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Sir Gawain's Shield and the Green Night: A Semiotic Analysis Essay

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In the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain must go on a quest to find the Green Knight from whom he accepted a challenge a year earlier. Because Gawain lives the chivalric code, he must keep his promise to the Green Knight and let him get one swing of the axe one year and a day after he swung the axe on him. Before leaving for this quest, Gawain was given amazing armor and a descriptive shield. This shield was more than just a shield; it had a much greater meaning like many other items and actions throughout the poem. The shield is the most important symbol in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as it reaffirms the importance of both the chivalric code and Christianity to the people of the Middle Ages.
Sir Gawain was given the shield to protect him physically, but it also helped him mentally. This shield helped him mentally because of what it was made and what had been painted on the front and back of it. As said in the poem, “The shield they shewed him then, of flaming glues so red, / There the Pentangle shines, in pure gold burnished” (Weston, .vi.1-2). The front of the shield has the pentangle painted on it to represent the life a knightly man should try to live. Michelle Sauer said, “Dubbed the 'endless knot' in Celtic cultures, the pentangle symbolizes perpetual loyalty.” Although the pentangle is an endless knot, it does not represent absolute perfection. Obviously, no one but God is absolutely perfect; that is why the pentangle does not represent absolute perfection. However, the pentangle does represent perfection on a level achievable by humans. It is said that, “... nobility is the perfection of each thing in accordance with the peculiarity of its nature. Here we need to recognize that the pentang...


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... Mar. 2014 Evans, W.O. “The Case for Sir Gawain Re-Opened.” The Modern Language Review. 68. 4. (1973): 721 – 733.
Green, Richard Hamilton. “Gawain’s Shield and the Quest for Perfection.” ELH. 29. 2. (1962): 121 -139.
Gregory – Abbott, Candace. “Chivalry.” Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web 19 Mar. 2014 Morgan, Gerald. “The Significance of the Pentangle Symbolism in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’.” The Modern Language Review. 74. 4. (1979): 769 – 790
Rossignol, Rosalyn. “Chivalry in the Works of Chaucer.” Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 20 Mar. 2014 Sauer, Michelle M. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 19 Mar. 2014 Weston, Jessie L. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Cambridge, 1999. PDF. E-book.



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