Marriage of Sir Gawain

General Information

(N)IMEV: 1819
Form: Quatrains
Date of Composition: c. 1400
Place of Composition: Uncertain
Keywords: Bedchamber, Disguise, Familial Discord, Forest, Friendship, Hunting, Marriage, Monster, Quest, Secular Spaces, Sexual Encounters, Supernatural

Plot Summary

Plot summary image

King Arthur spends Christmas at Carlisle with Guinevere and his barons. [While hunting near the Tarn Wathelane, he is accosted by a ferocious baron] who agrees to release him if he returns in a year’s time with an answer to the question ‘what do women most desire?’ Arthur returns to Carlisle and confides in Gawain, describing the strength and ferocity of the unknown knight. [Arthur and Gawain search for an answer to the question, collecting a sheaf of answers without success]. On the appointed day, Arthur sets out for the Tarn. On his way he meets a hideous crone, dressed in scarlet. She rebukes him for his discourteous greeting, but offers to help him. He eagerly agrees, offering her Gawain in marriage. [She gives him an answer] and he continues on his way. The baron rejects Arthur’s sheaf of answers, claiming the king as his captive, until Arthur gives him the crone’s reply: ‘a woman desires to have her will’. Vowing to be revenged against the crone, his sister, he admits that Arthur is right and releases him.

[Arthur returns to court and gathers his knights] They all ride into the forest until they come to the crone. Kay scorns her ugliness, but Gawain cryptically remarks that one of them must marry her. Kay and the other knights refuse, [but Gawain agrees and they all return to court. After the wedding, Gawain and his bride retire to his chamber. She transforms into a beautiful young maiden] and offers him a choice: she can be beautiful during the day or during the night. When he chooses night, she reprimands him, reminding him of their public humiliation. He replies that he was simply testing her, and grants her ‘her will’. Delighted, she promises to be beautiful all the time, informing him that she and her brother were bewitched by their wicked stepmother. [They consummate the marriage, and when Kay comes to check on them in the morning, Gawain relates his wife’s story]. Kay kisses the maiden, praising her beauty, and they all go to Arthur. The whole court welcomes them and they celebrate.

From: Thomas Hahn, ed. Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000.
Manuscript: London, British Library, MS Additional 27879 (Percy Folio)


Click a title below to search for all romances in that manuscript.

London, British Library, MS Additional 27879 (Percy Folio) (folio: pp. 46-52)c. 1650, Lancashire. Unique copy. Incomplete, with 217 lines, about half of the original, remaining.

Modern Editions

Alan Lupak, ed., Modern Arthurian Literature: An Anthology of English and American Arthuriana from the Renaissance to the Present (New York and London: Garland, 1992)Pp. 108-18. Reprints the reconstructed version from Bishop Percy's Reliques, 1765.
Francis James Child, ed., The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 5 vols (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1884-1898; rpt, New York: Dover Publications, 1965)Vol. I. Pp. 288-296. Edited from Percy Folio.
Frederic Madden, ed., Syr Gawayne: A Collection of Ancient Romance-Poems by Scottish and English Authors Relating to That Celebrated Knight of the Round Table (London: Bannatyne Club, 1839)Pp. 288-297. Edited from Percy Folio.
John W. Hales and Frederick J. Furnivall, eds., Bishop Percy's Folio Manuscript: Ballads and Romances, 3 vols. (London: N. Trübner, 1867–68)Vol 1., pp. 103-118. Edited from Percy Folio.
Stephen H. A. Shepherd, ed., Middle English Romances (New York: Norton, 1995)Pp. 380-7. Edited from Percy Folio.
Thomas Hahn, ed., Eleven Gawain Romances and Tales (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995)Pp. 362-371. Edited from Percy Folio.