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Towards the end of Sir Thomas Malory’s fifteenth-century tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney, Gareth makes a damning comment regarding Gawain: “he wythdrewe hymself fro his brother sir Gawaynes felyshyp, for he was evir vengeable, and where he hated he wolde be avenged with murther: and that hated sir Gareth” (1: 360). This statement has puzzled critics, for as Bonnie Wheeler notes, “the text of this tale provides no proof of Sir Gawain’s deviancy or vengeful character” (129). After all, Gawain, ignorant of his relationship to Gareth, behaves nobly toward the young newcomer, offering him food, drink, and money, just as Lancelot does. By the end of the tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney, Gareth seems to have tamed the Orkney bloodlust; however, ultimately he proves to be too indebted to his familial ties. The die have already been cast, and we know that Lancelot will unknowingly kill Gareth—largely in part because Gareth slowly begins to rejoin his brothers, including Gawain, in The Book of Sir Tristram and culminating in the fatal alliance in the Slander and Strife section of Malory’s final book, where despite the lessons learned as he first establishes his name, Gareth has moved away from the protective embrace of his wife back into the folds of the Orkney clan. After all, the blood that drives Gawain pulses through Gareth’s veins as well; thus for Gareth to deny Gawain is to deny a part of himself. Ultimately Gareth must choose family over fragmentation.

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Enarratio: Publications of the Medieval Association of the Midwest

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Born digital