Character Analysis

Sir Gawain is one of the more famous Knights of the Round Table in Arthurian legends. Various authors have written about Gawain including the anonymous author of "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell." The reader gets to know Gawain’s character through its development throughout the story. Gawain shows his virtue and courteous manner through his words and also through his actions. His physical appearance and dress are never mentioned so there are no clues to his personality in this regard. Gawain’s steadfast manner in the face of adversity is further testament to his worthiness as a knight.

The first glimpse we have of Gawain in the story is shortly after King Arthur returns from his hunt. Gawain is the only person to whom Arthur confides his misadventure with Sir Gromer Somer Jour. Arthur’s apparent trust of Gawain to carry his burden proves that he trusts Gawain’s counsel and that Gawain will be discreet about the king’s troubles. Gawain enforces this belief when he says, "I am not that man that wold you dishonor / Nother by evin ne by moron"(329). In contrast to Arthur who breaks his oath to Sir Gromer that "I shold nevere telle it to no wighte"(331) by hoisting his problems on another, Gawain’s character exhibits a more honorable disposition by immediately offering his assistance. The juxtaposition of these two contrasting characters, namely Arthur and Gawain, serves to display each of their attributes in a clearer, more defined light. Even though Arthur does not necessarily act in a cowardly manner, neither does he measure up to Gawain’s virtuous nature.

After Arthur’s encounter with Dame Ragnell later in the story, he returns to his home even more discouraged than when he set out. Gawain, upon meeting with the dejected king, swears that "I had lever myself be dead, so not I thee"(335) when he hears Arthur’s foreboding prophesy that he will surely die. Gawain backs up his loyalty not only with mere words but with his actions as well. When faced with the prospect of taking a hideous wife to save his lord’s life, Gawain does not hesitate but says that he will "…wed her and wed her again, / Thoughe she were a fend, / Though she were as foulle as Belsabub, / Her shall I wed, by the rood, / Or ellses were not I your frende"(335).

When confronted with the awful visage of Dame Ragnell, Gawain does not waver in his decision. Even Dame Ragnell feels sorry for Gawain and wishes "For thy sake I wold I were a faire woman, / For thou art of so good wille"(339). His good character is fully appreciated by those around Gawain. On his wedding night, Gawain does not shirk from his duties as a husband just as he does not shirk from them in the public eye. Furthermore, he exhibits his courtly manner when he allows Dame Ragnell to do as she chooses after she poses her question, "Wheder ye wolle have me faire on nightes / . . . / Or els to have me faire on days"(343). Therefore, Dame Ragnell’s autonomy and independence are given to her freely by Sir Gawain.

The question concerning the sovereignty of women is also explored in the Wife of Bath’s tale with similar results. The knight in that tale exhibits a highly flawed visage when compared to Gawain whose behavior merits him near sainthood since he can seemingly do no wrong. Therefore, Sir Gawain comes across a character with less depth than does the knight in the Wife’s tale. Gawain’s reactions to events around him are not those of a normal person. Rather, his actions seem scripted to show him in the best light possible.

The characters for 'The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell" are memorable only if they come across as "real" or "human". For this to happen, the reader has to become familiar with them through such aspects as their speech, manner, and what other characters say about them. Gawain’s character is developed in this manner throughout the story. His loyalty, chivalry, and courteousness are on display throughout the story in promises that are later backed up by actions. He comes across as the epitome of the ideal knight as seen through fourteenth century perspective.