Morality

1032 Words5 Pages
We as humans often gauge ourselves and our perceived virtues on the scale of our peers; it is hard for us to form an authentic self view without the moral ruler of others. The obvious problem with this universal human practice is that our analysis depends greatly on the company we keep. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the poet explores Sir Gawain's moral development throughout his ordeal, often juxtaposing his supposed virtues against those of others, but finally, when he is alone, Gawain gains a sense of his true moral standing.

The very moment of Gawain's introduction, the reader begins to sum up his virtues. From his own mouth Gawain explains why he should accept the Green Knight's challenge in place of the king:

I am the weakest, the most wanting in wisdom, I know,

And my life, if lost, would be least missed, truly.

Only through your being my uncle, am I to be valued;

No bounty but your blood in my body do I know. (Sir Gawain 34)

Gawain bases his arguments in comparison between his traits and those of the other knights. These arguments, although self-depraving, paradoxically increase the reader's estimation of him. His humility is striking, and the fact that he agrees to the challenge while the others - whom Gawain previously described as “No braver knights when battle is joined” (Sir Gawain 34) - did not, casts doubt on the validity of him being the supposed worst among them.

The author gives the reader no indication that anyone in the court attempts to refute Gawain's bleak assertion saying only;

Then wisely they whispered of it,

And after, all said the same:

That the crowned King should be quit,

And Gawain given the game. (Sir Gawain 34)

This suggests that the common opi...

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...y. When he returns donning the lady's green sash as a reminder of his sin, the poet juxtaposes Gawain's shame of this token “The burden [he] bear[s] for being caught by cowardice and covetousness” (Sir Gawain 114) with the court's reaction:

And all the lords and ladies belonging to the Table

Laughed at it loudly, and concluded amiably

That each brave man of the brotherhood should bear a baldric

A band, obliquely about him, of bright green,

Of the same hue as Sir Gawain's and for his sake wear it.

So it ranked as renown to the Round Table,

And an everlasting honour to him who had it, (Sir Gawain 114-115)

This comparison truly shows that Gawain has escaped the moral mediocrity and obsession with image that seems to permeate King Arthur's Court. He no longer measures his virtue on the scale of others and hence, has reached moral fulfillment.
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