“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a medieval romance poem written by an anonymous author. It was written in a dialect from Northern England. The poem uses alliteration similar to the Anglo-Saxon form of poetry. Sir Gawain is one of the major characters in the poem. Sir Gawain represents an ideal knight of the fourteenth century. Throughout the story, we see Sir Gawain portrayed as a very courteous and noble knight, always trying to help King Arthur. The poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight tells the tale of one of King Arthur’s bravest and noblest knights, Sir Gawain.
The author spins this magical tale of heroism and adventure over the course of one year. During this year, the hero Sir Gawain undergoes a serious alteration of character. When the Green Knight enters King Arthur’s court, he sets Sir Gawain’s destiny in motion. Change, especially spiritual transformation, is a common thread running through the poem. In addition, is the case with almost every example of romantic poems and certainly every story concerning King Arthur and the other knights, the characters carefully observe a strict code of chivalry that true knights follow.
In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain and other knights hold values such as courtesy, loyalty, and honor in high esteem. The unknown author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight brings to life the character of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s court who saves the life of his king by accepting the challenge of the Green Knight. Throughout his adventures in the story, Gawain discovers, develops, and demonstrates his own chivalric qualities. The chivalric code that Gawain strives to live up to is one of loyalty to his king, Arthur, courage, and courtesy, a code of behavior expected of knights in the Middle Ages.
These aspects of the code of chivalry came primarily from traditional warrior values others are Christian additions, aiming for the ideal of a noble, gentlemanly warrior. The demonstration of these qualities proved the mark of a true knight. Sir Gawain’s loyalty is tested when the Green Knight arrived in King Arthur’s castle, Camelot, who wants to play a game of beheading each other stroke by stroke. Sir Gawain insists to play the game instead of King Arthur to prove his loyalty.
For example, in the text it is stated, “Then Gawain, at Guinevere’s side, Made to the King a sign: “I beseech you, Sire,” he said, “Let this game be mine” (Littell, McDougal 231). Taking forth the game upon him, Sir Gawain, proved his loyalty to his king that he is a noble knight. Sir Gawain is now on a journey to face the Green Knight in twelve months and a day after accepting the Christmas game. The Green Knight, a person who shows no fear has been beheaded by Sir Gawain who also has to be strike upon by the Green Knight in return. The Green Knight says to Sir Gawain that he must visit him in exchange for the stroke in twelve months and day at the Green Chapel.
As accepted, during Sir Gawain’s journey he comes upon a castle in which the lord of the castle welcomes Sir Gawain and invites to stay with him and his lady of the castle. When the lord of the castle goes to hunt each day, Sir Gawain is seduced by the lady of the castle. To try and make Sir Gawain accept the gifts she has to offer him a new gift after another rejected by Gawain. During this time, Sir Gawain’s honesty is tested to prove whether or not he is a knight of nobility. Sir Gawain proves his honesty by not accepting any of the gifts offered by the lady of the castle.
For example, in the text it is stated, “He refused it and swore on his knighthood that he could take nothing” (Littell, McDougal 233). In addition, Gawain proves to be dishonest by accepting a sash which will allow nothing to kill him and will aid him when he faces the Green Knight. For example, in the text it is stated, “He thanked her earnestly, And boldly his heart now ran; And now a third time she Leaned down and kissed her man” (Littell, McDougal 234). Although, Gawain is dishonest he proves to be honest by returning the kisses given by the lady of the castle to the lord of the castle.
Sir Gawain has waited in patience for twelve months and a day to face the Green Knight, the day that has finally arrived for him to face his foe, the Green Knight, at the Green Chapel to complete the game challenged by the Green Knight. Along with Sir Gawain is the sash he was given by the lady of castle which will protect his life. Upon arrival Gawain hears the Green Knight sharpening his axe and does not shrink from the sound and calls out. He is then greeted by the Green Knight and the two get down to the business at hand.
Gawain’s bravery is tested in the Green Chapel as the Green Knight takes the first strike, Gawain looks up at him. The Green Knight stops in mid-swing and taunts him. Gawain is trying his best to be brave but is having a hard time he knows of his mortality and is afraid. On the second stroke, Gawain remains perfectly still and the Green Knight stops again to taunt him. For example, in the text it is stated, “For look how you flinch for fear before anything’s felt! I never heard tell that Sir Gawain was ever a coward! (Littell, McDougal 236). Sir Gawain is afraid losing his life, miserable with disgraced he faces a personal struggle to obtain the code of chivalry. The code of chivalry explains that a knight must be honest, noble, and courageous.
Though, Gawain is fearful of being killed which goes against the code of chivalry. For example, in the text it is stated, “The selflessness and loyalty suitable in knights; Here I stand, faulty and false, much as I’ve feared them, Both of them, untruth and treachery; may they see sorrow and care! (Littell, McDougal 239). Describing his fear of dying and personal struggle to obtain the code of chivalry Gawain apologizes to the Green Knight and lives. In conclusions, throughout the poem we see Gawain’s personality from his own words and actions and the way others hold him higher than he actually is in the poem. He is honest, brave and loyal, until the stress of the seemingly losing his life becomes far too great for him to bear. This is the key as to why his character is believable.
The flaw is enough for him to be human, but not so much as to change his character to such a point where his actions and his personality do not coincide with each other. Gawain does not live up to every standard of the code of chivalry perfectly, but this shows that he is only human, like any of the other knights of King Arthur’s court. The standards that he set for himself were hopelessly high, but the standards that he did meet made him one of the most chivalric of all the knights portrayed in literature. These are the characteristics that make up the great knight, Sir Gawain.