Gawain (/ɡəˈwn/; Welsh: [ˈɡawain]), also known as Gawaine or Gauwaine, among various other forms and spellings, is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. Under the name Gwalchmei, he appears very early in the legend's development, being mentioned in some of the earliest Welsh Arthurian sources. As Gawain, he appears in Latin, French, English, Dutch, German and Italian literature, notably as the protagonist of the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Other tales of Gawain include Historia Regum Britanniae, Roman de Brut, De Ortu Waluuanii, Diu Crône, The Awntyrs off Arthure, L'âtre périlleux, Le Chevalier à l'épée, and The Weddynge of Syr Gawen and Dame Ragnell, as well as the works of Chrétien de Troyes and the prose cycle Lancelot-Grail.

Matter of Britain character
Sir Gawaine the Son of Lot, King of Orkney, by Howard Pyle from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (1903)
TitlePrince, Sir
OccupationKnight of the Round Table
FamilyLater tradition: Lot, Morgause, Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth, Mordred, King Arthur, Morgan le Fay
ChildrenVarious, including Gingalain
OriginOrkney and/or Lothian

Gawain is one of a select number of Round Table members to be referred to as one of the greatest knights and closest companions of King Arthur. He is usually the son of Arthur's sister Morgause (or Anna) and King Lot of Orkney and Lothian, and his brothers or half-brothers are Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Mordred. He is often portrayed as a formidable, courteous, and also a compassionate warrior, fiercely loyal to his king and family. As such he is a friend to young knights, a defender of the poor, and as "the Maidens' Knight", a defender of women as well. He has a horse named Gringolet, uses the sword Excalibur, and his sons may include the "Fair Unknown", Gingalain. One recurring theme of later versions of Gawain's legend is his friendship with Lancelot, who eventually becomes his bitter enemy. Gawain's usually glowing portrayals are diminished in the Lancelot–Grail Cycle in favour of Lancelot and especially Galahad, and his character even turns markedly ignoble in the Post-Vulgate Cycle.


Gawain is known by different names and variants in different languages. The character corresponds to the Welsh Gwalchmei ap Gwyar, and is known in Latin as Walwen, Gualguanus, Waluanus, etc.; in French as Gauvain; in German as Gawein; in Italian as Galvagin and Galvano, and in English as Gawain. The later forms are generally assumed to derive from the Welsh Gwalchmei.[1] The element Gwalch means hawk, and is a typical epithet in medieval Welsh poetry.[2] The meaning of mei is uncertain. It has been suggested that it refers to the month of May (Mai in Modern Welsh), rendering "Hawk of May", Rachel Bromwich considers this unlikely. Kenneth Jackson suggests the name evolved from an early Common Brittonic name *Ualcos Magesos, meaning "Hawk of the Plain".[2]

The Gwyar (meaning "gore"[3] or "spilled blood/bloodshed"[4]) in Gwalchmei ap Gwyar is likely the name of Gwalchmei's mother, rather than his father as is the standard in the Welsh Triads.[1] Matronyms were sometimes used in Wales, as in the case of Math fab Mathonwy and Gwydion fab Dôn, and were also fairly common in early Ireland.[1] Gwyar appears as a daughter of Amlawdd Wledig in one version of the hagiographical genealogy Bonedd y Saint. Additionally, the 14th-century Birth of Arthur, a Welsh text adapting scenes from Geoffrey of Monmouth, substitutes Gwyar for "Anna", Geoffrey's name for Gawain's mother, named Morgause in the later French-inspired tradition.[5] Other sources do not follow this substitution, however, indicating that Gwyar and Anna originated independently.[6]

Not all scholars accept the gwalch derivation. John Koch suggests the name could be derived from a Brythonic original *Wolcos Magesos, "Wolf/Errant Warrior of the Plain."[7] Others argue that the continental forms do not ultimately derive from Gwalchmei. Roger Sherman Loomis suggests a derivation from the epithet Gwallt Avwyn, found in the list of heroes in Culhwch and Olwen, which he translates as "hair like reins" or "bright hair".[8][9] Lauran Toorians proposes that the Dutch name Walewein (attested in Flanders and France c. 1100) was earliest, suggesting it entered Britain during the large settlement of Flemings in Wales in the early 12th century.[10] However, most scholarship supports a derivation from Gwalchmei, variants of which are well attested in Wales and Brittany. Scholars such as Bromwich, Joseph Loth, and Heinrich Zimmer trace the etymology of the continental versions to a corruption of the Breton form of the name, Walcmoei.[1]


