“’Sir Gareth and the Green Knight’ (Or, ‘The Unfair Unknown’): Educating the Ignorant in Malory’s ‘Gareth’ and the Gawain-Cycle Romances”

Arnold Sanders, Goucher College

40th International Congress on Medieval Studies, May 2005


Malory’s “Gareth” narrative teaches its characters, and its readers, lessons in “personal intelligence.” [1]   I borrow the term from Howard Gardner’s subsets of human intelligence, which he calls “set[s] of skills of problem solving” (60).  Personal intelligence enables us to know persons and prepare our conduct toward them, the power to “notice and make distinctions among other individuals and, in particular, among their moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions” (239).  The “Gareth” contains many examples of characters trying, and often failing, to demonstrate “personal intelligence,” which Malory often calls “courtesy.”  Several characters, including the protagonist, are educated by trials of courtesy in which they fail more often than they succeed, and failure usually results in physical blows or “buffets,” some involving a feigned or real beheading.  Stupid characters sometimes become literally stupefied by these buffets, but intelligent characters are educated by them.  I do not recommend this curriculum for your college’s next accreditation review.  The kind of intelligence necessary to learn Malory’s “courtesy” is not quite ours, although “kinesthetic teaching methods” have not been entirely unknown in schools. 

Zen Buddhist teachers often were expected to deal students stout blows from a staff to free them from misapprehensions.  One killed an especially stupid student with such a blow, but in the more tolerant social climate of medieval Japan, the student’s parents thanked the teacher for doing the best he could.[2]  Another Zen master told his students that an old woman who ran a teashop in town had mastered Zen, but when the woman saw students coming, she always could tell which ones were there for tea and which wanted to test her Zen.[3]  The former she served kindly, but the latter were told to look behind a screen.  As soon as they obeyed, she whacked them with a fireplace poker.  In Gareth’s “school,” personal intelligence also is taught by “unfair” challenges like those represented by the tea-shop owner.  Through the instructive buffets of “unfair” combat, knights learn the folly of reacting to superficial appearances or reputation, rather than treating everyone courteously.

            I believe that the “Gareth” may have been composed as a comedy in which both characters and readers need to learn what kind of tale they are in before they can act wisely.  The comic effect is produced by artful combination of narrative elements from several well-known tale traditions, only two of which (the French and English “Fair Unknowns” and the French Gaheriet’s coming-of-age romance) have been studied as influences on “Gareth”’s plot.[4]  Knowledgeable characters and readers will find expectations raised by “Fair Unknown” tales disrupted by those raised by poems of the Gawain Cycle.  Both tale types end with the heroes’ Weddings to challenging brides. Unlike the “Fair Unknown” tales, however, “Gawain-Cycle” plots involve beheading games with grotesque male opponents from the Welsh border, Bed Tests with willing but forbidden ladies, and generally more episodic plots.  These tale types do not account for all the narrative’s elements, but collision between their expectations in the fight between Gareth and the Red Knight of the Red Lands appears to free the narrative from any single “analogue” or “source.”   This allows the characters, the author and readers an interpretive latitude characteristic of wisdom in real-world situations, wherein we cannot easily tell whether our parts are comic, tragic, romantic, or satiric.[5]

            Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale” offers a good example of how three previously separate but familiar tale types could be folded together to create comic disruption of expectations.  Each type, the “Second Noah’s Flood,” “Misdirected Kiss,” and “Butt Burning,” will cause informed readers to expect characters will experience specific types of misfortune by tale’s end.  In “Miller’s Tale,” however, we watch Nicholas mistake his position in a “Misdirected Kiss” tale after seeing Alisoun’s success at deceiving Absolon.  When Nicholas sticks his rump out of his “Misdirected Kiss” tale’s window and into Absolon’s “Butt Burning” tale, we get a reprieve from what might have been Alisoun’s ghastly maiming and a young clerk is reproved for not being wise enough to know what kind of tale he was in.  Nick’s cries of “Water, water!” bring John the Carpenter crashing to earth in his own “Noah’s Flood” tale, and all collapses into farce.  Readers’ pleasure is magnified if they are aware of how each tale type’s expectations are misinterpreted by the characters, and perhaps by the rest of the audience.  We always like to be ahead of our neighbors in “getting the joke.”  The elements of the “Gareth” segment are not as tightly interwoven as those of the “Miller’s Tale,” but they disrupt characters’ and readers’ expectations much as Chaucer’s narrative does.

