Arthur’s End: The King’s Emasculation in the Alliterative Morte Arthure
Mordred’s deadly wounding of Arthur in his felettes, or loins, functions as a symbolic emasculation, which marks the end of both the king’s heroic enterprise and his royal lineage. The metaphor of the Round Table as a family of knights with Arthur as its parental head is integral to the tragedy because Arthur’s failure to produce an heir to his throne symbolizes the destruction of his accomplishments and the end of his legacy. Arthur’s lament over the corpse of Gawain identifies him as a kind of mater dolorosa, a feminization which presages his final destruction as an unmanned man who is cuckolded by Mordred, having produced no royal issue. The king’s dying order to slay Mordred’s children corresponds to the political and military castrations wrought by Mordred against him.