Every group has its idols, those people who serve as the epitome of the group’s values. Cowboys look up to Lane Frost, basketball players look up to Michael Jordan, and Arthurian knights look up to King Arthur. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of the greatest Arthurian romances written in England, Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew, takes on a challenge to exchange “one strike for another” with the Green Knight (line 287).
Despite all of the bad experiences and temptations he fights along the way, after the battle with the Green Knight, Sir Gawain is definitely still admirable as the epitome of the Arthurian Knight as he wears a green girdle in remembrance of his mistakes(Sir Gawain). Gawain believes in a chivalric code, which is very admirable. Gawain is a young knight who knows the chivalric code well and knows that he is supposed to exhibit, as the Duke of Burgundy says’s “faith, charity, justice, sagacity, prudence, temperance, resolution, truth, liberality, diligence, hope, and valor”(Knight’s code of Chivalry).
These can be summed up to the most admirable rules of the chivalric code: honor, loyalty and Christianity. Gawain is admirable for these qualities in which he possesses. He shows loyalty to both his earthly kings and heavenly king. The knights are “renowned after the name of Christ” and “their king [is] most high in pride (Sir Gawain, 52). He must honor his uncle, King Arthur, his host, and God, in everything he does. Gawain shows his loyalty towards King Arthur by taking the challenge made by the Green Knight.
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Gawain tells Author that he will take the battle because, “[he] [is] the weakest […] and the least loss, if [he] live[s] not” (Sir Gawain, lines 354-55). He is so loyal toward the king that he is willing to sacrifice his own life for his uncle because his uncle would be a much bigger loss. Gawain honors his uncle by not giving up; this would have disappointed his uncle tremendously because as a part of the chivalric code, it is a knight’s duty to be truthful.
He shows loyalty to both his uncle and the Green Knight when he honors the Green Knights wish for him to meet him at the “Green Chapel” on New Year’s morning for “a nimble knock in return” (Sir Gawain,lines451-453). Gawain’s loyalty to King Arthur also extends to his behavior toward his host. Everyday Gawain is to exchange with the host whatever he received from that day. When Gawain tells the host, “while I remain in your mansion, your command I will obey,” he shows extreme honor towards the host (Sir Gawain, line 1093).
Along with his loyalty to his host and earthly lord, he puts his faith in God as he prays to the Virgin Mary. “When Gawain sets out on his journey to find the Green Chapel, he finds himself lost, and only after praying to the Virgin Mary does he find his way” (“Sir Gawain”). By praying during hard times such as when he needed lodging, and when “…he doffed his helm, and with the honor, he thanked Jesus…” for giving him lodging, he shows his honor and faithfulness to God (Sir Gawain, line 773). Every choice Gawain makes exemplifies his effort in staying true to the code of chivalry.
Gawain is admirable for never giving up. He succeeds in passing the trials that test his devotion and faith in Christianity. One critic of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight characterizes nature as “rough and indifferent” and states that nature invades and disrupts order in the major events of the narrative” (“Sir Gawain”). This nature includes nature such as wildlife and nature such as Mother Nature. Along the way to his appointment with the Green knight, Gawain encountered many harsh occasions where he could have just given up.
He faces harsh conditions such as wars with worms, wolves, wood- trolls, bulls, bears, boars, and ogres (Sir Gawain, lines 720-23). It later goes on to mention that “death had met often” (Sir Gawain, line 725). Things will get a lot worse before they get better for Gawain, in this situation. Gawain is in a constant battle, but he refuses to give in, knowing that even after all of these cruel catastrophes, he still has to meet with the Green Knight. This is extreme loyalty, for him to keep going without lodging, all by himself, and in the cold weather (Sir Gawain, lines 712-735). Nature! (“Sir Gawain”).
In this case, Mother Nature causes the problems that Gawain must face. Even after all of the mishaps invented by nature along the way, Gawain still must take on more mishaps as he is overcome by Bertilak’s wife and her seductiveness. It is only natural for a guy, especially a single guy, to lust for a seductive woman when she is constantly “tempting him often, so as to allure him to love-making. ” (Sir Gawain, lines 1550-51). Each day when the host’s wife comes in his bedroom and kisses him, Gawain remains loyal to the host by giving him the kisses in return for what the host had killed that day (“Sir Gawain”).
By pushing through the nature, bad weather, lonely trip, and temptations of the host’s wife, Gawain is admirable for never giving up as well as remaining loyal to his host. Gawain’s response to all of the mishaps along the way to meet the Green Knight and when he does meet with him is incredibly admirable. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain struggles “to meet the appointment and his adventures along the way demonstrate [his] spirit of chivalry and loyalty. ” (“Sir Gawain”). Consequently, he fails this test of loyalty, honesty, Christianity, and chivalry as a whole, when he takes the girdle and doesn’t give it to the host.
