Golagros and Gawane

Golagros and Gawane
(The Knightly Tale of Golagros and Gawain)
(ca. 1450–1500)
   Golagros and Gawane is a late 15th-century ROMANCE written in Middle Scots (closely related to the Northern dialect of MIDDLE ENGLISH). The 1,362-line poem, composed in the same complex, 13-line stanza (utilizing rhyme as well as alliteration) as the better-known AWNTYRS OFF ARTHURE AT THE TERNEWATHELYN, is adapted from two episodes from what is called the “First Continuation” of CHRÉTIEN DE TROYES’s chivalric romance PERCEVAL. No manuscript version of Golagros and Gawane has survived, but the first Scottish printers,Walter Chepman and Andrew Myllar, published the poem in 1508 with the title The Knightly Tale of Golagros and Gawain. A single copy of this early printed edition is extant, and is now in the National Library of Scotland.
   Like The Awntyrs off Arthure, Golagros and Gawain falls into two loosely related parts. In the first, the boorish Sir Kay is, as in so many romances, contrasted with the courteous Sir GAWAIN. King ARTHUR and his knights, on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, run out of supplies one night after a long march through Tuscany. Noting a city in the distance, Arthur sends Kay to obtain provisions. But the vulgar Kay instead tries to seize a brace of roasted birds from a dwarf. He is beaten soundly for his behavior by the knight who is lord of the castle, and sent back to Arthur with nothing. Gawain decides to attempt the mission himself, and, through his courteous behavior that acknowledges the foreign knight’s rights, succeeds where Kay had failed.
   The second, longer part of the poem begins after Sir Spynagros, lord of the Tuscan castle, has feasted Arthur and his men for four days. He then serves as guide for the knights as they start on their way. As they come to the Rhône, they see a castle that Spynagros explains belongs to a knight, Golagros, who pays homage to no lord.Arthur, appalled by the anarchic implications of such an arrangement, declares that he will deal with Golagros when he returns from Palestine.
   When Arthur returns, he besieges the castle, and after four days of indecisive combat, Sir Golagros comes out of the castle to challenge Arthur’s champion, Sir Gawain, to single combat. Gawain defeats Golagros, and spares his life. But to save face, Golagros asks Gawain to come with him into his castle and act as if Golagros has vanquished him. In an unprecedented act of courtesy, Gawain agrees. In the castle, Golagros ultimately explains the truth to his people, who wish to keep him as their lord but to do homage and fealty to the perfectly courteous Gawain and his lord Arthur. The poem concludes with Golagros pledging his allegiance to the king as his liege lord. After a celebration of nine days, Arthur and his knights leave Golagros—and Arthur courteously releases Golagros from his fealty.
   The poem’s second episode (four times the length of the first) repeats and enlarges the theme of the first. In both episodes, following the code of knightly behavior with perfect courtesy ultimately produces only honor to all involved. The discourteous knight, Kay, is shamed, but Gawain’s generosity produces generous behavior in Sir Spynagros, the Tuscan knight, just as it later inspires Golagros to high courtesy, and finally leads to Arthur’s own courteous gesture in the end. Admired for its complex verse form, its vivid and elaborate descriptions of the battle scene between Golagros and Gawain, and its interesting structural strategy, Golagros and Gawane is a poem that deserves to be better known than it is. It compares well with most Middle English verse romances, and is clearly the product of a skilled artist, composing at the very end of the medieval Arthurian tradition.
   ■ Barron,W. R. J. “Golagros and Gawain: A Creative Redaction,” Bibliographical Bulletin of the International Arthurian Society 26 (1974): 173–185.
   ■ Mathewson, Jeanne T.“Displacement of the Feminine in Golagros and Gawane and The Awntyrs off Arthure,”Arthurian Interpretations 1, no. 2 (1987): 23–28.
   ■ Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Edited by Thomas Hahn. Kalamazoo,Mich.:Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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