In early Medieval literature, Gawain plays a significant role in King Arthur's Court. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, he exemplifies such chivalrous characteristics as loyalty, honor and courtesy, which cause his fall from perfection. Gawain struggles to remain loyal to Bercilak, while avoiding an adulteress affair with Bercilak's wife. As the Arthurian Legend evolves, Gawain's character ignores women by focusing his attention on battle. In works such as The Alliterative Morte Arthure, Gawain exemplifies the unconditional loyalty and bravery of a superior knight. When prompted to defend women in Malory's Morte Darthur, Gawain resists. The Wedding of Dame Ragnell presents Gawain as a loyal character who marries Ragnell to preserve King Arthur's life and honor. Gawain remains concerned with defending his lord and his lineage.
In the early works such characteristics are valued; however, as the code of chivalry changes to include romantic elements, Gawain's warrior image is overshadowed by such "courtly" knights as Lancelot and Galahad, who epitomize these romantic notions of chivalry. Even though Lancelot overshadows Gawain in some later works, many stories include Gawain as he appears in Malory's work, while other authors transform Gawain into a strikingly different character.
As the audience of the Arthurian Legends changes from a society
enthralled with war, to a society obsessed with superimposing values on
themselves, Gawain's character becomes less popular. Even though Gawain
maintains many of the original ideals of honor and loyalty, he is less
noticed in later works. To explore Gawain's transformations, examine his
character through an analysis of Arthurian literature in the early
legends, in transition and in modern legends. Just select the period to
begin your quest.
|Sir Gawain in the Early Legends|
|Sir Gawain in Transition|
|Sir Gawain in the Modern Legends|
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