Gwalchmei (or Gwalchmai) was a traditional hero of Welsh legend. His popularity greatly increased after foreign versions, particularly those derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, became known in Wales.[11]

An early Welsh romance Culhwch and Olwen, written in the 11th century and eventually associated with the Mabinogion,[12] ascribes to Gwalchmei the same relationship with Arthur that Gawain is later given: he is a son of Arthur's sister and one of his leading warriors[2] (in the 14th-century Welsh text The Birth of Arthur, Gwalchmei is given three sisters: Gracia, Graeria, and Dioneta, the last one of them being a counterpart of Morgan[13]). However, he is mentioned only twice in the text; once in the extensive list of Arthur's court towards the beginning of the story, and again as one of the "Six Helpers" who Arthur sends with the protagonist Culhwch on his journey to find his love Olwen.[11] Unlike the other helpers he takes no further part in the action, suggesting he was added to the romance later, likely under the influence of the Welsh versions of Geoffrey's Historia.[11] He also appears in Peredur fab Efrawg (Peredur son of Efrawg) part of the Mabinogion, where he aids the hero Peredur in the final battle against the nine witches of Caer Loyw.[14] A tale recorded by 16th-century Welsh scholar Sion Dafydd Rhys mentions how Gwalchmai destroyed three evil witch-sisters, wives of the giants previously slain by Arthur, killing them within their castles through his cunning as they could not be defeated otherwise due to their powers.[15]

Still, Gwalchmei was clearly a traditional figure; other early references to him include the Welsh Triads; the Englynion y Beddau (Stanzas of the Graves), which lists the site of his grave; the Trioedd y Meirch (Triads of the Horses), which praises his horse Keincaled (known as Gringolet to later French authors); and Cynddelw's elegy for Owain Gwynedd, which compares Owain's boldness to that of Gwalchmei.[2] In the Welsh Triads, Triad 4 lists him as one of the "Three Well-Endowed Men of the Isle of Britain" (probably referring to his inheritance);[16] Triad 75 describes him as one of the "Three Men of the Island of Britain who were Most Courteous to Guests and Strangers";[17] and Triad 91 praises his fearlessness.[18] Some versions of Triads 42 and 46 also praise his horse Keincaled, echoing the Triads of the Horses.[19] The Welsh Triads singling out of Gwalchmei out as Most Courteous is something confirmed by his role in the Mabinogion where he regularly serves as an intermediary between stranger knights and Arthur's court.[20]


A few references to Gawain appear outside Wales in the first half of the 12th century. For instance, William of Malmesbury writes in his Gesta Regum Anglorum of around 1125 that "Walwen's" grave had been uncovered in Pembrokeshire during the reign of William the Conqueror; William recounts that Arthur's nephew had been driven from his kingdom by Hengest's brother, though he continued to harry his enemies severely.

However, it was Geoffrey of Monmouth's version of Gawain in the Historia Regum Britanniae, written around 1136, that brought the character to a wider audience.[21] As in the Welsh tradition, Geoffrey's Gualguanus is the son of Arthur's sister, here named Anna, and her husband is Lot (Loth), the prince of Lothian and one of Arthur's key supporters. Gualguanus is depicted as a superior warrior and potential heir to the throne until he is tragically struck down by the forces of his traitorous brother Modredus at Richborough, during an attempted sea landing turned a disaster.[22] Geoffrey mentions that Gawain was twelve years old at the time when King Loth and Arthur began a war with Norway and that he had previously served Pope Sulpicius in Rome.

Geoffrey's work was immensely popular and was adapted into many languages. The Norman version by Wace, the Roman de Brut, ascribes to Gawain the chivalric aspect he would take in later literature, wherein he favours courtliness and love over martial valor.[21] Several later works expand on Geoffrey's mention of Gawain's boyhood spent in Rome, the most important of which is the anonymous Medieval Latin romance De Ortu Waluuanii Nepotis Arturi (The Rise of Gawain, Nephew of Arthur), which describes his birth, boyhood and early adventures leading up to his knighting by his uncle.[23]

Beginning with the five works of Chrétien de Troyes, Gawain became a very popular figure in the Old French Chivalric romances in the later 12th century. Chrétien uses Gawain as a major character and establishes some characteristics that pervade later depictions, including his unparalleled courteousness and his way with women. His romances set the pattern often followed in later works in which Gawain serves as an ally to the protagonist and a model of knighthood to whom others are compared. However, in Chrétien's later romances, especially Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette (Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart) and Perceval ou le Conte du Graal (Perceval, the Story of the Grail), the title heroes Lancelot and Percival prove morally superior to Gawain, who follows the rules of courtliness to the letter rather than the spirit.[21] Chrétien's story of Yvain, Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion (Yvain, the Knight of the Lion), was translated into the Middle English as Ywain and Gawain. Gawain is also prominent in the continuations of Perceval, including Perlesvaus.

