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Gawain

Gawain

Character Name Variants: Gawaine, Gauvain, Gwalchmai, Walewein, Gawayne, WalganBackground Essay Author: Ryan Harper
Gawain, usually the son of King Lot of Orkney and Arthur's sister Morgause, is one of the most pervasive figures of the Arthurian tradition. He appears in nearly all of the major Arthurian stories, medieval and modern, and plays a central role in many. There are, in fact, more medieval romances devoted to Gawain's exploits than to those of any other of Arthur's knights, including Lancelot, Tristan, and Galahad. Even in romances not specifically devoted to his adventures, Gawain often plays a strong supporting role. In Chrétien's Perceval, for example, more than half of the narrative focuses on Gawain rather than the title character, and in Malory, Gawain figures prominently throughout, and plays key supporting roles in both the Grail quest and in the Morte Arthur. His demeanor and personality vary a bit from story to story, but even if Gawain does not always rank as the best of Arthur's knights, he is still one of the most important.

Gawain's importance in the Arthurian world stems in part from his familial relationship to Arthur, which is established in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. Though Gawain may in fact appear in earlier Arthurian tales—he is sometimes associated with Gwalchmai, a figure who appears in Culwch and Olwen and some of the Welsh Triads—it is in the History that Gawain is first presented as the son of Loth of Lothian and Arthur's sister Anna. Though the names of Gawain's parents may change in later works, this nephew-uncle connection generally remains. As the eldest...

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