Gawaine in Malory
Gawaine is the eldest son of King Lot of the Orkneys and
Morgawse, half-sister to Arthur. As we shall see in his life, his greatness will be tempered by an inability
to show mercy and that his family and clan loyalties shall always weigh heavily in his actions. In his youth,
a few years prior to his knighthood, he visits Arthur's court with Morgawse following the Battle of
The visit must make a strong impression which combined with family
loyalty, insures that he will return to become a knight of Arthur, even though his father was
Arthur's enemy and died in battle opposing Arthur. The ambiguities of his character and his
fierce clan loyalties will allow him to transfer his anger at the death of his father away from Arthur,
his kinsman, to Pellinore, who was directly responsible for the death in battle.
returns to Arthur's court at the time of Arthur's wedding and is made knight following the
ceremony. Merlin chooses him to be one of the knights to follow the quest of the white hart. Gawaine and
his younger brother Gaheris already plan the death of Pellinore but restrain themselves to await a time
when they can be assured of their vengeance without fear of displeasing Arthur.
The Quest of the White Hart
Gawaine shall prove himself both a knight
of prowess and a hothead in his quest. After separating and admonishing two brothers who fought over
the right to follow the white hart, Gawaine must fight a knight at a river ford who blocks his pursuit of
the hart. In the joust, Gawaine smote him off his horse but the knight would not yield, requesting instead
that Gawaine alight and fight on foot. The knight gives his name as Allardin of the Isles and Gawaine
takes the challenge, killing the knight in the struggle, a victory that is proclaimed by Gaheris as a
mighty show of arms. Gawaine and Gaheris continue the chase. Gawaine's greyhounds chase
the hart into a castle, bringing the hart down in the main hall with Gawaine and Gaheris quick on
their heels. A knight, Ablamar of the Marsh, comes out of one of the chambers and attacks the dogs,
killing two of them and chasing away the others, even as Gawaine watches. Gawaine complains of
the death of his hounds for they did only what they were trained to do, and the knight should have
taken his anger out on the owner. The knight agrees and they fight fiercely, giving blow for blow,
until Gawaine smites him hard and he falls to the earth, crying mercy. But Gawaine's overbearing
anger will lead to the death of an innocent, for the knight's lady runs from the chamber and throws
herself over her lord even as Gawaine strikes, killing her rather than the knight. Gawaine is ashamed
and Gaheris admonishes him, for a knight without mercy is a knight without worship. Gawaine
pardons the distraught knight and forces him to go to Arthur to relay the adventure, taking one
greyhound before him and one behind.
As Gawaine prepares to stay the night
in the castle, four knights come and attack him because of his dishonor. Gawaine and Gaheris are
hard pressed even to the point of death when Gawaine takes an arrow in the arm. They would have
died if four fair ladies had not cried for mercy for him.
They are taken prisoner and locked up and Gawaine is afraid that he will end up maimed. In the
morn, one of the ladies questions Gawaine and upon learning who he is, gets the knights to release
him because of love of Arthur.
They give Gawaine the head of the hart but also
force him to convey the murdered lady, her body draped across his horse and her head hung from
his neck. When he arrives at Camelot, Arthur is displeased and Guenever places a geas on him that
he must never refuse mercy and must always show honor and courtesy to all ladies, to fight their
quarrels unless he fought for one and his opponent fought for another. He is sworn on the Four
Evangelist and his quest is ended.
Quest of the Triple Goddess
Uwaine, who must be just at the age of manhood, leaves Arthur's court
because of the treachery of his mother, Morgan le Fay. But Gawaine whom we
already know has the great Celtic love of family determines to depart with his cousin. After spending the
night in an abbey or priory, Gawaine and Uwaine enter a deep forest and ride until they come
upon a valley with a turret. Two mounted knights are protecting twelve damosels as they throw
mire and spit at a shield hanging on a tree. When Gawaine asks the cause, he is told that it is
because the owner hateth all women. Uwaine knows the knight whose name is Marhaus and
claims him to be a good knight and a powerful warrior. Gawaine and Uwaine retire a distance
from the tree just as Marhaus returns and defeats the two knights that protected the damosels,
sending them screaming into the turret like mad women. Marhaus takes the soiled shield
because it was given to him by his lady love (who is unnamed) and approaches Gawaine and
Uwaine to challenge them if need be. Uwaine is against taking up the challenge but accepts at
Gawaine's insistence. Marhaus strikes Uwaine from his horse and wounds him in the left side.
