Igraine was the mother of King Arthur. After marrying Duke Gorlois of Cornwall, with whom she had a number of daughters, she fell under a spell that made her mistake King Uther Pendragon—who had fallen in love with the beautiful Igraine—for her husband. In fact, the powerful Merlin was the one who helped the deceptive Uther to satisfy his desire by transforming the king to look exactly like Gorlois. Merlin offered to deliver Igraine to Uther on one condition—the king would have to give him the child Igrained would conceive.
Igraine only discovered later that her husband was killed three hours before a man who looked exactly like him came to her bed. After Gorlois was killed in battle, Uther compelled Igraine into marriage. Her daughters were also married off, and her youngest, Morgan Le Fay, was sent to a nunnery—where she ended up taking a strong interest in necromancy.
Igraine never saw Arthur after he was born—as the boy was given to Merlin, and then Sir Ector, to be raised as his son.
According to the Vulgate Cycle, Igraine died two years before Uther, which means that she died before Arthur ascended the throne. But in many tales, including Le Morte d’Arthur (by Thomas Malory), she was alive when Arthur became king, and she was eventually reunited with her son.
According to Malory, Arthur didn’t meet his mother until Sir Ulfius brought her before him with an accusation of treason for not coming forward to testify to her son Arthur’s identity and right to the throne. Her legendary reply:
“I am a woman and I may not fight, but rather than I should be dishonoured, there would be some good man take my quarrel. More, Merlin knoweth well, and ye Sir Ulfius, how King Uther came to me in the Castle of Tintagel in the likeness of my lord, that was dead three hours before, and thereby gat a child that night upon me. And after the thirteenth day King Uther wedded me, and by his commandment when the child was born it was delivered unto Merlin and nourished by him, and so I saw the child never after, nor wot not what is his name, for I knew him never yet…Well I wot, I bare a child by my lord King Uther, but I wot not where his become.”
In Chretien de Troyes’ Story of the Grail, Igraine had not seen Arthur in 60 years. She was living in an enchanted fortress known as the Rock of Champguin (Otherworld), with one of her daughters. Arthur assumed Igraine had been dead during Arthur’s reign. Sir Gawain broke the enchantment that was placed on the castle, and Igraine and her son were reunited.
Nirmala Nataraj’s Igraine’s Enchanted Castle is a one-character play that delves into the inner workings of the now-reclusive queen on the eve of her reunion with her long-lost son, who is now king. An exploration of motherhood, betrayal, aging, and a woman’s efforts to reinvent herself in the wake of devastating loss, Igraine’s Enchanted Castle imagines the untold myths of one of Arthurian legends’ most mysterious and wronged queens.
Nirmala Nataraj is a New York–based writer, editor, book midwife, theater artist, and mythmaker. Her work lives at the crossroads of creativity, mythology, storytelling, and collective liberation. As a multi-genre collaborator and creative facilitator, she believes in generative solutions in the midst of chaos, the coexistence of messiness and magic, and breathtaking beauty as a natural consequence of this wild ride. She is trained in a variety of methods of narrative-based collective healing, including Family Constellations, Psychodrama, Playback Theatre, and Theatre of the Oppressed. Find out more about Nirmala at nirmalanataraj.com.