Agravain

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Sir Agravain[pronunciation?] is a minor character in Arthurian legend, a lesser-known nephew of King Arthur who serves him as a Knight of the Round Table. In the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate cycles, as well as Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, he is a son of King Lot of Orkney and Anna/Morgause (Arthur's sister) and an accomplice of his evil half-brother Mordred. Now usually characterized as a morally corrupt figure, Agravain (sometimes spelled Agravaine) seems to have been neutral at first.

Throughout the stories Agravain participates in acts of villainy such as the slaying of Sir Lamorak and Sir Dinadan, but sometimes his acts are not so malignant. He participates in a number of adventures early in the Vulgate Cycle, and sometimes even does heroic deeds. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight where he is called "Agravain of the Hard Hand" he is named in a list of respectable knights; this combined with his unobjectionable depiction in Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval suggests his reputation might not have been so negative prior to the Vulgate.

He is described as handsome and a capable fighter, but unlike his heroic brothers Gawain and Gareth, Agravain is also known for malice and villainy. In most cyclical Arthurian literature, he plays an important role by exposing his aunt Guinevere's affair with Sir Lancelot. Though Gawain, Gareth and Gaheris try to stop them, he and Mordred conspire to catch the adulterers together. In some versions he is killed by the escaping Lancelot, in others he dies defending Guinevere's execution from Lancelot's forces along with Gaheris and Gareth; in either case, it is not his death but those of Gaheris' and Gareth's that inspires Gawain's wrath toward Lancelot, as Gawain had warned Agravain not to spy on Lancelot.

Modern adaptations[edit]

By and large, modern works based on Arthurian legend continue to villainize Sir Agravain.

  • Agravaine—not Gaheris, as in Malory—is the Orkney brother responsible for the murder of his mother in what may be the most widely read 20th-century adaptation of the Arthurian legend: T. H. White's The Once and Future King series of books, first released in 1938. White portrays Agravaine as a drunken, bloodthirsty coward, the "bully" of his family (even guilty of killing a unicorn as a child), but also intelligent and not altogether unsympathetic.
  • He appears in the British TV series Merlin (2008-2012) in Series 4 as Arthur's contemptuous uncle Agravaine de Bois; while purporting to help guide the prince after his father is incapacitated, Agravaine secretly works with Morgana to overthrow the Pendragons and return her to the throne, presumably acting out of revenge for the deaths of his siblings ("Tristan" and "Ygraine") at hands of King Uther.[1] He is finally killed by Merlin in the Season 4 Finale after he helps Morgana attack Camelot.

Conversely, the 1995 movie First Knight presents Agravaine as heroic, an atypical treatment which can be traced to a curious anomaly in Malory; though consistently depicted as an outspoken enemy of the queen, Agravaine is nonetheless chosen as one of Guinevere's knights when she rides out on May Day (a journey that begins the episode dealt with in the film).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Storr, Will (30 September 2011). "Merlin, BBC One: behind the scenes". Telegraph.