An influx of romances written in French appeared in Chrétien's wake, and in these Gawain was characterised variously. In many of these "Gawain romances", such as Le Chevalier à l'épée (The Knight with the Sword) and La Vengeance Raguidel (or Messire Gauvain), he is the hero; in others, he aids the hero; sometimes he is the subject of burlesque humor.[21] In the variants of the Bel Inconnu or Fair Unknown story, he is the father of the hero.[24] In Perceval and some other stories, he is the other wielder of Arthur's magic sword Excalibur. In the English Alliterative Morte Arthure he has a sword named Galuth, which bears the name Galatine in Thomas Malory's Roman War episode.

In the Lancelot-Grail (Vulgate Cycle), Gawain is depicted as a proud and worldly knight and the leader of his siblings, who demonstrates through his failures the danger of neglecting the spirit for the futile gifts of the material world. On the Grail quest, his intentions are always the purest, but he is unable to use God's grace to see the error in his ways. Later, when his brothers Agravain and Mordred plot to destroy Lancelot and Guinevere by exposing their love affair, Gawain tries to stop them. When Guinevere is sentenced to burn at the stake and Arthur deploys his best knights to guard the execution, Gawain nobly refuses to take part in the deed even though his brothers will be there. But when Lancelot returns to rescue Guinevere, a battle between Lancelot's and Arthur's knights ensues and Gawain's brothers Gareth and Gaheris are killed (Agravain too is killed by Lancelot, either on this occasion or in a previous encounter). This turns his friendship with Lancelot into hatred, and his desire for vengeance causes him to draw Arthur into a war with Lancelot in France. In the king's absence, Mordred usurps the throne, and the Britons must return to save Britain. Meanwhile, Gawain is mortally wounded by Lancelot himself after a long duel.

For the English and Scots, Gawain remained a respectable and heroic figure. He is the subject of several romances and lyrics in the dialects of those countries. He is the hero of one of the greatest works of Middle English literature, the alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where he is portrayed as an excellent, but human, knight. In the poem, Gawain must venture to the titular Green Knight to, assumingly, be killed by the Knight. Gawain does this as it pertains to a deal made between the two without knowing that it is all a test by the Knight.[25] In possibly Malory's The Weddynge of Syr Gawen and Dame Ragnell (The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle), his wits, virtue and respect for women frees his wife, a loathly lady, from her curse of ugliness.

Gawain is cited in Robert Laneham's letter describing the entertainments at Kenilworth in 1575,[26] and the recopying of earlier works such as The Greene Knight suggests that a popular tradition of Gawain continued. The Child Ballads include a preserved legend in the positive light, The Marriage of Sir Gawain, a fragmentary version of the story of The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. He also appears in the rescue of Guinevere and plays a significant role though Lancelot overshadows him. Other important English Gawain romances include The Awntyrs off Arthure (The Adventures of Arthur) and The Avowyng of Arthur. The Middle Dutch Roman van Walewein (Story of Gawain) by Penninc and Pieter Vostaert, and the Middle High German romance Diu Crône (The Crown) by Heinrich von dem Türlin are both dedicated primarily to Gawain.

Gawain's death is described in more detail in the Alliterative Morte Arthure. On reaching land, Gawain wreaks great slaughter, killing the king of Gothland among others, before being surrounded on a hill. He pushes forward on horse against Mordred and the two strike one another down with their lances. Gawain attempts to cut Mordred's throat, but Mordred stabs him though the helmet. Mordred then gives a sorrowful eulogy to his dead brother, the best and most glorious of knights. In the Didot Perceval, Gawain attempts to disembark when one of Mordred's Saxon allies fatally strikes him in the head through an unlaced helmet; a similar account is told in the Stanzaic Morte Arthur.

Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (The Death of Arthur) is based mainly, but not exclusively, on French works from the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate Cycles. Here Gawain partly retains the negative characteristics attributed to him by the later French authors, and partly retains his earlier positive representations, creating a character seen by some as inconsistent, and by others as a believably flawed hero. Regarding the Grail quest, he first to declare that he "shall laboure in the Queste of the Sankgreall" but embarks on the quest in order to gain more magical meals and drinks (metys and drynkes) from it rather than from a religious zeal or to save the Fisher King's kingdom. Another of Malory's sources was L'âtre périlleux (The Perilious Cemetery), a poem about Gawain's rescue of a woman from a demon.

In Malory's version, after Guinevere is condemned by Arthur to be burnt at the end of Le Morte d'Arthur, Lancelot returns to rescue her. But Mordred has sent word to King Arthur; Arthur sends a few knights to capture Lancelot, and Gawain, being a loyal friend to Lancelot, refuses to take part in the mission. The battle between Lancelot and Arthur's knights results in Gawain's two sons and his brothers, except for Mordred, being slain. This begins the estrangement between Lancelot and Gawain, thus drawing Arthur into a war with Lancelot, first in Britain and then in France, even after the Pope steps in and issues a bull to end the violence between Arthur's and Lancelot's factions, so great is Gawain's rage. Following Mordred's betrayal, Gawain wages two wars with Mordred and Lancelot. He twice challenges Lancelot to a duel, but each time loses and asks Lancelot to kill him; Lancelot refuses and grants him mercy before leaving. Mortally injured, Gawain later writes to Lancelot, repenting of his bitterness, asking for his help against Mordred, and for forgiveness for separating the Round Table. In a dream, the departed Gawain tells Arthur to wait thirty days for Lancelot to return to Britain before fighting Mordred, and Arthur sends Lucan and Bedivere to make a temporary peace treaty. Lancelot for two nights weeps at Gawain's tomb. In his introduction to Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, William Caxton wrote that in the Dovern Castle visitors still "may see the skull of [Sir Gawaine], and the same wound is seen that Sir Launcelot gave him in battle."[27]

In the Italian La Tavola Ritonda, Gawain, after being defeated in his duel with Lancelot, takes part in resisting an attack by Lancelot's friend and ally, Sir Turinoro of Cartagina. In a single combat with Turinoro, Gawain is struck on his head in the same place where Lancelot had wounded him and falls dead; Turinoro also dies. In Jean des Preis' Belgian Ly Myreur des Histors, Arthur, defeated and wounded in his last battle with Mordrech (Mordred), goes with Gawain in a boat to the Isle of Avalon to be healed there by Arthur's sister Morgaine (Morgan).

Origin stories and alternate siblings

The surviving fragments of Les Enfances Gauvain, based in part on De Ortu Waluuanii, tell of how Arthur's sister Morcades (Morgause) becomes pregnant by Lot, at this point a mere page in King Arthur's court. She and Lot secretly give the child to knight named Gawain the Brown (Gauvain li Brun) who baptised the child with his own name and put the infant Gawain in a cask, with a letter explaining who he is and set him adrift on the sea. The cask is found by a fisherman and his wife. Sometime after the child is ten years of age, his foster-father becomes extremely ill and vows to make a pilgrimage to Rome if he recovers. When he does, he takes his foster-child with him to Rome, where a clerk reads the letter and understands that the boy is of high birth and gives the boy to the Pope as his own foster-son. An account similar to this is found in Perlesvaus, the Gesta Romanorum, and many other texts.

In De Ortu Waluuani, the young Gawain, as the Knight of the Surcoat, undertakes a duel to determine whether Rome or Persia should possess Jerusalem. On his way, Gawain and his men defeat the pirate king Milocrates and his brother Buzafarnam and rescue the Emperor's niece whom Milocrates has abducted. In Jerusalam, he fights the giant Persian champion Gormund and slays him after three days of single combat. He is then sent to King Arthur with the proof of his birth. Arthur's queen, here named Gwendoloena and having prophetic powers, warns Arthur of a coming a knight of Rome who is more powerful than him. Arthur and Kay meet Gawain who unhorses them both and comes to Arthur court, but the king rejects him despite learning of the knight being his nephew. In response, Gawain vows that he will do what Arthur's whole army cannot do. The occasion comes when the Lady of the Castle of Maidens sends to Arthur for aid, having been abducted by a pagan king who wants to force marriage on her. Arthur and his forces go to fight the pagan army but lose, yet Gawain single-handedly succeeds and returns with the Lady and with the pagan king's head. Arthur is finally forced to publicly accept the knight's worth, and Lot and Anna formally acknowledge Gawain as their son.