Just as “Miller’s Tale” begins in a “Noah’s Flood” fabliau, the “Gareth” starts with many of the attributes of  “Fair Unknown” narratives like Lybeaus Desconus or Ipomedon.[6]  A nameless, handsome stranger, often Gawain’s younger brother, like Gareth, arrives at court during a feast, asking Arthur boons of knighthood and a quest.  The quest pairs the Unknown with a Chiding Damsel who has come to court seeking aid, but who rejects the inexperienced Unknown as her champion.  She berates him throughout a series of combats with knights who fall beneath his blows, until he meets and defeats a supernaturally gifted opponent to rescue and marry the Chiding Damsel’s sister. 

For readers who bring “Fair Unknown” expectations to Gareth’s story, this is where things take an awkward turn.  Gareth’s tortuous path to his wedding is delayed by a bout of love-madness, the theft of his dwarf-servant by his beloved’s brother, his adventures in his lady’s castle when he thinks she is an entirely different woman, a three-day tournament for his beloved’s hand, and  another series of combats involving courtesy and hospitality, ending in anonymous combat with his own brother, Gawain.  Only then does the tale end in marriage of the no-longer “Unknown” Gareth.

Readers expecting Malory’s narrative to conform to “Fair Unknown” romance structure may be disappointed, delighted, frustrated, or confused, especially if they read the tale with great seriousness.  Moments of gravitas occur, but they are outnumbered by others that seem to operate according to expectations resembling those described by Mark O’Donnell’s “Cartoon Laws of Physics."  If we read Gareth’s story in the context of tales involving Gawain’s encounters with outlandish male and female challengers, we may discover what has derailed this “Fair Unknown”’s predictable trajectory from anonymity to wedded conquest, an outcome that may make us wiser if we reconsider what “intelligence” might be to a knight like Malory.

In “Fair Unknown” romances, the protagonist dispenses wisdom to others by changing their minds about his identity, one battle at a time, until even the Chiding Damsel graduates.  Intelligence proceeds outward from Arthur’s court, enlightening the wild countryside, before returning successfully to court again.  In “Gawain-Cycle” romances, the most famous of which is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the locus of wisdom is decentered and the tale redefines the roles of “teacher” and “student.”  The northwestern Welsh border challenges Arthur’s court, usually by means of a huge, ugly knight, the “Unfair Unknown” of my title.  These strangers arrive at Arthur’s feast, while the king awaits his pre-dinner marvel, or they may be met during a hunt, usually on the Welsh border near Carlisle, but the test always requires Gawain and other knights to leave court in search of wisdom to remedy their ignorance.  Their uncouth challengers teach them by blows, if the Unfair Unknown is male, or by words, if the Unfair Unknown is female.  The dénouement often transforms the challengers’ exterior appearance, and improves the knights’ ability to “make distinctions among other individuals.”

Thirteen “Gawain-cycle” romances survive, and several of their elements may have influenced the “Gareth”: the deceptive appearance of an outsider at Arthur’s feast on the Welsh border; the test of “fayre speech” in the presence of abusive speakers; the use of a “beheading game” to teach proper judgment; the hero’s testing in bed by his host’s beautiful relative; and use of “hand”-related terms like “handelake” and “hende” for good conduct.[7]  Some Gawain-Cycle poems also share with the “Fair Unknown” poems combats with serial opponents and the resolution of knights’ adventures in marriage.[8]  All Gawain-Cycle tales distinguish knights with sophisticated personal intelligence from those too stupid to control their tongues.

