The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King

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Gawaine Character Analysis

Gawaine is one of the Orkney brothers and Morgause's son. He also becomes one of Arthur's knights and goes off on many quests. He is depicted throughout as a barbaric figure that cannot control his temper and violence. Towards the end of Book IV, he is driven mildly mad when Lancelot kills his brothers Gareth and Gaheris and pursues Lancelot. However, at the end of the novel, Gawaine forgives Lancelot and writes a beautiful, moving letter revealing a sensitive, moral side.

Gawaine Quotes in The Once and Future King

The The Once and Future King quotes below are all either spoken by Gawaine or refer to Gawaine. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Ace Books edition of The Once and Future King published in 1987.
Book 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

Gareth was a generous boy. He hated the idea of strength against weakness. It made his heart swell, as if he were going to suffocate. Gawaine, on the other hand, was angry because it had been against his family. He did not think it was wrong for strength to have its way, but only that it was intensely wrong for anything to succeed against his own clan.

Related Characters: Gawaine, Gareth
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Cornwall children -- Gareth, Gawaine, Gaheris, and Agravaine -- discuss how Uther Pendragon forced their grandmother, Igraine the Countess of Cornwall, to marry him, each child has a slightly different reaction. These momentary reactions reveal the personalities of these individuals, who will become knights of Arthur's court. They will (and already do) provide a unique perspective on the narrative's themes of brute strength, chivalry, and moral conduct -- themes which remain potent throughout as serious issues, despite the narrator's penchant for humor and irony.

In addition to introducing these characters, though, this scene also more fundamentally forces the narrative to pivot away from the childhood story of Arthur developing his leadership capacities. We now see the Cornwalls' antagonism towards Arthur's descendants, which forebodes their potential antagonism towards Arthur. We begin to see the reasons Arthur had to develop such strong leadership capabilities in the first book; his kingdom is already threatened by hatred and discontent. 

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Gawaine Character Timeline in The Once and Future King

The timeline below shows where the character Gawaine appears in The Once and Future King. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 2, Chapter 1
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Fate (Time) Theme Icon
...fire; they adore her dumbly, but are also afraid of her. The eldest, the red-haired Gawaine, is telling the story. They range from ten years to fourteen yeas old, Gareth is... (full context)
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Gawaine is telling the story of their grandmother, Igraine the Countess of Cornwall, with whom King... (full context)
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Meanwhile, upstairs, Gawaine finishes the story—stating this is the reason why Cornwall must forever more be against the... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 7
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...need a virgin for bait, and so they decide to take the kitchen maid Meg. Gawaine marches Meg firmly by the hair and secures her to a tree, although she is... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 9
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...through the castle to tell his brothers. He finds them arguing about their mother. Suddenly, Gawaine has his hands around Agravaine's throat and beats his head against the floor. (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 3
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...this story have a sort of genius or tutor in the family: Arthur had Merlyn, Gawaine and his brothers had Sir Toirdealbhach, while Lancelot has Gwenbors or Uncle Daps. Uncle Daps... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 7
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Quest and The Holy Grail Theme Icon
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...up on his horse. Lancelot stops the knight and, realizing the bloodied knight is Sir Gawaine, challenges the knight to a joust for the prisoner. The two joust and Lancelot quickly... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 26
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...drains from his face. He tells Arthur and Lancelot that his brothers, Agravaine, Mordred and Gawaine have killed his mother because they found her in bed with Pellinore's son Sir Lamorak... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 27
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Gawaine and Mordred arrive at Camelot—although they do not know where Agravaine is. Gawaine is deeply... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 28
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...begin to trickle back in twos and threes, limping, worn, confused and fantastical. One day, Gawaine returns. The King and Queen settle in the Great Hall to hear the tales of... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 30
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...Pellinore, wearing a black sash for his late mother. Aglovale wants to kill Mordred and Gawaine in vengeance for his brother. Arthur reasons with him; Arthur says that he himself could... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 36
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...to host a dinner for twenty-four knights and buys the best apples because she knows Gawaine is most fond of apples (the Orkney faction has become more powerful and Guenever knows... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 2
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Through the cloister doors come Sir Gawaine, Sir Gaheris and Sir Gareth. The three brothers are aged, but still the same in... (full context)
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Suddenly, the argument escalates and Agravaine pulls a sword on Gareth. Gawaine's old rage explodes and he pulls his own sword on Agravaine. Meanwhile, Mordred with a... (full context)
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It is at this moment, with Agravaine held at the floor with Gawaine's sword, Gaheris holding back Gawaine's arm and Gareth holding back Mordred's dagger, that the King... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 5
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...Arthur in the justice room—a peculiar square-shaped room lined with tapestries. The brothers are arguing—Gareth, Gawaine and Gaheris want to be no part of the treason Agravaine and Mordred are plotting.... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 8
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It is a week later and the Gawaine clan waits in the justice room. Outside in the courtyard, a pyre is being readied... (full context)
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Mordred leaves, and Gawaine and Arthur turn to watch the Queen's execution from the window. Arthur hopes that Lancelot... (full context)
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Arthur and Gawaine embrace and then call the page for some wine to celebrate. Mordred, unarmed and ghostly,... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 9
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...have done it. Lancelot now has to fight the King, his best friend—all because of Gawaine's grief and Mordred's wicked refusal to allow Lancelot to atone for his mistake. The pair... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 10
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Months later, Gawaine and Mordred sit in the justice room. They are both dressed in black—the uniform of... (full context)
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...she is no longer young or lovely. The ceremony to forgive the two proceeds, but Gawaine and Mordred refuse to accept their apologies. Finally, the King grants Guenever forgiveness and Lancelot... (full context)
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...unclothed, unshod and carrying a cross. He will walk steadily, without haste, all the while Gawaine and his men skulk at his heels, waiting for revenge. (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 11
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...to Lancelot. She talks with her lady Agnes about the King's sense of justice and Gawaine's grief that drives him to pursue Lancelot. Agnes talks about Mordred, about how he scares... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 12
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It is dark in Gawaine's tent. He is lying facedown and crying in pain while Arthur strokes his head. He... (full context)
Book 4, Chapter 13
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...has come ashore from England but was delayed by a storm. It was written by Gawaine—the first letter he had written in year. The letters explains Mordred's treason, about Guenever barricaded... (full context)