Gawaine follows up and is likewise unseated. Leaping lightly up, Gawaine pulls his
sword and prepares to continue the battle. He has to remind Marhaus that it would be unchivalrous
for Marhaus to continue the battle mounted. They fought through the morning and afternoon.
In this struggle, we see the classic identification of Gawaine with the solar deity, for
from the hour of nine until noon, Gawaine grew stronger and stronger, three times his power at
the height of the sun. As it passed noon and moved toward the evening his power diminished. But
Marhaus' strength does not diminish, in fact, he seems to grow bigger, creating the required
duality, the struggle between the day and night. When he is close to defeat, Gawaine accords
himself with Marhaus and they cease their battle. Marhaus claims that the mad women of the
turret wrongfully accuse him of hating all women; but he hateth only them because they wish
to make a stark coward of a man to have the better of him. Gawaine and Uwaine stay with Marhaus for a week to allow their
wounds to heal.
Malory tells us that six knights will
have the better of Gawaine for all of his strength: beside Marhaus here, Launcelot, Tristram,
Bors, Percivale, and Pelleas.
Following the adventure, Marhaus accompanies them to
the great forest called Arroy where Marhaus declares that every knight that ventured into its
domain found strange adventures. As they rode, they came to a deep valley of stones with a
broad stream. At the head of the stream sit three ladies at a fair fountain. But these are not
just ordinary ladies, for in them we recognize the triple aspect of the goddess. The eldest is an
old wise woman with white hair crowned by a garland of gold, the second, a woman of thirty
with a circlet of gold, and the last, a maiden of fifteen with flowers in her hair. The three
await errant knights to teach them on strange adventures. Note that Malory uses the word
teach not take. Each of our knights must choose one of the three and a direction and the damosel
will lead them on a quest and in twelve months the three will meet again at the fountain.
Uwaine chooses the eldest; for being the youngest and least experienced, he felt
that she would be the one to best help him. Marhaus chooses the damosel of thirty winters,
leaving the young maiden to Gawaine which pleases him greatly. Once chosen, the ladies lead
them to a crossroad that leads in three directions. Gawaine will travel north, Uwaine west, and
Marhaus south, directions that could mirror their own - Gawaine being from the northern
Lothians, Uwaine from Rheged, and Marhaus to be associated with Cornwall and the Tristram
legends. Without delving into the other sources, we can not from Malory determine the moral,
chivalric purpose of the quest. In some aspects, the tales should relate to love and a knight's
duty to protect those that have suffered for love or family's sake. But Malory seems to
have altered the tales' focus or combined the tales from other source material using the
triple goddess to present the stories as a combined quest.
Malory continues to
use Gawaine as an anti-hero. Under a geas to provide succour to all women, Gawaine will fail in
a chivalric bond to the knight Pelleas involving the Lady Ettard. Gawaine sets out on the quest
and arrives at a fair manor. Seeking adventure, the householder takes him to a meadow or open
land where a cross stood. The fairest and seemliest man that ever he saw came riding by in
great dole. Gawaine watches as ten knights confront this warrior and battle with him. The
dolorous knight encounters and defeats them all; but once defeated, the knight allows the
defeated men to take and bind him under his horse's belly in a shameful manner and
then lead him away. Gawaine is surprised at the knight's behavior but does not interfere
even though his quest damosel complains that to refrain from assisting proves he lacks worship.
The plot is straight forward at this point for the dolorous warrior is Pelleas and Gawaine shall
shortly meet and pledge his assistance.