          The testing games of Gawain-Cycle poems depend upon secrets of identity withheld from the protagonist and the audience until they are revealed at the end.  So these Unknowns are “unfair” to opponents in two senses, though readers usually only notice that they are odd-looking, accompanied by wild companions, or prone to walking and talking while beheaded.  In the "Gareth," the deception is compounded by the fact that Unknown Knight appears fair-looking, and his early opponents are oddly colored.  We still are given clues that he might be another type of hero because he is a foot and a half taller than other men, he has the enormous shoulders of a “Carle” or “Green Knight,” and he has “the largyste and the fayreste handis that ever men sen” (293).  Nonetheless, despite his “fair” appearance, opponents believe Lynette's abusive speech about him.  The combat is “unfair” until opponents learn from his buffets to speak and behave fairly, whereas a dolt like Kay tries to make surprising events conform to his ignorance, as he does when he is Gawain’s clownish foil in the two “Carle of Carlisle” poems and “The Turke and Sir Gawain.”  Even Gawain, himself, will feel the “buffets” of Gareth’s sword upon his helm.[9]  Gareth’s feigned beheading strokes, like the one Gawain flinches from in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” encourage Lynette’s fair speech on behalf of his fallen opponents, but the plot still does not reveal which episode pattern will bring it closure.

            When Gareth fights the “Rede Knyght of the Rede Laundis,” the tale’s most ambiguous relation to Gawain-Cycle plots, Gareth plays both a “Fair” and an “Unfair Unknown.”  The Gawain-Cycle’s outlandish opponent merges with the Fair Unknown’s supernatural opponent in the character of the Red Knight, and Gareth changes from being the “teacher-by-blows” to the one who must learn from his opponent’s Unfair hands.  The Rede Knyght has the enormous size and unusual color of an “Unfair” opponent.  He “is the moste parelyste knyght . . . now lyvynge and a man that is wythouten mercy and . . . hath seven mennes strength” which increases with the sun, and his knightly behavior is shameful, for he hangs defeated opponents in a tree (193).

            To readers who suspect that the “Fair Unknown” plot is not completely in charge of Gareth’s fate, the Red Knight’s shabby treatment of enemies is instructive.  In “Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle,” during the Carle’s twenty years of savagery, he kills knights and  hangs their bloody shirts on the wall above their unburied bones.[10]  Nevertheless, even a “felon knight” like the Carle is pardoned by Gawain and Arthur after he swears to abandon his destructive customs, and he becomes a valued member of Arthur’s court.  This anticipates the otherwise bizarre conclusion of Gareth’s fight: he spares the Red Knight despite his shameful customs and destruction of Arthur’s knights, an act unparalleled in Malory, and Arthur welcomes the Red Knight to court as “Syr Ironsyde,” the same name awarded the reformed challenger in “The Carle of Carlisle” (362; l. 35).  The “Fair Unknown” plot’s need for a terminal supernatural opponent who must be destroyed has collided with the Gawain-Cycle’s tendency to reconcile supernatural opponents to Arthur’s court, and this allows the narrative to jump the tracks, preparing informed readers to abandon expectations that the “Fair Unknown” plot still guides events.

            The combat dramatizes this shift in tale type by means of confusions and reversals.  First, the blows of Gareth’s combat with the Red Knight confuse them until each mistakenly picks up the other’s sword.  For once, Gareth does not teach his opponent by blows, because “the Rede Knyghte was a wyly knyght in fyghtyng, [and] that taught Bewmaynes to be wyse, but he abought hit full sore or he did asspye his fyghtynge” (323).  Instead of being a privileged “Fair Unknown,” Gareth becomes just another “slow learner.”  After he is felled by the Red Knight’s “buffette uppon the helme,” Lynette shouts “Where is thy corrayge become?” as she once shouted to Gareth’s opponents.  When the revived Gareth once again prepares to behead his opponent, this time the Red Knight and his allies, not Lynette, persuade him to be merciful.[11]  “Fair Unknown” plots would have ended here with a return to court and a wedding, but exactly half of the “Gareth” narrative still remains, guided by new assumptions (291-326=36 pages/327-363=37 pages).

