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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Merlin and Vivien

Vivien slithers her way into Arthur's court with a sob story about a seduction and manages to sow seeds of doubt about Guinevere.  She is successful in creating discord until she tries to entice Arthur, which fails miserably and makes her a subject of ridicule, forcing her to leave the Court.  Nevertheless, Vivien sets her eyes on Merlin, from whom she wishes to obtain a secret charm.  Merlin refuses, but Vivien wears him down until he relinquishes the secret and she uses the charm on him, leaving him "lost to life and use and name and fame.

Tennyson fashions Vivien in the mold of Delilah.  She begins by praising  him:  "Trample me/Dear feet, that I have followed through the world/And I will pay you worship."  She then requests his love:  "'O Merlin, do ye love me?' and again/'O Merlin, do ye love me?' and once more/'Great Master, do ye love me?'"  Then she tells him how he can prove his love: 

O Merlin, teach it me.
The charm so taught will charm us both to rest.
For, grant me some slight power upon your fate,
I, feeling that you felt me worthy trust,
Should rest and let you rest, knowing you mine.

Tennyson achieves this portrait by giving her serpentine qualities:
                                                    a robe
Of samite without price, that more exprest
Than hid her, clung about her lissome limbs,
In colour like the satin-shining palm
On sallows in the windy gleams of March.

The repeated use of the letter s adds a hissing sound for full effect.  Once he is in her grasp, she will not let go until she has squeeze the secret from him:

And lissome Vivien, holding by his heel,
Writhed toward him, slided up his knee and sat,
Behind his ankle twined her hollow feet
Together, curved an arm about his neck,
Clung like a snake;

And she evens goes so far as to wrap herself in his beard:

                              then adding all at once,
'And lo, I clothe myself with wisdom,' drew
The vast and shaggy mantle of his beard
Across her neck and bosom to her knee

Finally, Merlin wearies of her and tells her the secret:
The snake of gold slid from her hair, the braid
Slipt and uncoiled itself, she wept afresh,
And the dark wood grew darker toward the storm
In silence, while his anger slowly died
Within him, till he let his wisdom go
For ease of heart, and half believed her true

She in turn uses the secret charm against him and Merlin's powers no longer reside with him:

Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm
Of woven paces and of waving hands,
And in the hollow oak he lay as dead,
And lost to life and use and name and fame.

Then crying 'I have made his glory mine,'
And shrieking out 'O fool!' the harlot leapt
Adown the forest, and the thicket closed
Behind her, and the forest echoed 'fool.'

Vivien has achieved her goal and has made the wizard ineffectual.

The above depiction was extracted from http://www.candlelightstories.com/ .

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