Last night Professor Kittredge delivered his last lecture on the early English Gawain Romances. He told first the adventure of Gawain and two companions with the Carl of Carlisle, a huge monster, to whose castle they came one night. The Carl made some rather extravagant demands of his guests and only Gawain was polite enough to comply with them. He was rewarded with a seat at table beside Carl's beautiful wife and daughter. The crowning demand w. s that Gawain should cut of his host's head. With great reluctance he did as requested, and there sprang up a noble prince, who warmly thanked him, and told how he had been condemned to slay all guests who refused his demands. Gawain was the first obedient guest and the one to relieve him.
Professor Kittredge related the story of King Arthur, when he was at the mercy of the cruel knight. He was given a year in which to discover what women liked most. Arthur and Gawain hunted high and low in vain, till a most filthy and ugly woman said she would save King Arthur, if Gawain would wed her. The tale says she was the ugliest woman alive, yet Gawain readily offered to marry her. So she told Arthur that women liked sovereignty most. Thus Arthur escaped, but poor Gawain found an arrogant mistress in his wife. At last, however, she bade him choose between having her beautiful by day and ugly by night, or the reverse. When he gave her own way she was released from her cruel enchantment and became a beautiful creature, who ever remained his loving and obedient wife.
It is strange, said Professor Kittredge, that Tennyson has given to Gawain such a frivolous and even tricky character. It is certainly annoying to anyone who knows the old romance to see the noblest knight of the Round Table thus insulted. Tennyson could have been acquainted only with Malory's later prose version of the story, for his characterization of Gawain is identical with Malory's. But Malory's tale is entirely unlike the original romance. In all the early stories of Gawain, he is not the man that Malory and Tennyson have pictured him. He is an ideal knight, a champion of woman, a loyal subject of King Arthur, and as such we should look upon him.