            To the consternation of “Fair Unknown” readers, Gareth is sent away by Lyonesse for a “twelve-monthe,” and suffers the indignity of losing his dwarf to Sir Gryngamour, Lyonesse’s brother.  When Gareth next meets Lyonesse, she is “arrayed lyke a prynces” and the apparently near-sighted Gareth wishes “the lady of this Castell Perelous were so fayre as she is” (204).  This comic misunderstanding leads to the next Gawain-Cycle episode that disrupts expectations based on the “Fair Unknown,” a double Bed Test and a double Beheading that instruct the protagonist.[12]

            Bed Tests occur with the Beheading Games of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” “The Greene Knight,” “The Carle of Carlisle” and “Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle.”  In all four, Gawain is tempted by the advances of the Host’s Wife, or he is offered and then denied the wife, but he is rewarded for erotic self-discipline by the Carle’s gift of his daughter, whom Gawain later marries.  These tales physically test chastity by offering access to forbidden women who are controlled, secretly or openly, by the women’s male relatives.  In the “Wedding” plots of the Gawain Cycle, “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle” and the “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” the women, themselves, control access to their bodies, and the knights must be taught “What women most desire” before they can satisfy their own desires.[13] 

            In all, of course, Gareth experiences three “Bed Tests.” [14]  The first, a traditional Gawain-Cycle variety, already has occurred early in the “Fair Unknown” portion of the narrative when Sir Persaunte of Inde sent his disrobed daughter to test Gareth’s character.  Persaunte’s control of the encounter is more explicit than the Host’s covert manipulation of his Wife in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” and not quite as outlandish as the “Carle”’s astonishing offer of his wife and his daughter to Gawain.[15]  By contrast, in Persaunte’s test, Gareth modestly resists the daughter’s appeal without yielding even symbolically to the seduction.[16]

            The “Gareth” narrative’s last two Bed Tests and Beheadings seem like free adaptations based on rules governing both Gawain-Cycle motifs.  Though Lyonesse’s brother offers to do all in his power to aid her, by their own accord, Gareth and Lyonesse conspire “to abate their lustys secretly”; nevertheless, they are persuaded to await marriage after Gareth twice must behead Lynette’s chastity enforcing knight, only to see his head restored by her magic (333-36).  After the first Bed Test with Sir Persaunte, and the infiltration of the “Fair Unknown” plot by pre-empted beheadings of Gareth’s early opponents, readers might expect that lovers who pursue unmarried sexual satisfaction in the woman’s male relative’s hall will be interrupted.  Malory’s revelation of the lovers’ inexperience, and Lynette’s plan to disrupt their tryst, assures a comic reversal.  When a supernatural knight arrives instead of an outraged male relative, and when Gareth has to behead him twice before resigning himself to chaste marriage, the plot rewards readers who follow Gawain-Cycle rules.  This is not subtle comedy of manners, but more like a rugby scrum with a punch line, but it may be part of a pattern of events in which readers and Gareth are taught a lesson in personal intelligence.

            The tournament after the Bed Tests and Beheadings might suggest that “Fair Unknown” rules had retaken control of the plot.[17]  However, even after Gareth’s identity is revealed, he rides off into four more episodes, two of which resemble those in Gawain-Cycle poems.  There, Arthur’s knight wanders the Welsh wilderness seeking lodging at castles whose porters refuse entrance because of their lords’ criminal behavior, or the lords’ specific hatred of Arthur’s knights, and the castles’ inhabitants require covenants of behavior from their guests.  Only when Gawain wounds Gareth in anonymous combat does the tale suddenly resolve itself into the multiple recognitions and wedding that both “Fair Unknown” and many Gawain-Cycle poems require. 