Corresponding Gawain tales are the stories of the Castle of Wonders in Chrétien's Perceval, Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, Diu Crône, and the Norse Valvens þáttr (The Tale of Gawain), wherein Gawain comes to the castle where, unknown to him, dwell his grandmother (King Arthur's mother), his own mother, and a sister. Gawain ends the adventure of the castle and becomes its lord. It would be only right by normal rules if he married unknowingly either his mother or his sister, but Gawain discovers who the women are. In a variant included in the Gesta Romanorum, Gawain-derived character of Gregory comes to a castle where, unknown to him, his mother dwells, besieged by the Duke of Burgundy. Gregory enters her service and succeeds in winning back her lands, after which he unwittingly marries his own mother.

Later romances speak against this story of Gawain being brought up, unknown, in Rome. In the Suite du Merlin attributed to Robert de Boron, a marriage between King Lot and a daughter of Ygerne (Igraine, Arthur's mother) is part of the negotiations arranging for Arthur's father Uther Pendragon's marriage to Ygerne. Gawain must be thus about the same age as Arthur, or even older. In the Vulgate Merlin, Gawain first appears as a young squire with his brothers in his father's kingdom. Gawain and a number of other squires, most of them sons or kindred of the kings who are rebelling against King Arthur, come together and defend the land of Logres against the Saxons while Arthur is aiding King Leodegan (Leodegrance) against King Rion (Rience), after which Arthur knights the squires. During this time, Gawain saves their mother Belisent (Morgause) and the infant Mordred from being kidnapped by the Saxon king Taurus. This is different in the Post-Vulgate Merlin, where King Lot fights against Arthur but his forces are defeated and he himself is killed by King Pellinor (Pellinore), one of King Arthur's allies. Gawain appears as an eleven-year-old boy at Lot's funeral and swears to avenge his father's death on Pellinor, praying that he may never be known for knightly deeds until he has taken vengeance. The story of the feud of between Gawain and Pellinor and his sons is very important in the Post-Vulgate Cycle and the Prose Tristan, but not a trace of it is found in the Lancelot-Grail Cycle or in any earlier known tale, some of which picture Lot as still alive long after Gawain has become a knight.

In many works outside the Lancelot-Grail inspired tradition Gawain has sisters. They include an unnamed sister in Chrétien's Yvain (whom he rescues along with her unnamed husband and children from a giant), an unnamed sister in Hunbaut (who is abducted by Gorvain Cadru), Soredamors (the mother of Cligés) and Clarissant in Chrétien's Cligés, and Elainne in the Modena manuscript of the Didot Perceval. In Parzival, there is also Cundriê (a second sister) and a younger brother named Beacurs (his sole male sibling in this version).


Traditionally, Sir Gawain in particular of all Arthur's knights is known for his courteousness, compassion and humbleness. In Gawain: His Reputation, His Courtesy and His appearance in Chaucer's Squire's Tale, B.J. Whiting collected quantitative evidence of this quality being stronger in Gawain than in any of the other Knights of the Round Table, noting the words "courteous", "courtesy" and "courteously" being used in reference to Arthur's nephew 178 times in total, which is greater than the tally for all other knights in Arthurian literature.[28]

The Prose Lancelot, describes Gawain as the most handsome of his brothers and notably gracious towards the poor people and the societal outcasts such as lepers. According to some versions of the legend, Gawain would have been the true and rightful heir to the throne of Camelot, after the reign of King Arthur.[23][29]

According to the Vulgate Mort Artu, Gawain had been baptised as an infant by a miracle-working holy man, also named Gawain, who named the boy after himself, and the following day announced that every day at noon, at the hour of the baptism, his power and strength will increase. His knowledge of herbs also makes him a great healer,[30] as shown in Chrétien's Perceval, Valvens Þáttr, Parzival, Walewein, and the Dutch Lancelot Compilation (in the stories Moriaen, Die Riddere metter Morwen, Walewein ende Keye, and Lancelot en het Hert met de Witte Voet). In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain's person is also said to be founded in a deep Christian belief in Christ and the Virgin Mary.[31]

In the Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal, however, he is used as a symbol of the unfitness of secular knighthood. Gawain is blamed for his irreligion and is shown to indulge in rather purposeless killing, as for example he slays his relative and a fellow Knight of the Round Table, Ywain the Bastard in one of common fights for no particular reason, just as he is also responsible for the deaths of more his fellow Round Table companions, including the young King Bagdemagus of Gorre. The Vulgate Mort Artu even says Gawain had killed some of his fellow Knights of the Round Table in the quest for the Grail, of which he turned out to be unworthy to achieve. In the end, his unwillingness to forgive Lancelot leads to his own death and contributes to the downfall of Arthur's kingdom.

