The Enigmatic Character of Sir Gawain: Chivalry and the Heroic Knight in Arthurian Tradition
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This paper examines the role of Sir Gawain as a heroic knight in six texts from the medieval English Arthurian tradition: Sir Thomas Malory's Morte D 'Arthur, The Alliterative Morte Arthure, the Stanzaic Morte Arthur, King Arthur and King Cornwall, Awntyrs off Arthur, and The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. The character Sir Gawain varies significantly between traditions and medieval texts. The conflicting heroic and chivalric codes play a large role in his portrayal, particularly when considered in conjunction with King Arthur and Sir Lancelot. As Arthur's nephew, Gawain was a fundamental part of medieval texts, but this family relation did not always result in a positive portrayal. Lancelot appears in fewer of the English texts, but where he does appear, he does so as the paragon of chivalry and creates a dichotomy between his values and Gawain's. Gawain's frequent chivalric failings, particularly in Malory, and the modem preference of romantic love over homosocial bonds have resulted in Gawain's diminished and often antagonistic roles in modem Arthurian interpretations.