Friday, January 15, 2021

Pwyll Prince of Dyved — Criticism

Pwyll Prince of Dyved reads like a cautionary tale, especially for the next generation's leaders of the clan or country.

Pwyll is a harsh leader, uncivil. One day hunting he comes across hounds taking down a dear. No one has ever seen hounds like these, with their white coat and red ears. Pwyll is struck by their appearance, but not for long. He soon chases them away for his dogs to eat.

Arawn confronts him about his uncivil behavior. After all, Arawn's dogs had chased down the dear. After some unpleasant talk back and forth, the two agree to exchange place. Arawn had been tricked into allowing Havgan, a rival king, to live after he was defeated in a battle between the two. Arawn now knows how to defeat him, but will have Pwyll go in his stead. If Pwyll follows instruction and controls himself he has a good chance to defeat Havgan. On both counts Pwyll does well, emerging victoriously. In his absence, Arawn has ruled in Pwyll's kingdom; and when Pwyll returns he asks how he has governed in the previous year compared to how he ruled previously. The people are very pleased how matters have gone the previous year, and hope this will continue. His rule had greatly changed, and he promises to maintain a benign course.

With no experience in genteel governance, he fails at his imminent wedding. He has become too civil, and loses Rhiannon to Gwawl. He must learn proper diplomatic procedure. Getting back Rhiannon from Gwawl, however, will not succeed by requesting a favor. Gwawl is too shrewd. Pwyll learns to deceive when all else but brutality will fail. There is sufficient violence to make Gwawl relinquish Rhiannon, but it does not cause his death. Pwyll is also lenient with Rhiannon, allowing her to choose her own punishment. As with his care for her, so too the people seldom, or never, demand she carry them into the castle.

At the the end of Pwyll and Arawn’s change of identity, they exchange gifts. But Pwyll does not seem to understand the nature of gift-giving to others. On the morning after their wedding, Rhiannon appears to have to tell him to give gifts to minstrels and suitors, apparently, servants too. She says: "My lord...arise and begin to give thy gifts unto the minstrels. Refuse no one today that may claim thy bounty." If the lesson needs to be reinforced to the young listeners, years later in the tale Teirnyon's wife remarks on the gifts they could expect to receive for returning Pwyll's son. Though Teirnyon refuses all, Pwyll would have gladly bestowed many gifts on him.

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