            If this narrative’s play with conventions is truly “Malory’s Originality,” he composed it with a secure sense of authority that might well have resulted from the process of revising his early translations and later adaptations into a compilation of great power and dignity.  I am intrigued by the possibility that he may have celebrated his final vision of this project in a comedy about Gareth, a central figure in the “Morte”’s catastrophe, but using Gareth to define personal intelligence as “gentil” behavior, respect for demonstrated knightly prowess, and reverence for marriage.


Appendix: Generic Laws of Narrative

Selections from “The Cartoon Laws of Physics” [Mark O’Donnell, Esquire (June 1980), rpt. Elementary Education: An Easy Alternative to Actual Learning.  N.Y.: Knopf, 1985.  (Excerpts—also see http://remarque.org/~doug/cartoon-physics.html)]


I.  Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation.


II. Any body in motion will tend to remain in motion until solid matter intervenes suddenly (“the Stooge’s Surcease”—Isaac Newton).


III. Any body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation conforming to its perimeter (“silhouette of passage”).


VIII. Any violent rearrangement of feline matter is impermanent.  Corollary: A cat will assume the shape of its container.


X.  For every vengeance, there is an equal and opposite revengeance [sic].

[M. O’D. notes:] this is the one law of animated cartoon motion that also applies to the physical world at large.  For that reason, we need the relief of watching it happen to a duck, instead.


“Sir Gareth and the Green Knight” (Or, “The ‘Unfair’ Unknown”): Rules for Intelligent Conduct in a Gawain-poem


I.  A knight who wins battles probably is a worthy knight, no matter what people say about him.  [Fair Unknown and Gawain Poems]


II. Wandering Arthurian knights who seek shelter in Welsh castles must be tested or refused entry.  [Gawain Poems]


II.  A knight traveling incognito will trust the secret of his identity to a dwarf. [“Sir Launfal”/Malory?]  Corollary: When seeking a knight’s identity, steal his dwarf. 


III.  Any sufficiently well-dressed noblewoman ceases to be identifiable to a knight, even if he has been in love with her.  (“Costume-Induced Erotic Blindness”)  [Malory?]  Corollary: Knights who have loved a noblewoman rendered anonymous by her dress also will fall in love with her while costume-blind.  (“Plus ça change…”)


IV.  Because beheaded strangers always return, re-headed and in charge, you should strike courteously and learn from the result.  [Gawain Poems]


V.  Knights in bed attract women who wish to join them, but only if conditions are right, and conditions almost never are right because they so often involve recently beheaded strangers (see III above) or life-transforming questions. [Gawain Poems]





Batt, Catherine.  “'Hand for Hand' and 'Body for Body': Aspects of Malory's Vocabulary of Identity and Integrity with Regard to Gareth and Lancelot.”  Modern Philology: A Journal Devoted to Research in Medieval and Modern Literature.  91:3 (February 1994): 269-87


Benson, Larry D.  Malory’s Morte DarthurCambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1976.


Cherewatuk, Karen.  “Pledging Troth in Malory's 'Tale of Sir Gareth'.”  Journal of English and Germanic Philology.  101:1  (January 2002): 19-40


Hanks, D. Thomas, Jr.  “The Rhetoric of the Folk Fairy Tale in Sir Thomas Malory's “Tale of Sir Gareth’.”  Arthuriana.  13:3 (Fall 2003): 52-67.


Malory, Sir Thomas.  The Works of Sir Thomas Malory.  Ed. Eugène Vinave.  2nd  Edition.  3 Vols.  Oxford: Clarendon P, 1967.


