Temptation Of Women In Sir Gaiwan Essay

, Research Paper During the 14th century, chivalry was in a decline due to drastic social and economic changes. Feudalism along with chivalry will fall for many reasons, but the

, Research Paper

During the 14th century, chivalry was in a decline due to drastic social and

economic changes. Feudalism along with chivalry will fall for many reasons, but the

author of Gawain blames the fall on the loss of religious values within the knights. The

author uses women in the story as the main instrument to reinforce feudalism, for

example: Lady Bertilak and The Virgin Mary are used to contrast the good and evil that a

knight has to face; courtly and spiritual love. With this, women are weakening the

religious values behind chivalry with their temptations towards sin, and the author warns

the audience that the loss of religious values behind chivalry will lead to its ultimate


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a romantic celebration of chivalry. The

original thoughts of chivalry were Christian values such as poverty, chastity, service to

God, and all crusades that were taken by knights were to prove their faith in God. But as

time went on to the 14th century, knights began to lead their great deeds by devotion to a

mistress rather than their God. Men began to gain desire for the flesh of another, rather

then for the protection of their souls. The author shows that woman can be used as a

message to show the Church s mistrust of women. The author always portrays the evil

women, but tends to show that the Virgin Mary always comes out on top, and chivalry

will live on because good defeats evil.

Mary, representing the good, is prayed to by Gawain and in turn she gives him the

help to be strong and survive. She obtained her goodness by being the only woman who

ever achieved motherhood while maintaining her chastity. She represents spiritual love,

obedience, chastity, and life. Gawain uses Mary as a reassurance of protection. He has

that queen s image / etched on the inside of his armored shield (648-49) and he prays to

the image when he senses trouble. Also on his shield is the pentangle, or endless knot

(p. 147), which represents the 5 joys of Mary. Gawain strives to hold true to Mary and to

her wills, but he has many temptations to deal with.

Lady Bertilak on the other hand represents the evil and temptations that a knight

has to fight and avoid. Lady Bertilak works alone in the bedroom and in public before the

people of the castle at banquets and she single-handedly taints the chevalier, causing him

to break bargains and also to go against the good, and therefore breaking his vow of

feudalism. Within the bible and the book, Lady Bertilak represents the traditional female

example of courtly love, disobedience, lust, and death. She is everything that was made to

stop and destroy a male chevalier whose mission in life is to do all good and no evil.

Lady Bertilak uses her body to press him so hotly (p. 87) and showed him that he was

permitted to enter her, but Gawain s temptation was overridden by Mary s will, and he

replied to her:

Then gently, By Saint John,

Said the knight with a smile,

I owe my oath to none,

Nor wish to yet a while. (p. 88)

By Gawain saying this to Lady Bertilak, he not only courteously removed himself from

temptation, but he also dishonored Mary, for he said he doesn t owe his oath to anyone.

The constant fight of good and evil between the woman will remain with Gawain

throughout his entire journey.

Gawain went along his journey to the Green Chapel where he was to have his

head cut off. As he traveled during the Winter in the cold woods, he began to pray to

Mary; And thee Mary, Mildest mother so dear, that in some haven with due honor I may

hear mass and Matins tomorrow morning. (p. 49). By asking Mary for a shelter and

somewhere in which he could pray in Christmas Eve, Gawain believes that She

answers him by showing him to Bertilak s Castle, which will actually bring him to a

test of chivalry. When he arrives at the castle, he is thankful for the success he received

with finding a shelter. But, the moment that Lady Bertilak steps into the room, his fear of

living and praying to Mary is immediately forgotten and he now devotes his total

attention to the beautiful lady. There in Bertilak s castle, unlike in Arthur s, he tries more

to impress courtiers with his skill in the field of courtly love, rather than the feats of

daring or upholding his honor.

But Gawain s true challenge and testing ground come when he is alone in the

bedroom with Lady Bertilak throwing her body at him. This overpowers the bargains he

made with The Green Knight and Lord Bertilak, which were to prove courage and

chivalry, he now has a bargain of chastity, with a woman. He his being confronted with

sin from a beautiful lady who is half naked in front of him, yet to say no would be

discourteous to the host of the Castle, so Gawain is in a bind. An obvious conflict

between spiritual and courtly love is now apparent in Gawain for he is concerned for his

courtesy, lest he be called caitiff, but more especially for his evil plight if he should

plunge into sin, and dishonor the owner of the house treacherously, (1773-75). This

throws him from fear of dishonoring Mary, Mother of God, to the fear of being

discourteous to the host of the castle. Yet he bargains with Lady Bertilak. He doesn t

wish to dishonor Lady Bertilak or The Virgin Mary, so he accepts a girdle from the Lady.

Yet one of the determining factors in the acceptance of the girdle lays in the fact that it

holds a special power of immortality.

Gawain s acceptance of the girdle weakens feudalism and more specifically,

Logres. The girdle causes him to break his bargain with Lord Bertilak because Gawain

must hide the girdle because of its powers. At this point in the story, the author strongly

criticizes the changing face of chivalry. The author shows hints that the game of courtly

love will ultimately break the mal social bonds, which hold feudalism together. It almost

seems that the only thing that could save feudalism are the traditional Christian

hierarchies from which chivalry was born.

Then comes Gawain s final challenge. The Green Knight now faces him with the

taking of his life. When he arrives at the Green Chapel, Gawain is confronted with a

confession; the Green Knight admits that Lady Bertilak was used to tempt Gawain to

break his vow of chastity and his bargain with the host of the castle, one of which was

successful. The Green Knight goes on to tell Gawain that he instructed her [Lady

Bertilak] to try him [Gawain], and you truly seem to be the most perfect paladin ever to

pace the Earth. (p.109). So Gawain s whole fate in the beheading game rested in his

performance in the exchange of winnings game. With this newly obtain knowledge,

Gawain learns a less: hold true to the ideals of the Christian doctrine as a support for the

chivalric code. But after Gawain admits to his wrong doings, he pushes the blame from

himself onto women, saying he was unwittingly duped by women and led into sin.

Gawain tells the Green Knight of four Characters in the Bible and how [all] four fell to

schemes of women whom they used. If I am snared, it seems I ought to be excused. (p.

111) This displacement of the blame allows Gawain to regain his power by returning to

Arthur s court not as a failure, but as a fully reinstated Knight of Honor. Yet his refusal to

go and make peace with Bertilak s wife downs his courtesy, but his power is not back in

the hands of the appropriate authority (Mary), and Gawain s loyalties are redefined.

Gawain returns to the round table, and everyone in the court adopts the Girdle.

The acceptance is a symbol of how Arthur doesn t take Gawain s lesson to heart and how

men covet women, which causes civilizations or organizations to break. But in the long

run, good will overpower evil in the strong man. If he has the willpower to be faithful and

strive for chastity, he can overcome any obstacle. Women will always be there to distract

a knight from his mission, but if a true knight, no woman can stop him. Gawain can be

considered as an anti-woman tirade, but personally, I feel that the book discovers the

deep secrets of both sides of the woman.