He “values survival over virtue” (“Sir Gawain”). The knight tells Gawain, “As a pearl than white peace is prized more highly, / so is Gawain, in good faith, than other gallant knights,/ but in this, you lacked, sir, a little, and of loyalty came short”(Sir Gawain lines 2365-67). Gawain has made this long trip to meet the Green Knight, been through many near-death experiences, has been kissing his host’s wife, and when he is offered a girdle that will prevent him from being killed, nature kicks in again; this time causing him to fail the test of his loyalty to his host or Green Knight.
He takes the girdle like any man would do and does not give it to the host. By doing this he values survival over being an honest and loyal knight. He is also placing his faith in a girdle “instead of praying to Mary”. (“Sir Gawain”) As a critic says, “he employs reason to do something less than courageous—evade death in a dishonest way. ” (“Sir Gawain”)
Not only is Gawain failing at being honest, but also at being loyal to both the Green Knight and King Arthur. As a knight, cheating and lying are not acceptable, “but because [he] loved [his] own life: the less [the Green Knight] blame[d] [him]. (Sir Gawain lines, 2369) As the Green Knight explains to Gawain how everything he had encountered since he had stayed in Bertilak was a test, Gawain adds humility to the chivalric code. He confesses to the knight and returns to him, his wife’s’ girdle. As Kevin Gustavon says, “Like the Green Knight’s accusation, Gawain’s subsequent confession draws on penitential language way that rede? nes chivalric masculinity, so that it includes imperfection and fear, as well as a sense of humility that arises from the recognition of one’s own weakness rather than from mere politeness. (Gustavon, 628)
The Knight forgives Gawain by saying, “Thou hast confessed thee so clean and acknowledged thin errors, / […] and I give thee, sir, the girdle with gold at its hems/…’ twill be a plain reminder of the chance of the Green Chapel between chivalrous knights. ”(Sir Gawain, lines 2394-2400) By confessing, Gawain recognized his weakness and tried to make it right; this helps to exemplify Gawain’s honesty, and adds humility to the chivalric code. Gawain says of the girdle, “but as a token of my trespass, I shall turn to it often…ruefully recalling the failure and the frailty of the flesh so perverse. (Sir Gawain lines, 2434-2436)
Gawain chooses to wear the girdle in remembrance of his sins, making him even more admirable for his simplicity, at no point does he try to deny or overlook his mistake; he is very straightforward once the Green Knight tells him of the tests. Gawain is admirable not only to the reader of this story but also to his brotherhood and everyone at the round table. (Sir Gawain, lines 2517-2518) The people of the round table can now honor Gawain as a knight who has risen to be just as big of an influence as King Arthur.
When Gawain returns home to King Arthur, they all decide to wear green girdles like Gawain. Even though Gawain fails, his family, brotherhood, and the ladies of the Round Table still look upon Gawain as the ideal knight. They respect him and honor him, “and this for love of that knight as a livery [they] wear [a green girdle]:” (Sir Gawain, line 2520). For Gawain to confess and want to wear the girdle for his “grief and disgrace”, he has made himself an admirable epitome, so that others honor him (“Sir Gawain”).
Every knight of Brotherhood a baldric should have, / a band of bright green obliquely about him:” (Sir Gawain, lines 2518-2519). After all of the hardships and meeting with the Green Knight, Sir Gawain is seen as equal to King Arthur by the round table. Gawain is still admirable for: the code he believes in, the code he follows, his ability to never give up on his code, and the way he responds to all of his misfortunes. But, he is admired even more for learning humility.
Cowboys continue to look up to Lane Frost even though he might not have always ridden 8 seconds, and basketball players look up to Michael Jordan regardless of how many missed shots he had because each bull ride or basketball game taught them something. Arthurian knights see King Arthur and Sir Gawain as admirable epitomes for the humility that Gawain has learned to carry with him.
- Baswell, Christopher and Schotter, Anne. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. Master of British Literature. Vol. A. Eds. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. New York: Longman- Pearson, 2008.
- 144-202. Print. Gustavon, Kevin. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. A companion to medieval English Literature and Culture 1350-1500 . Eds. Peter Brown. (2007): 628. Web. 10 October 2012. < http://www. scribd. com/doc/47311463/29/Sir-Gawain-and-the-Green-Knight>
- “Knights code of Chivalry. ” middle-ages. n. p. n. d. Web. 9 October 2012. < http://owl. english. purdue. edu/owl/resource/747/08/>.
- “Sir Gawain. ” Arthurian Adventure. n. p. 2004. Web. 9 October 2012. < http://arthurianadventure. com/sir_gawain. htm>.
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