In the Post-Vulgate Cycle, Gawain's character is further blackened. He is now bloodthirsty and often murderous. Among important Knights of the Round Table whom Gawain is said to have killed during the Grail quest are King Pellinor's son Agloval (Aglovale), King Lac's son Erec, and King Esclabor's son Palamedes. Earlier, Gawain and his brothers are also the slayers of King Pellinor and his sons Driant and Lamorat (Lamorak). Although Gawain still has a reputation for being one of the best and most courteous knights in the world, this is a sham as he is often secretly a rapist of damsels and a killer of good knights, no better than his brother Agravain. When the mighty and holy Grail knight Perceval (Percival) asks Gawain if he had killed his father Pellinor, Gawain simply lies and denies it out of fear of him.

The Guiron le Courtois version of Palamedes explains Gawain's many great cruelties by his grief at being surpassed by other knights after not regaining his full strength following the war with Galehaut. Such new popular image originating in the late Old French romance tradition prompted the historical audience of The Wife of Bath's Tale to consider the story's rapist-knight Arthurian character to be Gawain.[32]

Children and relationships

Thomas Malory credits Gawain with three sons, named Florence, Lovell and Gingalain (Guinglain/Wigalois); Malory names the mother of Florence and Lovell as an unnamed daughter of Bran of Lys. Lioniel (Lovell) and Gingalain (Guinglain/Wigalois) both appear in the First Continuation to Chrétien's Perceval and in the Livre d'Artus. The last of them is the only to play significant roles as the hero of the Old French romance Le Bel Inconnu (The Fair Unknown) by Renaud de Beaujeu,[33] as well as of the Middle English romance Libeaus Desconus, possibly by Thomas Chestre, and its Middle High German version by Wirnt von Grafenberg, Wigalois.

In the Prose Lancelot, a daughter of King Tradelmant of North Wales becomes pregnant by Gawain out of wedlock. The hero of Robert de Blois' Beaudous is the son of Gawain by an unnamed daughter of an unnamed king of Wales. Hartmann von Aue's Erec mentions Henec the Skilful son of Gawain (Henec suctellois fil Gawin) among the Knights of the Round Table.

Since Gawain is known in multiple tales as "the Maidens' Knight", his name is thus attached to no woman in particular. As such, he is the champion of all women, and through this reputation, he has avoided the name pairing seen in tales of Erec and Lancelot (the former being inextricably linked with Enide, the latter with Guinevere). He has, however, been connected to more than one woman in the course of Arthurian literature.[34] In The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, he marries the cursed Ragnelle, and in giving her "sovereignty" in the relationship, lifts the spell laid upon her that had given her a hag-like appearance.[35]

He is also associated with a vague supernatural figure in various tales, sometimes either the princess or queen of the Otherworld.[36] The hero of Le Bel Inconnu is the progeny of Gawain and a fairy called Blancemal, and in The Marvels of Rigomer (Les Merveilles de Rigomer), Gawain is rescued by the fay Lorie.[37][38] In Wigalois, the mother of his son is known as Florie, likely another version of the Lorie from Rigomer. In Italian romance La Pulzella Gaia, Gawain fight and defeats a fairy in the form of a giant serpent, who turns out to be the daughter of his own aunt Morgan le Fay (Fata Morgana) and becomes his secret lover; their relationship, once revealed, makes them both enemies of Guinevere (jealous of Gawain after having been spurned), Arthur, and Morgan all at once.[39] Le Morte d'Arthur mentions Gawain having been in the power of the lustful witch Hellawes, for whom she had created the chapel perilous.[40]

