Human Nature In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

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In Gordon M. Shedd’s “Knight in Tarnished Armour: The Meaning of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, he argues that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is truly about the strength and weaknesses of human nature. One particularly interesting part of his argument asserts that Gawain’s humanity broke medieval romance tradition. Shedd’s central argument is that Sir Gawain’s true conflict is internal; it is with the duality of his own humanity. He starts by explaining that “man stands midway between the angels and the animals, partaking of both natures” (Shedd 245). According to Shedd, no man is truly capable of perfection until he can understand this concept. This is why Gawain does not undergo a typical romantic tale of success; he experiences moral…show more content…
It does this conceptually, by emphasizing human nature over chivalry, and it does this narratively through Gawain’s failure as a knight, and the Green Knight’s illegitimacy as a true villain. In traditional romance of this time, the protagonist could not have faltered in chivalry; Gawain’s “lapses of courage and honour… are highly untypical of the knightly conduct we find illustrated with such stultifying sameness in medieval story” (Shedd 245). But this occurs because the Green Knight is not the true villain; the real conflict is Gawain’s struggle against his own human nature. While the Green Knight appears to be a classic antagonist in the first part of the poem, he proves himself merciful and forgiving in the final part, stating that he does not blame Gawain because it was only because “[he] loved [his] own life” that he failed the final test (95). Rather than merely taking Sir Gawain’s head, the Green Knight gave him the opportunity to prove himself as “faultless” (95), or above his human nature, to “[purge] the debt” (96). Just as Shedd argues, the shift from external to internal conflict in the poem sets Sir Gawain and the Green Knight apart from other works of medieval romance. According to Shedd’s “Knight in Tarnished Armour: The Meaning of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, Sir Gawain’s conflict is with the duality of human nature, not the Green Knight. His idea that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight breaks the traditions of medieval romance is especially
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