--------.  The Works of Sir Thomas Malory.  Ed. Eugène Vinaver and P.J.C. Field.  3rd Edition.  3 Vols.  Oxford: Clarendon P, 1990.


Repps, Paul.  Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.  Boston: Tuttle, 1998.


Rheingold Fuller, Miriam.  “Method in Her Malice: A Reconsideration of Lynet in Malory's ‘Tale of Sir Gareth’.”  Fifteenth-Century Studies 25 (2000): 253-67.


Taylor, Paul Beekman.   “Myths and Etymologies behind Malory's ‘Gareth’.”  English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature.  78:6  (November 1997): 506-12.


Wilson, R.H.  “The Fair Unknown in Malory.”  PMLA 58 (1943): 2-21.


Wright, Thomas L.  “On the Genesis of Malory's Gareth.”  Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies.  57:3 (July 1982): 569-82


[1]   Howard Gardner, Frame of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (NY: Basic Books, 1983), and his more recent rethinking of “MI” theory and its critics, in Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century (NY: Basic Books, 1999).  In the latter book, Gardner renames this mentality “Interpersonal Intelligence” (43).  I find Gardner’s challenge to monolithic measures of “IQ” a useful antidote to the kind of thinking that might judge Malory “unintelligent” because he makes no classical allusions, as Chaucer and the Pearl-Poet do, and because he shows little evidence of rhetorical training in English or Latin beyond the basic ars dictaminis and basic English and French grammar, which would have been typical for sons of gentry and petit nobility families.  For perhaps the most optimistic evaluation of Malory’s likely education, see Ann Dobyns and Anne Laskaya ‘Introduction: Rhetorical Approaches to Malory’s Morte Darthur,’ Arthuriana 13.1 (September 2003) pp. 3-9.  Despite these relatively strong claims, none of the essays in that issue of Arthuriana actually demonstrate that Malory uses specific classical rhetorical structures beyond the tropes of metaphor and simile, both of which one would learn while translating sources which used them.  D. Thomas Hanks, Jr., drawing on Brewer’s earlier work, makes a more persuasive argument for Malory’s “Gareth” segment’s influence by the rhetoric of folk tales, but this influence would not require Malory’s formal instruction, and it probably reflects familiarity with the Gawain-centered ‘Fair Unknown’ romances which form the core of the narrative (‘The Rhetoric of the Folk Fairy Tale in Sir Thomas Malory’s Tale of Sir Gareth,’ Arthuriana 13.1 [September 2003] pp. 52-67).  Georgiana Donavin argues for Malory’s post-grammar-school exposure to the ars dictaminis in the form of contact with a knowledgeable scribe or a collection of letters.  She makes a good case for Malory’s skillful use of letters to produce complex rhetorical effects, but here again, Malory was exposed to numerous, extensive, directly quoted letters in the Prose Tristan which contain all the rhetorical gestures we find in the letters Malory invents for Elayne of Astolat and for Gawayne (‘Elaine’s Epistolarity: The Fair Maid of Astolat’s Letter in Malory’s Morte Darthur,’ Arthuriana 13.1 (Fall 2003) pp. 68-82.


[2]   Repps  page?

[3]   Repps 76

[4]   Wilson, Benson

[5]   Northrup Frye

[6]   Wilson, Benson

[7]   On the popularity of the Gawain-cycle, see Thomas Hahn’s introduction, and individual tale introductions, in Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales (Ann Arbor, MI: TEAMS, 1995).  This also is the source for my text of the Gawain-cycle poems.  Thanks to the generosity of the TEAMS project, these texts also can be read online at: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/hahn.htm.  “Hendelake” is used by the Green Knight’s Wife to describe Gawain in his bed test (l. 1228) and by the Carle of Carlisle uses “hende” to describe proper behavior expected of Kay and Bawdwyn (132).

