Sir Kay


Sir Kay

In Arthurian legend, Sir Kay (Welsh: Cai, Kai, or Kei, or Cei; Latin: Caius or Gaius; French: Keu; French Romance: Queux; Old French: Kès or Kex) is Sir Ector's son and King Arthur's foster brother and later seneschal, as well as one of the first Knights of the Round Table. In later literature he is known for his acid tongue and boorish behavior, but in earlier accounts he was one of Arthur's premier warriors. Along with Bedivere, with whom he is frequently associated, Kay is one of the earliest characters associated with Arthur. [See Rachel Bromwich's discussion in the "Notes on Personal Names", part of her edition of "Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads", second edition (Cardiff: University of Wales, 1978), pp. 303-307.]

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Kay is ubiquitous in Arthurian literature but he rarely serves as anything but a foil for other characters. Though he manipulates the king to get his way, his loyalty to Arthur is usually unquestioned. In the Vulgate Cycle, the Post-Vulgate and Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur", Kay's father Ector adopts the infant Arthur after Merlin takes him away from his birth parents, Uther and Igraine. Ector raises him and Kay as brothers, but Arthur's parentage is revealed when he draws the Sword in the Stone at a tournament in London. Arthur, serving as squire to the newly-knighted Kay, loses his brother's sword and uses the Sword in the Stone to replace it. Kay shows his characteristic opportunism when he tries to claim it was he that pulled the sword from the stone, making him the true King of the Britons, but he relents and admits it was Arthur. He becomes one of the first Knights of the Round Table and serves his foster-brother throughout his life.

Kay's father is called Ector in later literature, but the Welsh accounts name him as Cynyr Fork-Beard. In "Erec and Enide", Chrétien de Troyes mentions he had a son called Gronosis, who was versed in evil, while the Welsh give him a son and daughter named Garanwyn and Celemon. Romance rarely deals with Kay's love life, an exception being Girart d'Amiens' "Escanor", which details his love for Andrivete of Northumbria, whom he must defend from her uncle's political machinations before they can marry.

The Welsh Cai

In Welsh literature, where he is called "Cai Hir" ("Kay the Tall"),Fact|date=August 2007 he is a powerful, hot-tempered champion. He and Bedivere are two of the six knights chosen to accompany Culhwch on his quest in the "Mabinogion" romance "Culhwch and Olwen" (another is Gwalchmei, or Gawain), and he displays such feats of heroism as slaying the giant Wrnach, rescuing Mabon son of Modron from his watery prison, and making a dog's leash from the beard of Dillus the Bearded. Superhuman abilities are attributed to Cai in much Welsh literature; the poem "Pa Gur" mentions he had battled the monstous cat Cath Palug, and the Welsh Triads name him as one of the "Three Enchanter Knights of Britain", claiming he had the ability to grow as tall as a tree. In "Culhwch" the stubborn Cai has a falling out with Arthur, who writes a song poking fun at his killing of Dillus the Bearded, but elsewhere he is Arthur's loyal companion. In the Life of St. Cadoc (c.1100) he was alongside Arthur and Bedivere in dealing with King Gwynllyw of Gwynllwg's abduction of St. Gwladys from her father's court in Brycheiniog.

In the Welsh Romances (specifically "Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain" and "Peredur son of Efrawg"), Cai assumes the same boorish role he takes in the continental romances. However, manuscripts for these romances date to well after Chrétien de Troyes, meaning that Cai as he appears there may owe more to Chrétien's version of the character than to the indigenous Welsh representation.

Kay in later legend

Kay and Bedivere appear in Geoffrey of Monmouth's "Historia Regum Britanniae", and aid Arthur in defeating the Giant of Mont Saint Michel. Geoffrey makes Kay the count of Anjou and Arthur's steward, an office he holds in most later literature.

In the works of Chrétien de Troyes, Kay assumes the characteristics he is most associated with today. He retains his hot-headedness and fiery temper from Welsh literature, but he is more or less an incompetent braggart. Chrétien uses him as a scoffer and a troublemaker; a foil for heroic knights like Lancelot, Ywain, or Gawain. He mocks the chivalric courtesy of Sir Calogrenant in "Yvain, the Knight of the Lion", and he tricks Arthur into allowing him to try to save Guinevere from Maleagant in "Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart", which ends in his humiliating defeat. In "Perceval, the Story of the Grail", Sir Kay grows angry with Perceval's naivete and slaps a maiden who says he will become a great knight; Perceval avenges her later when he breaks Kay's shoulder. Wolfram von Eschenbach, who tells the same story in his "Parzival", asks his audience not to judge Kay too harshly, as his sharp words actually serve to maintain courtly order.

Scholars have pointed out that Kay's scornful, overly boastful character never makes him a clown, a coward or a traitor, except in the Grail romance "Perlesvaus", where he murders Arthur's son Loholt and joins up with the king's enemies. This strange work is an anomaly, however, and Kay's portrayal tends to range from merely cruel and malicious, as in the "Roman de Yder" or Hartmann von Aue's "Iwein" to humorously derisive and even endearing, as in "Durmart le Gallois" and Girart d'Amiens's "Escanor".

Oddly, given his ubiquity, Kay's death is not frequently dealt with. In Welsh literature, it is mentioned he was killed by Gwyddawg and avenged by Arthur. In Geoffrey of Monmouth and the "Alliterative Morte Arthure", he is killed in the war against the Roman emperor Lucius, while the Vulgate Cycle has him die in France, also in battle against the Romans.

Modern adaptations

Kay is a main character in the first two books of T. H. White's "The Once and Future King", "The Sword in the Stone" and "The Queen of Air and Darkness". His portrayal is based on Malory's account of Arthur's upbringing, but White adds a number of new elements to the story, including one in which the young Kay kills a dangerous griffin with the aid of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. He appears somewhat differently in the film adaptation.

Kay is the main character of Phyllis Ann Karr's "Idylls of the Queen". In "Le Morte d'Arthur", the knight Sir Patrise is poisoned and the queen is accused of it; Karr transforms the romance into a murder mystery, with Kay as the detective. Kay is portrayed as a young knight, even younger than Arthur, in "A Kid in King Arthur's Court", a somewhat loose interpretation of Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". In the film version of Twain's work, he is portrayed by Daniel Craig.

Notes

External links

* [http://www.kingarthursknights.com/knights/kay.asp King Arthur & The Knights of the Round Table: Sir Kay]
* [http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/kay.html Sir Kay at Early British Kingdoms]


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  • Kay — noun a) derived from several Old and Middle English words; also adopted by immigrants whose surnames began with a K. b) derived from the surnames, or from a rare medieval given name ( as the Sir Kay of Arthurian legend ), Welsh Cai, Latinized as… …   Wiktionary


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