at him. She likely regrets it soon enough, but Lancelot is already gone. Also, she might be dealing with some guilt over cuckolding Arthur like this, as well as the risks that she is running for both herself and Lancelot should this affair become public.

Something like that. I think she is a better reader of people and a judge of their character than Arthur is, and she is less hasty, too (except when her passions are triggered). Arthur does do some bone-headed snap judgements/decisions at time (Ywaine, for one; that definitely reads as a Fumble in Just... also going to take care of the Giant of Mount St. Michel by his lonesome, when he has an army to lead and a war to win; or the duel against Pellinore). Arthur also tends to be more Trusting, IMHO, wanting to believe the best of people and hence a bit more idealistic. Guenever, given her own intrigues (for a good cause), is more sensitive to the falsehoods and schemes that people might have. As well as the aforementioned gossip network supplying her with plenty of background information.

Edited by Morien
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There is a real tendency to portray Guenever as a mythological Eleanor of Aquitaine, and by that most of us mean 'Katherine Hepburn in Lion In Winter'.

Both the historical Eleanor and Hepburn's portrayal show us a conniving and manipulative woman with a cruel streak. She had an overall positive effect on history, after all she founded the cult of chivalry and was a patron of art and music [thereby making medieval Europe a bit more pleasant for everybody] but apparently she was rather a rather 'sharp' and somewhat unsympathetic woman.

If you can find it, there is a great movie about a smart but compassionate woman that might be a good inspiration. Look for 'Stealing Heaven' and is about the romance of Abelard and Heloise. This might be a better overall inspiration for Guenever.

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I run a somewhat more high-fantasy (influenced by Irish mythology) take on the GPC, and so my portrayal of Guenever has been twisted unusually by the circumstances. The primary differences for the purposes of this discussion are that Cornwall is a Faerie land, and half-faeries have significantly more intense anti-aging, tending to reach their cultural coming of age and then slowing down precipitously to 1/10th the aging rate. The two half-Faeries in this campaign are Jewish PK Deirdre, whose aging slowed down at 12 upon her bat mitzvah, and King Arthur, who is British Pagan in this version and whose aging slowed down at 14 after his coming of age hunt. Thus, Arthur doesn't simply have a Boy King Period where he's young, but sort of fundamentally IS the Boy King, only ending up physically around 20 by the time the story ends. (This was a thematic change to emphasize that the downfall of his current kingdom were the failures of youth and inexperience, albeit on a Faerie scale of life, which will be addressed by his eventual return.)

 

So as far as this campaign is concerned, Arthur and Guenever did truly love each other... when they got married, and were physically around the same age. They had a few happy years together, both bright-eyed and excited to be the royal couple, to have unparalleled power to make the world better for their subjects and to defeat the evil forces that ail them. But Guenever kept growing up, and Arthur largely didn't. He remained a rambunctious lad while she changed from a girl into a woman. The longer their marriage goes, the more out of sync they fall, the more uncomfortable she feels trying to connect with her husband, the more physically and emotionally exhausted she finds herself. Her concepts of the world and her ambitions are growing, her desires are growing, and Arthur, through no fault of his own, can't keep up.

 

So she becomes more and more focused on her own political power and its exercise. Again, this starts well - she's virtuous and driven, tempering her desires for results with her need to ensure nobody is unduly harmed and that courtly rules/obligations aren't violated. And yet she grows more and more lonely, unable to interest Arthur in her courtly life or political aspirations (though he does not disapprove of them, simply finds them uninteresting), unable to find anything in their relationship but the longing for what they had when she was younger.

 

Enter Lancelot. He's everything Guenever wants - a manly knight, an upstanding champion for her romantic and political ideals, someone who mentally stimulates her with his courtly and artistic skill and passion. But to get those things forces Guenever to push past the nominally-acceptable bounds of Amor into the definitely-forbidden realm of Lovers. And this pushes Guenever away from that "playing by the rules" commitment. She's still trying to do the right thing, but more willing to push the bounds to do it, and more willing to fight underhandedly to keep the things that give her happiness in her life. And of course, seeing Lancelot as her true soul mate, she expects monogamy from him even though she, like, has a husband. (Who, to be fair, she probably doesn't sleep with anymore and is bound to in matrimony only legally rather than in practice, but still.)

 

For Arthur's part, I think he knows about and is fine with the affair because he loves Guenever and Lancelot and wants them to be happy, but he knows its discovery would be intolerable because both the lovers and the majority of his court are Christian and Christians are weird about that sort of stuff, so he helps keep it under wraps, until eventually Mordred spills the bag and everything falls apart.

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