Synopsis of Gawain's adventures in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival. Translated by A.T. Hatto
As in De Troyes' version of the Grail myth, Gawan (as the name is spelt in Parzival) is only tangentially involved in the Grail quest throughout most of the book. Unlike De Troyes' version, however, Gawan's story is completed by von Eschenbach. His completion actually manages to merge Parzival's quest for the Grail with Gawan's in a manner that is unique to Eschenbach's telling. After the quest is announced, Gawan becomes involved in at least five separate episodes.
Gawan becomes involved in the Grail story because he is present when Parzival is accused by Cundrie for not asking the question that would heal the Wounded King. A knight, Kingrimusel, comes to the gathering of Arthur's court after Cundrie's accusations and accuses Gawan of a wrong:
I mean Lord Gawan here, who has done many glorious deeds and won himself high renown. Yet he was in the group of infamy when his ambition took him to the lengths of slaying my lord in the act of greeting! [...] If Lord Gawan denies this charge let him make answer in single combat on the fortieth day from now to the presence of the King of Ascalun in the capital city of Schanpfanzun [....] Unless he defect from the Office of the Shilde I would remind him further of what he owes his helmet and the whole code of chivalry. (167)So he goes off: "Lord Gawan too made himself ready to appear before the King of Ascalun as one able to champion his own cause, and many Britons with many women, both married and unmarried, mourned it. They lamented the warlike excursion that took him away from them. The Table Round was now orphaned of its glory" (174).
Another feature of Eschenbach's narrative (unlike Malory's or Chretien's) is that it is filled with narrative asides that clearly direct how the reader is meant to interpret Gawan. For example:
Gawan, upright man, was so circumspect in his valour that his fame never suffered hurt from cowardice. On the field of battle his heart was a stronghold which loomed high above the fray - in the melee all saw him! Friend and foe alike declared that his shout rang clear as he pursued honour, glad though Kingrimusel would have been to deny it him with his challenge. (176)Episode 1
"My Lord King," said little Obilot, "if my knight is a merchant as my sister claimed so provokingly, it was wrong of you to surrender to him!" She then commanded King Meljanz to transfer to her sister Obie the homage done to herself. "You must take her as your mistress to the glory of chivalry, and she must cherish you as her lover and lord always. I shall accept no excuse on either side. (203)Episode 2
Gawan comes across a wounded knight and his lady. He helps to heal the knight and learns that he is in the land of Logroys. Gawan then sees to the splendid castle of Logroys and meets Orgeluse of Logroys, a fair maiden who begins to insult Gawan. Even so, to prove that he is a knight worthy of her respect, he assents to the task she sets him, to fetch her palfrey. Despite the abuse she heaps on him, Gawan pledges his service to her: "Though you upbraid me now, you will have the honour of giving satisfaction later. Meanwhile I shall render you service till you feel inclined to reward me. I shall hand you on to this palfrey if you so desire" (262).
After an encounter with the deformed Giant Malcreatiure. Gawan returns to the wounded knight and heals him. The wounded knight then steals Gawan's horse and rides away. Gawan later learns that his knight is Urjans, who has an old grudge against Gawan. Without a horse, he ends up having to ride Malcreatiure's nag. Throughout all this, Orgeluse continues mocking him: "The lady who was the source of so much pain to him laughed heartily at his cruel ordeal [....But h]e found her well-salted jibes so acceptable that he did not mind what she said since where her looked at her he was quit of any pain she caused him " (269).
Gawan then defeats a knight, Lischois Gwelljus, and meets a ferryman who offers him hospitality for the night. From the ferryman he learns that he is "in Terre marveile" and that Castle is a wondrous place, filled with dangers and the promise of great fame for the knight who overcomes these.
"Gawan's dauntless courage inspire him to march on on foot. As I told you before, the Castle he saw before him was vast, with each of its flanks stoutly fortified. If any had a mind to harm it, it would not care that much in thirty years! [...] The story tells us that when Gawan looked at ht ePalace its whole rood resembled peacock's feathers, so gaily coloured was it and such that neither rain nor snow could mar its lustre" (285).The Palace is populated by many ladies but they withdraw as Gawan explores its halls. Gawan finds a enchanted bed and his ordeal begins:
He entered [the chamber]. Its pavement shone smooth and clear as glass. Upon it stood that fabulous Bed: Lit marveile! Below, clapsed by the bed-posts they carried, four balls of glowing ruby finely rounded ran swifter than the wind! [...] And as often as he took a step, the Bed moved on from where it was. [...] He took a flying jump and landed plumb in the middle. No one will ever hear again of the speed at which that Bed went crashing from side to side! Not one wall did it spare, but hurtled against each so that the whole Castle echoed with its thuds. (286)After riding the Bed for some time, Gawan is bombarded with pebbles and arrows that he skillfully shields himself against. He then fights and kills a ferocious lion, which almost proves too much for him. Though severely wounded, his wounds are tended to by the noble ladies of the Castle and he stays with them. The queen of the Castle, Arnive, her daughter Sangive and two grand-daughters attend to him but Gawan's heart is still with Orgeluse.
Then, he spies Orgeluse with another knight, Turkoyt, and against the ladies' pleas that he rest his wounds, which are still fresh, Gawan rides out to meet Turkoyt in battle. After defeating Turkyot, he agrees to fulfill Orgeluse's request that he fetch "a garland from the twig of a certain tree" (302). After crossing a dangerous river, Gawan succeeds after negotiating with the guardian of the garland, King Gramoflanz. From him, Gawan learns that King Gramoflanz is in love with Gawan's sister, Itonje (who lives in the wondrous Castle), but has also vowed to fight Gawan - he does not know who now speaks to him - in order to avenge his father's death. Upon revealing his true identity, Gawan makes an arrangement to joust King Gramoflanz at a later date, in the presence of King Arthur and his court. Returning to Orgeluse with the garland, Gawan wins her love and submission and they both return to the Castle. In the interlude before the fight, Gawan learns that Arnive is Arthur's mother (and his own grandmother), Sangive his own mother and the two grand-daughters are his sisters. He also conveys to his sister, Itonje, the ring that King Gramflanz sent as his token of love.
Gawan then sends word for Arthur's court to meet him so that he can joust King Gramoflanz publicly. Riding out to meet King Gramoflanz, Gawan meets another knight, an unknown and unidentified individual:
Beside the River Sabins he saw a knight motionless in the saddle whom we might well dub a flintstone of manly vigour. A hail-storm to knights, perfidy never got though to his heart. He was so feeble of body that he failed to carry what men call "Dishonor" at all, not so much as a span nor even half a finger's length! You may will have heard tell of this man before, since the story has now returned to its true stem (339).These narrative comments signal that the unidentified knight is Parzival, and at this point, Gawan's quest is merges with Parzival's. After Parzival almost defeats Gawan, their true identities are revealed to each other (Parzival apparently did not recognize Gawan in the first instance). When Gawan arrives, he is too tired to fight King Gramoflanz. But Parzival offers to fight in Gawan's stead. This is not agreed to by King Gramoflanz and the battle is postponed to the next day. Still, Parzival steals out and manages to fight King Gramoflanz. When this is found out, a series of negotiations between Arthur's court and King Gramoflanz ensues. Partly in the interest of love that Itonje and Gramoflanz share and also because Gawan's lover, Orgeluse, is worried about his wounds, Gawan and King Gramoflanz renounce the duel.
This is the end of Gawan's role in the story. He is a foil to Parzival, the knight who must forsake the pleasures of love in his commitment to seek the Grail.