Last Updated 11 Nov 2022

An Analysis of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, a Medieval Poem

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In the medieval poem, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, the poet, whose identity is unknown, speaks of the ideals of knighthood by describing chronicles of Sir Gawain, the noblest knight of King Arthur's court. Gawain accepts a challenge from the Green Knight and therefore must go on a quest to seek the Green Chapel and fulfill his bargain. Throughout the story, the poet presents Gawain as the classic example of a true knight by displaying instances of his loyalty, honor, courage, courtesy and purity. An example of his loyalty occurs when Gawain takes on the challenge against the Green Knight. Gawain belittles himself as he tells the King Arthur that he is the least wise of all the knights. While asking the court for his claim, Gawain utters:

Though you tempted thereto, to take in on yourself
I am the weakest, well I know, and of wit feeblest;

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And the loss of my life would be lest of any;

Gawains willingness to accept definitely sets him apart from the other knights. Gawain cleverly chooses his most courteous words to release Arthur from the challenge. Gawains devotion and loyalty is clearly evident as he offers his life for the king.

The poet reveals that Gawain is not only loyal, but also courageous, and worthy to have his attributes put to the test. This is done in the description of the shield that Gawain arms himself with to undertake his journey to the Green Chapel. The shield is adorned with pentangle portrayed in purest gold. This pentangle represents Gawains "faith in the five wounds of Christ and the five joys of the Virgin, and his possession of the five knightly virtues..." This display of Gawains purity reinforces his worthiness to undergo the test of his chivalry. Honor is another virtue that a knight must possess. Gawain gives his word while accepting the beheading challenge that he will meet the Green Knight at the Green Chapel in one years time. His quest to find the Green Knight is not an easy task. The authors vivid description of what Gawain must go through to get to the Green Chapel represents a test of Gawains honor. The author tells us:

"Many a cliff must he climb in country wild/ Far off from all
his friends, forlorn must he ride/Near slain by the sleet he
sleeps in his irons/ More nights than enough, among the naked rocks.

Gawain has given his word and he is bound to follow through with his end of the bargain, thus proving that he is an honorable knight. Gawains arrival at the castle of Sir Bercilak tests Gawains pure mind and his courtesy, two very important knightly virtues. According to a bargain, lord Bercilak goes hunting three days in a row while Gawain remains at the castle and rests. Lining out the deal with Gawain he says, "Whatever win in the woods I will give you at evel And all you have earned you must offer to me." Gawain accepts, and each day while the Lord is hunting, his wife tempts Gawain. Gawain is torn between his purity and his courtesy because he cannot commit adultery, yet he cannot offend a lady by not honoring her request. She gives Gawain a green girdle as a gift for use in saving his life, and asks that he does not let the lord know about it. The lords wife is not able to get Gawain to fail in his test of purity or courtesy to her because he will not sleep with her and is always courteous while avoiding her advances. However, she does succeed in setting him up to fail in his honor and courtesy to the Lord. Gawain does not reveal that he has received the girdle and does not give it to the Lord in keeping with his end of the deal. The green girdle comes to symbolize to Gawain his lack of honor and courtesy. Gawain thus does not live up to all the virtues in his code of conduct. In the epic poem, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, the protagonist typifies the prime example of a chivalrous knight who possesses loyalty, honor, courage, courtesy, and purity. Through these qualities, Sir Gawain portrays the ideals of knighthood. In essence, the anonymous poet characterizes the virtues of a true knight in the poem, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.

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