[8]     Ipomedon was favored by Larry D. Benson as Malory’s “Fair Unknown” source because of its combination of serial combats and the 3-day tournament, but Lybeaus Desconous also contains the serial combats.

[9] Bonnie Wheeler discusses Gawain's declining reputation in "Romance and Parataxis in Malory: The Case of Sir Gawain's Reputation," Arthurian Literature 12 (1993): 129. She notes that we know nothing of Gawain's wife and that he is the only brother not married to a relative of Lyones at the end of The Tale of Gareth, pointing to his essentially lonely position of scorn within the text (Wheeler, "Romance and Parataxis in Malory," 130).  Interestingly, in two Gawain-cycle romances (“Marriage of…” and “Dame Ragnelle”), Gawain marries the “loathly lady” and is rewarded by her beautiful transformation.  In the “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” Chaucer interestingly suppresses the name of the “rapist knight” protagonist, perhaps having felt that poor Gawain had suffered enough at the hands of his later adaptors.

[10]  "He yelde the," sayde the Carle, "that the dere boughte, 2
For al my bale to blysse is broughte
   Throughe helpe of Mary quene."
He lade Gawen ynto a wilsome wonys,
There as lay ten fodir of dede menn bonys.
   Al yn blode, as I wene,
Ther hynge many a blody serke,
And eche of heme a dyvers marke.
   Grete doole hit was to sene.   (ll. 529-37)

[11] The Red Knight’s story doesn’t quite fit the facts we’ve been told before about him by Lynette, a loose end which may be further evidence of the relatively recent fusion of the two tale types by Malory.  Had the tale circulated for long before being written down, it seems likely a tale teller would have unified the motives to eliminate the needless conflict.

[12] This similarity was noted by none other than G.L. Kittredge in his study of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” but he concluded somewhat testily that it was not a true “Beheading Game” because it involved no pact with the strange knight, and no return blow.  R. S. Loomis also attempted to argue for a lost Celtic analogue for Gareth’s entire tale, an approach which suffers from the same limited expectations of authorial creativity that one finds in traditional hunts for “analogues” and “sources.”  If what we are witnessing is truly creative recombination of episode types to achieve unique artistic ends, those objections are not troubling.  Just as the Beheading Game has been mined for useful ways to divert the “Fair Unknown” narrative into a more open compositional strategy, so too the “Bed Tests” are used to vary Gareth’s exposure to female “Unknowns” and to teach him lessons which cannot be learned from “buffettes.” 

[13]   The Host’s Wife and Chaucer’s “loathly lady” are the most developed of these female characters who test the knight’s courtesy, and together they represent opposing representations of female desire, the openly lustful invitation to extramarital sex, and the chaste channeling of desire through marriage.  Malory’s adaptation of this episode type transforms the former into the latter.

[14]   Larry D. Benson notes that, of all the “Fair Unknown” romances, only Ipomedon has two Bed Tests (96).  In this version, however, no relative of the woman supervises the test.  In the second and third tests, interestingly, Malory has the woman’s sister police her sexuality, suggesting perhaps a widening of cultural possibilities regarding which family members play this role in the English fifteenth century.  Lyonesse’s brother, Gryngamore, is quite available to play this role, but instead he plays “go-between” and on two occasions expresses shame only because of Gareth’s wounding, rather than outrage at Gareth’s being caught in bed with his sister (332, 334-5).

[15]   To modern readers, perhaps the most  shocking event is the Carle’s use of his daughter to reward Gawain.  Even though, in both “Carle” narratives, Gawain marries the girl upon their return to court, the delayed ceremony without courtship does nothing to dim the ancient patriarchal authority expressed in the Carle’s assumption that his daughter will love any man he directs to her bed. 

[16]   He does so only when he discovers she is a “pusell,” so by implication he would have slept with her had she been Sir Persaunte’s wife.  That may be intended to be a comic inversion of the “Carle” tales’ convention.

[17]  Such a tournament brings Ipomedon to a close (Benson).