Study Guide

Agravaine in The Once and Future King

By T.H. White

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Agravaine is the second oldest of the Gawains. His defining trait? He's a bully. Straight up. Come on: his name sounds like "aggro" and "vain" smashed together.

He's dishonest and scared of pain, but he's also cleverer than his bros, and he uses his imagination. Because of this he has a couple moments of uncanny insight, like when he seems to understand the solution to ending feuds. He tells Mordred:

"I don't think it is any good complaining about what happened in the past [...] We can't expect other people to side with us when everything is complicated, and happened so long ago." (C.1.16)

The major irony here, though, is that he doesn't care. He wants to cause problems out of sheer "malice at random" (C.1.15). He doesn't hate Arthur, but he does hate Lancelot, which is his driving motivation.

This guy is way bloodthirsty, and this started from a young age. As a child, he is particularly interested in having St. Toirdealbhach tell him stories about murder. And when young Gawain is talking about needing "galore of people" for a war, Agravaine's response is "Otherwise you could not kill them" (Q.5.49-50). He's the G-boy who strikes the killing blow when they murder the unicorn (as a major moment foreshadowing Morgause's murder), and he is one of the prime instigators of murdering Sir Lamorak.

A Little Too Close to Mum

Agravaine has some unnatural feelings about his mother: "curious feelings about her, which he kept to himself" (Q.1.57). It's hinted that he kills Morgause not because he's in an uncontrollable rage (his excuse), but rather because he's jealous that Lamorak is in bed with her. He brutally decapitates her, just like he does the unicorn. This gives a whole new meaning to the term "Mama's Boy." We're talking Bates Motel territory here, intrepid readers.

When he's not cutting off heads, Agravaine is on the cutting edge of fashion (like his little bro, Mordred). He, too, wears slippers with long toes that have gold chains attached to his garters (K.36.3). As he ages, he looks way older than he actually is, and has lost his sense of smell and taste. It's implied that this is from overindulgent living: he's also an alcoholic who starts drinking practically at the crack of dawn.

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