Passion and Fellowship: The Development of Malory's Gawain

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McFatridge, Joseph
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Middle Tennessee State University
In Arthurian legend, Sir Gawain is widely regarded as one of Arthur’s most faithful knights. For Chretien de Troyes and other writers, Gawain serves as a mentor that assists other knights and greatly strengthens Arthur’s court. Sir Thomas Malory, however, portrays Gawain differently in Le Morte d’Arthur. This thesis analyzes Malory’s Gawain and seeks to understand Malory’s portrayal of the character. To comprehend the significance of Malory’s depiction of Gawain, the first chapter examines Malory’s sources. The second chapter focuses on the Pentecostal Oath, establishing how knights should act according to Malory. After discussing the Oath, the second chapter examines Sir Balin as an example of an anti-knight and Sir Lancelot as a proper knight to understand the application of Malory’s view of chivalry. The third chapter focuses on Gawain in early Morte, examining how Malory establishes the character and what traits to expect later in the Morte. The fourth chapter analyzes Gawain in the final sections of the Morte — beginning with the Grail Quest and continuing to the end of the work. In late Morte, Gawain shows remarkable change since the beginning of Malory’s work. Though still flawed, Gawain desires purity in the Grail Quest, showing fervor for the Grail and granting mercy during his adventure. At the conclusion of the Morte, after causing strife through his feud with Lancelot, Gawain repents, attempting to reestablish fellowship. Ultimately, Malory’s Gawain is a Gawain of penance. He serves as a reminder that when knights fail, they must repent, but he also serves as a warning; if penance comes too late, fellowship will be destroyed by death.