Women in Celtic Literature

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Most readers of the famed Irish and Welsh tales focus on the male characters and their great feats. Celtic literature, however, features a full complement of female characters that deserve recognition; from warriors and rulers, to helpmates and daughters. These women function as either their own entity, or extensions of their male relations. All play crucial roles in their perspective texts, essentially driving the action of the plot and setting into motion a series of events that affect the male characters. Flirtation is one means to incite action. Rhiannon from branch one of The Mabigoni employs the tactic in order to escape an unwanted marriage. The otherworldly Rhiannon appears to King Pywll and his retainers halfway through the story. In a single exchange, she both declares love for Pwyll: “I have never desired any man, and that because of loving you”, then announces her unavailability (“Pwyll,” 45). Rhiannon ensnares Pwyll by captivating his attention and inspiring lust through her looks and words, ensuring he will go against her current suitor, Gwawl son of Clud. This strong female character even directs Pwyll’s actions in attaining her hand, laying out direction for him to follow, helping him to gain victory. The placements of geasas by women also drive the plots of stories. Aranrhod and Culhwch’s stepmother from The Mabigoni both employ geasas, resulting in the attempted murder of a male protagonist in one story, and a hero’s quest in the other. A powerful woman who lives on her own without male support, Aranrhod places geasas on her unwanted son. The last geis states that he will never attain a wife from a race on earth. Because of the importance of progeny, and extending the familial line, Ki... ... middle of paper ... ...f their future. Derdriu, even before birth, is destined to bring misfortune to the country of Ulster. Brought up in seclusion to await marriage to the king, she learns of a handsome young man, Noisiu. Shaming him into accepting her, she creates outcasts of him and his brothers, inciting war. Finnabair also acts as a pawn, her actions controlled by her mother Mebd. During the Great Cattle Raid, she exists as a bartering tool for Mebd, used to gain allies. She offers no real resistance to this arrangement, even acting flirtatiously to her mother’s benefit. Through her deceit however, she manipulates the deaths of at least 700 men. Lastly, Branwen from The Mabigoni exists as a pawn for her eldest brother, Bran’s, alliances. Her marriage of convenience, through no apparent wish of her own, to an Irish King incites her half brother Efnisien to shaming the Irish king.

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