Chivalry In Sir Gawain And The Green

Knight Essay, Research Paper

During the Middle Ages, knights lived their lives following the chivalric code. In an

essay, define the chivalric code and prove how Gawain , in ?Sir Gawain and the Green

Knight?, is both a laudation and a condemnation of the chivalric code.

The code of chivalry is a collaboration of virtues including loyalty, honesty,

courteousness, obedience, chastity, prowress, courageosness, valor, and truthfulness.

When a Medieval man becomes a knight, he vows to follow the code of chivalry. This

code evolved from the values of the Christian religion and exemplifies perfection to the

utmost extremesA knight abiding by these rules does not fight for man, but for mankind,

an ideal, or an abstraction, including fighting for women.

Sir Gawain is known as the epitome of chivalry. He abides by the chivalric code at

all times. Gawain carries a sheild with a pentangle on the front and a picture of Mary on

the back. The pentangle itself represents Gawain?s character and his beliefs by

representing strength, chivalry, Christianity, joy, and faultlessness. The author states:

The five of the five fives followed by this knight

Were beneficence boundless and brotherly love

And pure mine and manners, that non might impeach,

And compassion most precious–these peerless five

Were forged and made fast in him, formost of men.

The chivalric hero rarely fights in defense of man, but mostly for defense of

mankind, an ideal, or an abstraction. Sir Gawain steps up to the Green Knight to defend

the chivalry of King Arthur?s court when the embarrassed king attempts to participate in

the Green Knight?s game, a game in which the king had no place to play. He obeys his

knightly code of honor, loyalty, courage, valor, and courtesy by volunteering and by using

the most courteous words to release Arthur of this knightly duty. Gawain says:

I am the weakest, I wot, and the feeblest of wit,

And it will be the less loss of my life if ye seek sooth.

His humbleness is of his heart and he knows that he is giving his life away for the sake of

his king. This obedience to the chivalric code shown is more than any of the knights at the

Round Table. The tasks Gawain must face on his journey to find the Green Knight

include long traveling nights, sleep on hard grounds, lack of sufficient food, cliffs to scale,

solitary travel, serpents, wolves, wild men, bears, bores, bulls, bitter cold, sleet and rain.

These trials prove his honor to the code of chivalry through his courage, obedience, valor,

and also his will to go forth on the journey. This will comes from Gawain?s Christian

aspect of the chivalric code. He displays purity, chastity, and charity, not only as a

Christian, but as a true knight of the chivalric code for Christianity is intertwined with the

chivalric code of loyalty, honesty, couragousnesses, etc.

The introduction of Bercilak and the very beautiful, very cunning, wife of Bercilak

begins Gawains tests of his honor to the chivalric code. He makes a promise with the host

that they will exchange gifts that they are allotted each day. In the meantime, the host?s

wife tries to provoke him to fail at upholding his code of chivalry with sexual advances. It

is very difficult for him to deny the wife without being unkind to her, but he succeeds in

not accepting her advances in a courteous manner, therefor restoring his chastity and his

honor to his host. The author describes Gawain?s success after two days of advances:

Thus she tested his temper and tried many a time,

Whatever her true intent, to entice him to sin,

But so fair was his defense that no fault appeared.

Consequently, Gawain fails to live up to the chivalric code in the latter part of the

tale. He is more vulnerable at this time than he was before, now that it is the eve of the

beheading. His hostess comes in with a gift for him, a girdle. Gawain tries so hard to be

courteous and remain true to Brecilak, but he is eventually persuaded into accepting the

gift and keeping it a secret when he is told it has magic powers which will protect him

from ?any craft on earth.? By doing so he becomes guilty of breaking the chivalric code.

He is now guilty of cowardice, for he feels he needs magic to protect him, and

covetousness, for he has come to value himself too highly. When Gawain does not tell

Bercilak of the gift that night, he breaks his code of chivalry by lying, and this lying thus

destroys his loyalty to his host. Gawain also breaks the chivalric code of faithfullness

when accepting the girdle, for the girdle represents the replacement of the pentangle for a

magical object. His next chivalric downfall occurs in the confrontation with the Green

Knight. Gawain?s bravery fails him when he flinches as the ax swings toward his neck.

When the Green Knight explains that he is Bercilak, he says:

She made a trial of a man most faultless by far of all that ever walked over the

wide earth. Yet you lacked, sir, a little in loyalty there, but the cause was not

cunning, nor courtship either, but that you loved your own life; the less, then, to


Gawain is not concerned with the thoughts of Bercilak on the code of chivalry. In his own

eyes he has failed. His first words in reply are:

Cursed be ye, cowardice and covetousness, for in ye is the destruction of virtue.

Here Gawain shows deep shame and states that he has broken the chivalric code. He sees

himself no longer as the perfect knight he has striven to become.

Sir Gawain is both a laudation and a condemnation of the chivalric code. The

chivalric code is defined by words such as honesty, courtesy, chastity, faithfulness,

courageousness, unselfishness, loyalty and faith in God, to name a few. The poet says that

all people, including knights, cannot obtain complete chivalry. Though in the end Gawain

is said to have been forgiven by admitting to his lie and repenting by wearing the girdle as

a symbol of his failure, he still has broken the chivalric code: he lied to cover up the

selfishness of his own life Since Gawain believes himself to have broken the code of

chivalry, should the reader not?



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