Gwen (Merlin)

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Name: Gwen
Occupation: Queen
Title/Rank: Queen
Location: Camelot
Status: alive
Relationships: daughter of Tom the blacksmith
Fandom: Merlin
Other: Portrayed by Angel Coulby.
Gwen, played by Angel Coulby
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Contents

Gwen, short for Guinevere, is one of the main characters in the BBC series Merlin. She has strong relationships with each of the other main characters, Merlin, Arthur, and Morgana.

We meet her in the first episode when she approaches Merlin in the stocks after he stands up to Arthur, and they become fast friends. Through series two, she worked in the castle as Morgana's maidservant.

As the daughter of Tom the blacksmith (now deceased), Gwen has background knowledge in armour and weaponry, and is a skilled seamstress. She is known for being kind, hardworking and possessing a strong moral compass and can often be seen speaking her mind to Merlin, Gaius, and Arthur. She begins the series shy and stammery, but seems to grow more assertive from series one to series two following her father's murder.

In series two, romantic feelings spring up between Gwen and Arthur, but the class difference, as well as Gwen's history with Lancelot, provide a barrier to a romantic relationship.

In the season finale of series 4, Gwen and Arthur finally get married, after Arthur forgives her for her betrayal with Lancelot in S04E09.

Fan Response

While Gwen has many fans, she has a generally mixed reception by fandom overall, and her character is often an impetus for discussions in fandom about race issues, as well as both canon and fandom misogyny.

  • Race Issues: Angel Coulby is a mixed-race actress, and initial reactions/opposition to her casting in the role of the iconic Guinevere have sparked heated debate as to whether people of color existed in the general time period in which Merlin is set, as well as the problematic issue of singling out her race as an anachronism in a series well known for its anachronisms. Race often comes up in criticisms of both Gwen and Angel herself. Though many fans were thrilled to see a woman of color cast in their Camelot.
  • Gender Issues: The show itself has met with criticism of its treatment of female characters; namely, their marginalization in storylines and the characterization gap between them and male characters. Gwen's marginalization across both series in particular is a part of this. Her reception in fandom and criticisms of her personality or storylines have also sparked debate about misogynistic tendencies in Merlin fandom.
  • Marginalization in fandom/fanworks: There has been some discussion about the relative lack of fiction about Gwen herself compared to other characters, as well as representation in graphics and icon posts, though this trend was more prominent in series one and over the hiatus between series one and two. Her role in Merlin/Arthur fanfiction has been criticized as well, vis a vis the tendency to pair her off with Morgana[1] or Lancelot, or her relegation to the role of Merlin's supportive BFF who steps aside for his relationship with Arthur. Some fans consider this a good thing or an attempt to avoid the character bashing that can sometimes happen.
  • Negative and positive reactions to Arthur/Gwen in series two: When the romantic storyline between Gwen and Arthur in series two began, it was also met with both positive and negative reactions. Fans who enjoyed the pairing initially were pleased to see the development and increased interaction between Arthur and Gwen (after minimal interaction in the first series), and the interactions sparked more interest from other fans of the show. The membership at Camelot love, the most active livejournal community for the pairing, skyrocketed, and there was a marked increase in the number of Arthur/Gwen fanworks, which caused some debate as to whether the pairing could still claim 'rarepair' status in the fandom. The relationship was also the subject of criticism and debate with respect to its pacing on the show, with many claiming that it was rushed or not well-developed. There have also been claims that the relationship relegated Gwen to 'just a love interest'. Speculation that other show dynamics or characters were sacrificed in favor of Arthur/Gwen was rampant. Those arguments continue apace.
  • SyFy character bio and fan reaction (March 2010): In anticipation of the airing of Merlin on the SyFy channel on US basic cable, the network created a website for the show, including descriptions of the characters and episodes. While the site in general was panned, its description of Gwen was widely criticized by fans for glaring inaccuracies and racial/gender insensitivity.[2][3] After fans sent emails to the network's feedback address, the bio was edited to remove the offensive section.[4] A brief writeup on the issue was even included on SFX magazine's website.

Fanfic

There is a relatively small amount of gen fic for Gwen, but most of the fanfiction in which she is a main character features romance with other canon characters.

The largest het Gwen pairing is Arthur/Gwen, but Merlin/Gwen and Gwen/Lancelot also feature, albeit in much smaller amounts. Other het pairings such as Gwen/Uther and Gaius/Gwen have minimal representation in fandom.

When it comes to femslash, Gwen is paired most often with Morgana, and Gwen/Morgana is arguably the second-largest Gwen pairing. Other femslash ships include Gwen/Morgause and Gwen/Nimueh, but representation for those pairings is minimal.

Gwen also features in poly ships, most notably OT4/5 but also OT3 fics such as Arthur/Gwen/Merlin.

Meta

Fanvids

Gwen-centric Communities

Pairing communities

References

  1. The flip side. ("Pickering, why can't a woman be more like a man?"), by bookshop. "But if we love Gwen so much, why aren't we happy to see her and Arthur so happy together in S2? Don't we love Gwen enough to enjoy her stepping into her role as main character? Or do we only love her enough to shunt her off to the side to be happy with Morgana, so we can all enjoy the lovely Merlin/Arthur slash." (accessed March 28, 2010)
  2. As quoted by apocalypsos: "If there's one thing Gwen might wish for, it's that she could be just a little bit prettier. With her wonky teeth, uncooperative hair and glasses, not even the most charitable person could call her beautiful." (Accessed March 28, 2010)
  3. Of win and fail (Accessed March 28, 2010)
  4. Regarding my last post -- The new bio is "not unproblematic (her 'humdrum poor family'? really?), but it's missing a lot of the really awful stuff from before. Good work, everyone who emailed/tweeted!" (Accessed March 28, 2010)
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