In many romances, Gawain is depicted as a model for this chivalric attribute.[37] In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for example, where he is described as "this fine father of breeding",[41] Gawain receives the kisses of Lady Bertilak with discretion, at once not wanting to insult her by refusing her advances and not wanting to betray the hospitality of her husband.[42] In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, based on the bargain to give each other their respective daily gains, Gawain must give the kisses he receives from Lady Bertilak to Sir Bertilak. This allusion serves to reinforce chivalric ideals of religious, martial and courtly love codes, especially in masculine warrior culture, and shows the ways in which the masculine world can be subverted by female wiles.[43] This undertone of homoeroticism between Gawain and Sir Bertilak underscores the strength of male homosocial bonds, and the fact that sex never occurs reinforces ideals of the masculine chivalric code.[44]

The Vulgate Mort Artu has Gawain's corpse carried to Camelot by a hundred knights, while Arthur and his main force ride to seek Mordred. The hundred knights arrive at a castle named Beloë, the lord of which had envied Gawain and hated him, but his wife declares in her sorrow that she has never loved any man but Gawain and will never love another as long as she lives. The Lord of Beloë draws his sword and kills her in anger, and the knights seize and kill him in turn. The following day Arthur's knights continue on their journey until they come to Camelot, where Gawain's body is placed in the tomb of his dear brother Gaheriet (Gaheris).

Modern portrayals

Gawain features frequently in modern literature and media. Modern English depictions of him are heavily influenced by Malory, though characterisations are inconsistent. Alfred Tennyson adapts episodes from Malory to present Gawain as a worldly and faithless knight in his Idylls of the King.[46][47][48] Similarly, T. H. White's novel The Once and Future King follows Malory, but presents Gawain as more churlish than Malory's torn and tragic portrayal.[49] In contrast, Thomas Berger's Arthur Rex portrays Gawaine as open-minded and introspective about his flaws, qualities that make him the Round Table's greatest knight.[50] Though he usually plays a supporting role, some works feature Gawain as the main character. Vera Chapman's The Green Knight and Anne Crompton's Gawain and Lady Green offer modern retellings of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.[51] Gwalchmai is the protagonist in Gillian Bradshaw's Celtic-tinged Hawk of May and its sequels.[52] An aged Gawain is one of the central characters in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Buried Giant.[53]

Film portrayals of Gawain, and the Arthurian legend in general, are heavily indebted to Malory; White's The Once and Future King also exerts a heavy influence. Gawain appears as a supporting character in films such as Knights of the Round Table (1953, played by Robert Urquhart) and Excalibur (1981, played by Liam Neeson), all of which draw on elements of his traditional characterisations.[54] Other films give Gawain a larger role. In the 1954 adaptation of Prince Valiant, he is a somewhat boorish, though noble and good-natured, foil for his squire and friend, Valiant.[55] He plays his traditional part in the 1963 film Sword of Lancelot (played by George Baker), seeking revenge when Lancelot kills his unarmed brother Gareth, but ultimately coming to Lancelot's aid when he uncovers Mordred's responsibility.[56] Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has been adapted several times, including 1973's Gawain and the Green Knight (played by Murray Head) and 1984's Sword of the Valiant (played by Miles O'Keeffe), both directed by Stephen Weeks. Neither film was well reviewed and both deviate substantially from the source material.[57] A 1991 television adaptation by Thames Television, Gawain and the Green Knight, was both more faithful and better received.[58] Other film portrayals included Robert Gwyn Davin's in First Knight (1995), Anthony Hickox in Prince Valiant (1997), Sebastian Roché in Merlin (1998), Noah Huntley in The Mists of Avalon (2001), and Joel Edgerton in King Arthur (2004). In the 2008 television series Merlin, Gawain appears as Sir Gwaine, played by Eoin Macken. Though of noble origin, he passes himself as a peasant due to his mother's mistreatment by the king his father served. He's finally knighted by Arthur due to his personal value. In the 2011 series Camelot, he is played by Clive Standen. In the 2017 television series Knightfall, Sir Gawain, played by Pádraic Delaney, is portrayed as one of the leading figures of the Knights Templar in France.

The character has appeared in a number of stage productions and operas, mostly interpretations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Particularly notable among them is the 1991 opera Gawain with music by Harrison Birtwistle and a libretto by David Harsent.[59] Gawain also appears in video games, including as the protagonist of Chronicles of the Sword. He is voiced by Takahiro Mizushima in Fate/EXTRA and its sequel Fate/EXTRA CCC, as well as in Fate/Grand Order. In Sonic and the Black Knight (2009), Sir Gawain is one of the main characters, based on Knuckles the Echidna.