But a new adventure even stranger
occurs. While discussing the strange behavior of Pelleas, an unhelmeted knight and an ugly
dwarf arrive and challenge each other for a lady. Before the fight proceeds too far, they decide
to allow Gawaine to settle their dispute. Properly, Gawaine places the lady between them and
allows her to decide betwixt them. She chooses the ugly dwarf and rides away with him leaving
the other knight to mourn. Love is blind!
Before we can analyze this act,
two knights appear and challenge Gawaine. He accepts the challenge and quickly becomes
embroiled in battle with the first knight, Sir Carados. The second knight takes the opportunity
to solicit the quest damosel who gladly abandons Gawaine because of his earlier failure to assist
Pelleas. Gawaine and Carados finally end their fight and Gawaine accepts Carados invitation
to lodge with him. During the stay, Carados tells Gawaine about Pelleas' plight. Pelleas
loves the Lady Ettard. During a great joust, Pelleas is proclaimed the champion. As victor, he
received a sword and a gold circlet which he could bestow on his lady love. Pelleas selects the
Lady Ettard but Ettard scorns his advances. She returned to her lands, followed by Pelleas who
attempts to win her. Each week, she sends knights to fight him and each time he overcomes
them but then allows them to bind him. As her prisoner, he can catch sight of her. But she will
not keep him and thus the events repeat. Gawaine determines to help Pelleas and sets out the
following morning to seek him out.
Because Gawaine is of Arthur's court
and kin, Pelleas agrees to accept his support. While wearing Pelleas' armor and pretending
to have slain him in combat, Gawaine arrives at Ettard's castle where he is greeted warmly.
One might say very warmly, for instead of championing Pelleas' suit, Gawaine takes the
lady as his own. Ettard fulfills Gawaine's wishes and spends two days and nights in his
arms in a pavilion before the castle.
Growing uneasy, Pelleas arms himself
and arrives to find Gawaine and the lady asleep in each other arms in the pavilion.
In sorrow, he leaves but anger overcomes him and he returns. But he can not kill Gawaine in his
sleep and departs again. He returns again but still can not bring himself to slay them, so he
lays his naked sword across them and departs, returning to his own pavilions beside the priory.
He makes his peace, stating his wishes to his knights and enters the pavilion determined to die.
Ettard awakes and finds the sword. She accuses Gawaine of his betrayal to Pelleas
and to herself. Gawaine takes his gear and departs into the forest. Malory relates no further
adventures for Gawaine during the remainder of the year but he arrives at the designated
rendezvous without his quest damosel at the appointed time. His quest damosel can say little
of worship of him. This adventure strikes discord in the heroic aspects of Gawaine for he is
under the geas to support all ladies and here he allows his own desires for one to bring dishonor
The other interesting aspect of this account is the similarities
between Pelleas and Pellinore. Pelleas is almost a mirrored doppelganger to Pellinore. They both
are kings from the isles, handsome and fearsome knights. They both are associated with Nimue.
Pellinore rescues her in the White Hart and brings her to court. Pelleas is rescued by her love
in this quest and brought to court by her. Gawaine hates Pellinore because of the death of Lot.
Pelleas hates Gawaine for his betrayal with Ettard. Pelleas is a name variation of Pelli or Beli
and Pellinore, as discussed in his own article, is a derivation of Pelli or Beli Mawr, 'mawr'
being an epitaph meaning great. There is enough circumstantial evidence to
suggest that the stories are different corruptions of an original story concerning the feud
between the two men or their families. The other possibility mentioned in other articles is
that Pelleas is Pellinore's brother. When Carados relates Pelleas' plight to Gawaine,
he may have recognized him as Pellinore's kin and determines not to assist him but to
betray him and thus partly revenge himself on Pellinore. As the Malorian account continues,
we will have to monitor the interaction between Gawaine and the many men whose names
are related to Beli Mawr- Pellinore, Pelleas, and Pellam.