Sir Gawain

Sir Gawain

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Sir Gawain

If only there ever is a need to describe Sir Gawain with one word, this word would be nobility. All his actions are noble. His only bad deed is lying to Sir Bercilak in the Green Castle when Gawain did not return a girdle he received from Bercilak's wife on the third day of his visit. However, this situation practically forms and defines Gawain. It is important to remember that fight with the Green Knight was Gawain's first challenge; he was the youngest knight of King Arthur's court, a knight with no experience behind him. Gawain suffers for lying to the Green Knight (the third blow of an axe cuts Gawain's neck), and this experience influenced Gawain so much that he keeps and wears the belt as a reminder of his mistake even though everybody at the Arthur's court take this as a fashion statement when Gawain returns.

Gawain looks and speaks in the way an ideal knight should look and speak. His clothes are regular for the knight; his speech, on the other hand, is somewhat distinct from other knights. He is the only knight that steps forward to save Arthur's honor and life in the stories of The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the story of Dame Ragnell, Sir Gawain does not hesitate to agree to marry Dame Ragnell, the foulest woman alive, to save King Arthur even though Arthur does not ask Gawain explicitly. Gawain feels honored that he is able to help his lord in the moment of trouble. In the second story, even though Gawain is the youngest knight he steps out when all other knights are frozen and Arthur is embarassed before the Green Knight. Both these episodes show Gawain's true devotion to his Lord and code of knighthood.

In the early stories, Sir Gawain is often considered to be the noblest knight of all. In later stories, like Morte D'Arthur by Sir Mallory for instance, he often loses the first place of Sir Lancelot. However, Sir Gawain can still be considered the noblest knight since Sir Lancelot after all does have an affair with Arthur's wife, and even though chivalrous code does not tie love and marriage together, it still does not look good on his resume. Sir Gawain, on the other hand, is always follows the code, and tries hard to serve his lord to the best of his abilities.

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The idea of commitatus, an agreement between a warrior and a lord, is very strong with him.

Despite his little flaws, I consider Sir Gawain to be the perfect knight, an example on how men are supposed to behave. Even though knights are long gone, it is not a reason to stop following the code of honorable conduct, following the steps of Sir Gawain.

The Third Seduction

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the most famous works of medieval literature, and it is one of the numerous legends of King Arthur and his knights so popular in the Middle Ages. The poet of the work is unknown, and we can only guess where he comes from and who his audience is. The most intriguing part about the poem for me is that based on the descriptions in the work several researchers were able to trace the possible actual location of the Green Chapel. There are a few suggestions about the location, but they generally lie in the same area. The author probably placed Sir Gawain in surroundings familiar to his original listeners.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a story about testing a knight's nobility. The passage of interest for me is the third attempted seduction of Sir Gawain by the Lady of the castle, Bercilak's wife. [Norton, 237-239: 1719-1815] On the third day of Sir Gawain's visit in the castle, Bercilak, also known as the Green Knight, leaves the place to hunt for a fox. A fox is a smart, cunning animal that would rather trick its pursuers than try to outrun or outfight them. It is the hardest animal to outwit in medieval mythology. This day Bercilak's wife tries to seduce Sir Gawain with all her wit. She comes early in the morning to Sir Gawain's room dressed to the bear minimum. He is still asleep, and she wakes him up. After an unsuccessful attempt to lure him, the lady asks Sir Gawain whether he has a girlfriend back home since he resists her charms so much. He answers that he has no lover, and will not have one for awhile; however, God forbids him to take her love. The lady kisses him, and asks if it is possible for her to get some token of love from Sir Gawain. He says that he has nothing to give her and, in addition, it is not honorable for her to have something of his. Bercilak's wife then gives a girdle to Sir Gawain that is supposed to be magical to save him from the Green Knight's blows. This girdle is the centerpiece of the work since it signifies Sir Gawain's mistake and his lesson.

The poet of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is unknown, but he must have been rather educated and very talented for the story is written quite beautifully. There is a striking description of Bercilak's wife in the passage. Reading it, one starts to understand Sir Gawain's temptation and how strong his will power must have been if he is able to resist the beautiful lady. "He sees her so glorious, so gaily attired, So faultless her features, so fair and bright, His heart swelled swiftly with surging joys." [Norton, 238:1760-1762] Considering that Sir Gawain is a young fellow, temptation must have been great. Sir Gawain's behavior is truly noble and this is the theme throughout the passage. Sir Gawain's dedication to the code of knighthood is extreme. He is noble from his toes to his head so to speak.

The passage has a number of phrases that I would consider essential to an understanding of the poem and Sir Gawain's character. "God forbid!" said the bold knight, "That shall not befall!" [Norton, 238:1776] The truth is the most important for the knight, and he is not running away from it and would rather say everything straight than play games. "Nay, noblest knight alive," Said that beauty of body white." [Norton, 239:1812-1813] Since nobility is one of the main themes of the poem, this line is very important since it represents Bercilak's wife's defeat and her acceptance of Sir Gawain's true nobility (though he does make one small error later). In fact, Sir Gawain is considered one of the noblest and most honest knights of King Arthur's court. His honor is also a theme in other Arthurian stories.

The main theme of the passage is Sir Gawain's nobility. He is polite, honest (in the passage), and courteous. In almost every line, it is possible to see Sir Gawain's true nobility as he gently refuses Bercilak's wife's love, being sure that he does not hurt her feelings. This theme of nobility makes Sir Gawain and the Green Knight look like a medieval story of Superman who does not exist in the real world, but is created by poets and artists as are ideal models of human behavior.

It is difficult to define rules of conduct for a knight. There is no set code of conduct, and many variations of it exist nowadays. However, even though there are so many versions of the rules of knighthood, the main idea is always the same. Knightly virtues are liberality, honor, good faith, glory, unselfishness, pride, courtesy, bravery, and loyalty. For me, these ten rules for chivalrous love make the most sense. The virtues of love: modest, attentive, honest, graceful, well-groomed, faithful, discrete, generous, and worthy of praise. You can find out more about chivalrous conduct here.

RULES OF CHIVALROUS LOVE

- Being obedient in all things to the commands of the lady
- Patience is the greatest virtue of love
- Be mindful completely to avoid falsehood
- Thou shalt be in all things polite and courteous
- Thou shalt speak no evil
- Thou shalt not be a revealer of love affairs
- In giving and receiving love's solaces let modesty be eve r present
- Thou shalt not choose for thy love anyone whom a natural sense of shame forbids thee
to marry
- Thou shalt not knowingly strive to break up a correct love affair that someone is
engaged in
- Thou shalt keep thyself chaste for the sake of her whom thou lovest
- Thou shalt avoid avarice like the deadly pestilence and thou shalt embrace it's
opposite

Sources

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. Volume 1. New York: W.W.Norton & Company, 1993. 200-254.

Cox, Christian; Smith, Elizabeth, et.al. King Arthur: Reality and Romance. Online. Internet. December 1998. Available HTTP: http://dc.smu.edu/kinga/arthur_main.html

Camelot International. The World of British Heritage. Online. Internet. December 1998. Available HTTP: http://www.camelot-group.com/homepage/homepage.html

Greenberg, Nadav. Knighthood. Online. Internet. December 1998. Available HTTP: http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Midfield/7351/knight.htm

Rowan. Sir Gawain The Green Knight - and the Otherworld Journey. January 26, 1997. Online. Internet. November 1998. Available HTTP: http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/gawain.htm

Virtopia. Kingdom of Virtopia. July 11, 1997. Online. Internet. Available HTTP: http://www.virtopia.com
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