See also



  1. Bromwich, p. 369.
  2. Bromwich, p. 367.
  3. Pughe, p. 195
  4. Rhys, p. 169.
  5. Bromwich, pp. 369–70.
  6. Bromwich, p. 370.
  7. Koch, "The Celtic Lands," p. 267.
  8. Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail (Princeton University Press, 1963), p. 272
  9. Roger Sherman Loomis, Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance (Academy Chicago Publishers, 1997), pp. 63–66.
  10. Toorians, Lauran, "Nogmaals 'Walewein van Melle' en de Vlaams-Keltische contacten," Queeste, 2 (1995), 97–112.
  11. Bromwich, p. 368.
  12. Hall, pp. 2–3.
  13. Barber, Chris; Pykitt, David (1997). Journey to Avalon: The Final Discovery of King Arthur. Weiser Books. ISBN 978-1609251468.
  14. "Peredur". Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  15. The Giants of Wales and Their Dwellings by Sion Dafydd Rhys (Peniarth MS 118 f.829–837, ca. 1600].
  16. Bromwich, p. 9.
  17. S Davies, Mabinogion (Oxford 2007) p. 245
  18. Bromwich, pp. 205, 234.
  19. Bromwich, pp. 111–12, 127–28.
  20. S Davies trans., Mabinogion (Oxford 2007) p. 245.
  21. Busby, pp. 178–79.
  22. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae Books 9–11.
  23. Day, Mildred Leake (1994), "The Rise of Gawain, Nephew of Arthur", in Wilhelm, James J. (ed.), The Romance of Arthur, New York: Garland, pp. 365–66
  24. Lacy, p. 161.
  25. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." From the Norton Anthology of English Literature, edited by Julie Reidhead lines 2331–2365
  26. Performance artist Captain Cox is described as "hardy as Gawin," and knows the Arthurian romances including "Syr Gawain"
  27. C. Norris, Ralph (2008). Malory's Library: The Sources of the Morte Darthur. D.S. Brewer. p. 200. ISBN 978-1843841548.
  28. Whiting, p. 218.
  29. Hall, p. 3.
  30. Whiting, p. 194.
  31. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Translated by Simon Armitage. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Julie Reidhead. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. Lines 642–647.
  32. Gastle, Brian; Kelemen, Erick (2018). Later Middle English Literature, Materiality, and Culture: Essays in Honor of James M. Dean. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1611496772.
  33. Kim, Hyonjin (2000). The Knight Without the Sword: A Social Landscape of Malorian Chivalry. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 978-0859916035.
  34. Weston, p. 45
  35. Lupack, p. 314
  36. Weston, p. 52
  37. Harper, p. 2.
  38. Weston, p. 46
  39. Bruce, Christopher W. (21 August 2013). The Arthurian Name Dictionary. Routledge. ISBN 978-1136755385.
  40. Malory, Sir Thomas (1868). Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory's Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table. Macmillan and Company.
  41. JRR Tolkien translation, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (London 1995) p. 44
  42. The story of King Arthur and his knights Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  43. Boyd, David L. "Sodomy, Misogyny, and Displacement: Occluding Queer Desire in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". "Arthuriana". (Summer 1998) 8.2 pp. 77–113
  44. Fisher, Sheila; Janet E. Halley (1989). Seeking the Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Writings: Essays in Feminist Contextual Criticism. Knoxville: U of Tennessee Press. p. 277. ISBN 978-0-870-495915.
  45. "Maid Avoraine | Robbins Library Digital Projects". Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  46. Taylor & Brewer, pp. 107–08.
  47. George P. Landow (30 November 2004). "Faithless Gawain". Retrieved 19 November 2012.
  48. Whiting, pp. 193–94
  49. Blanch & Wasserman, pp. 186–87.
  50. Dentzien, pp. 219–21.
  51. Mediavilla, pp. 65–67.
  52. Mediavilla, pp. 64–65.
  53. Kakutani, Michiko (23 February 2015). "Review: In 'The Buried Giant,' Ishiguro Revisits Memory and Denial". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  54. Blanch & Wasserman, p. 185.
  55. Blanch & Wasserman, pp. 187–88.
  56. Williams, p. 386.
  57. Blanch & Wasserman, pp. 190–91
  58. Blanch & Wasserman, pp. 191–93.
  59. Windeatt, pp. 373–83.


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