Sir Gawain in Transition

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Sir Gawain in Transition

Sir Gawain has played a significant role in Arthurian legends since the Middle Ages. His first major appearance in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight depicts Gawain as a warrior rather than a womanizing knight like others from King Arthur's court. Even in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain focuses on his battle with the green knight rather than the advances of Bercilak's wife. During Gawain's visit to Bercilak's castle, his wife makes three specific advances to entice Gawain into an adulteress relationship. Although Gawain faces certain death with the Green Knight, he declines any sexual involvement with Bercilak's wife. Gawain's character remains faithful to his warrior image by rushing into battle with the green knight rather than prolonging his stay at Bercilak's castle.

Although he exhibits this obsession with battle in many stories, Gawain's role changes drastically between his appearance in The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell and his later appearance in Howard Pyle's "The Story of King Arthur and His Knights." Although these stories employ similar plots, Gawain's character undergoes's a dramatic transformation.

In The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell Gawain reveals his loyalty to King Arthur by agreeing the marry the "Loathly" lady after she saves the king's life. This not the first appearance of the "loathly" lady in Medieval literature. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the "Knight's Tale" reiterates the "familiar folklore motif [that] concerns the transformation of the ugly hag into a beautiful woman after a man has placed himself under her 'sovereynte'" and incorporates "the theme of A Riddle Asked and Answered" (Wilhelm 467).

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...en he learns to love the women he marries, Gawain argues with his new wife and then mutters "so be it" when confronted with her choice. Gawain refuses to learn from his mistakes in Pyle's story. In both Pyle's story and The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell, Gawain does not battle as he does with the green knight; instead, he marries and enters the marital war zone rather than those fought on the battlefield.


Lupack, Alan, ed. Modern Arthurian Literature. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992.

Vasta, Edward. "Chaucer, Gower, and the Unknown Minstrel: The Literary Liberation of the Loathly Lady." Exemplaria. 395-419.

Wilhelm, James J., ed. The Romance of Arthur. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1994.

Web Text version of The Marriage of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell is at
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