Shady Sorcerers, Commoner Knights and the Servant Queen

Merlin: How class is dealt with and deconstructed in Camelot.

So, this wasn’t actually going to be my last topic, but I’ve been sick the last couple of days and like most people, I tend to avoid work when I’m feeling unwell. So rather than do another look at print culture, let’s look at television!

I’ve spent this week alternatively sleeping, taking cold medicine, feeling generally crappy and watching re-runs of anime and BBC America shows, and it was nice to realize I could actually use what I’ve been watching on the BBC in my blog. So I’m taking this opportunity to look at season 4 of Merlin.

Now personally, I’m not actually sure this show is what I’d call good. There’s a lot going on in it, Arthur and Merlin have good chemistry, and all the actors are well cast but the writing tends to be a tad schitzophrenic. It causes the episode quality to vary from episodes I’m really engaged in to episodes where I skip half because it’s so painful to watch. But underneath all that and through a haze of illness I realized there’s actually quite a bit going on in Merlin that deals with issues of class and race that the writers never address. Not being someone to miss an opportunity I thought I’d examine it in my Blog.

And rather than explain the background of the show, I’ve decided to let Wikipedia do that for me, as it does a far better job than I can right now:

Assuming, you’ve clicked on the link and spent the 5 minutes necessary to read the plot summary you’ll now be aware of the biggest stake in the show: Magic is punishable by death in Camelot, and Merlin has magic. This statement drives the entire plot of the series not just the individual seasons. It gets played for laughs quite frequently, though the subject has taken a darker turn in season 4. Basically, in Camelot possessing magic immediately classes you as an undesirable, irregardless of any other factor. It is the bottom rung on Camelot’s class system, a fact which the shows contrasts with Morgana, a member of the royal family. In previous seasons Morgana possessed social status equivalent to Arthur, but after she is revealed to have magic in the third season, the fourth season has her living in squalor in the woods and worse off than most peasants. Yes, I realize the fact she committed treason is part of the reason she has a death sentence on her head, but I find the choices the show made in regards to her home as proof of the devaluing of sorcerers. Exhibit A:

Morgana’s chambers in previous seasons. Ignore the creepy guy, he’s not the point of the picture.
and Morgana’s house in season 4. How the mighty have fallen.

In contrast to how sorcerers are devalued in the show, Merlin seems to spend quite a bit of time attempting to break down the barriers of the noble and the peasant class. In the season 3 finale Arthur throws off convention and tradition and knights Lancelot, Gwaine, Percival and Elyan despite none of them being of noble birth, which is Camelot’s first requirement for knighthood. In the season 4 finale (after this being a subplot of basically every episode) Arthur finally marries Guinevere, who is both a commoner and a servant.

Our heroes return… and the only noble is Sir Leon on the right atop the brown horse.

But perhaps the biggest class breaking attempt of all is between Arthur and Merlin. Arthur may not know Merlin has magic (and is basically his equivalent in the magical world come to think of it) but he is Arthur’s servant. As the series has been following their evolving relationship it was nice to hear this in the finale:

Now, let’s just hope this relationship can survive the eventual magic reveal and anti-magic prejudice, if the writers ever actually decide to go there.


-ported over from my britlit blog and written before season 5.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s