Sir Gawain demonstrated all the aspects of chivalry. What was Knightly chivalry? What does the pentangle symbolize? According to Scaglione (1991), knightly chivalry is well-defined codes of behavior which particularly shapes the characters. Gawain`s shield is used to symbolize the principles of Knightly chivalry and Christian morality. The pentangle symbolizes a number of virtues which must be portrayed in knights. Scagloine (1991) states these five virtues to be: generosity, friendship, piety, courtesy, and chastity (Scalgione, 1991). Gawain`s loyalty is tested throughout the poem in how he adheres to these virtues. Gawain adherence to codes of chivalry prevents him from having sex with Green Knight`s wife. Gawain never forgot his own mortality and weakness. For instance, in the forest, Gawain admits his weakness and prays for help. Scaglione (1999) states that, the conclusive lesson learnt from Sir Gawain is one of humility: nobody is perfect, and chivalric pride can be misplaced.
Sir Gawain is a medieval story with profound celebration of romantic values about Christian chivalry and courtesy. Sir Gawain was King Arthur`s nephew, and the most valiant and proud knight. Gawain is an honest and loyal hero (Anonymous, 2004). His courage becomes evident when Sir Gawain challenges the Green Knight in a head-cutting contest. A mysterious creature referred to as the Green Knight pays a surprise visit during New Year celebration at the Camelot. The Green Knight challenges King Arthur and anyone else to a Beheading Game. Due to the mockery that is directed to King Arthur by the Green Knight, King Arthur accepts the challenge, but Sir Gawain intervenes and says that he is willing to take the challenge himself. In one blow, Sir Gawain cuts off the Knight`s head. When Green Knight`s head is chopped off, it rolls about on the sanded floor where it is kicked around like a football by the people standing around (428). However, the Green Knight survives and picks up his head and rides away (Anonymous, 2004).
What is the significance of the round table and having fests? Gawain`s intervention is phrased with all the courtesy of a true knight, yet there is implied criticism of King Arthur for taking up so foolish a challenge, and of the court for allowing him to become involved in an adventure which threatens his destruction. The round table symbolizes the safety for the King, therefore when the outcome of the encounter seemed doubtful, the safety of the king was threatened (Barron, 2004). The chivalric aspects of the knights are tested. Though King Arthur continues to treat it as a game, serious undertones begin to creep into the affair, a challenge to the security and reputation of the Round Table and doubts as to its motivation in chivalric adventure.
The win places Gawain in a dilemma because he must present himself at the Green Chapel on next New Year`s Day to receive a similar blow or be accounted a coward (Barron, 2004). The author presents a familiar dilemma in romance, where characteristically the hero must choose between apparently certain death on one hand and some shameful breach of the chivalric code on the other. For Gawain to be considered a true knight, he had to grapple between cowardice and compromise so that the dilemma may disappear. This would make the chivalric values be confirmed and enhance his personal reputation (Barron, 2004).
Sir Gawain`s journey to the Green Chapel is one with a humbling outcome where his humanity is revealed, and his challenger, the Green Knight recognizes it (Scaglione, 1999). After one year, Gawain takes a journey to look for the Green Knight. Though real threat seemed to be eminent, fighting did not trouble Gawain, because even the winter weather was worse nevertheless, knights were affected only by what challenged the code they served and to them, the threat of the element s is irrelevant (Barron, 2004). When he finally finds the Green Knight in the Green Chapel, he leaves there penitent and changed. Sir Gawain prides himself in observing the five points of chivalry humility, integrity, honesty, piety and loyalty. The Christianity concept of morality is portrayed in chivalry which seeks to promote spiritual idea.
Are the descendants of Troy the ancestors of King Arthur? There is some sort of ambiguity in the poem. The opening, locating the events historically and geographically, is itself conventional, drawing on the parallel tradition of Arthurian chronicle which traces the descent of Western chivalry from that of Troy, whose heroes founded the civilization of Europe. A deliberate ambiguity of syntax prevents positive identification of the ancestor figure.
Sir Gawain passes through a dangerous quest mystery and betrayal, and faces his death courageously (Battles, 2012). Sir Gawain second test is when the lady of the Castle visits him in his room for the first time and retorts that she has got honored guest in her house. Battles (2012) states that Green Knight`s wife fails to recognize Gawain as a famous knight who is adored by everyone. Instead, Gawain becomes just an honored guest. Therefore, the lady`s behavior is liable to be condemned as excessively licentious. Crabbed age highlights Bercilak`s wife`s youthful beauty, and Gawain`s greeting to the two ladies perhaps smiles at his chivalry. Finally, Battles (2012) points out that the young lady is both temptress and faithful wife her temptations, accordingly, complement the Beheading Game in that the disguised antagonist is at once testing and jesting with Gawain`s courtesy.
At Bercilak`s castle, Gawain undergoes what he considers three tests of courtesy and honor, but the aftermath of each test passes in a spirit of merriment that seems to belie the serious import of morning exchange (Bercovitch, 1968). Gawain goes through three instances of sexual temptation from Green Knight`s wife. In each case, the relaxation of tension reduces the temptation, in retrospect, to a game – as in fact, from the lady`s viewpoint, it is. Similarly, the climatic second part of the Beheading Game leads into a general unmasking where it occurs that, the challenge, the blows, and the Green Knight himself were one huge hoax, and the enchantress herself has only the friendliest feelings towards her nephew (2452 – 68). Far from uniting the various elements of romance, denouement brings to the fore the comic-realistic countercurrent of human warmth and Christian forgiveness.
There is ambiguity in the poem where people`s imaginations are awoken to vigorous life where they seek a kind of depth in the poem that is not there (Pearsall, 2011). According to Pearsall (2011) there is a hard discomfort in Gawain`s winter journey, sensual warmth after his joyous arrival, excitement of sexual intimacy and intrigue of the young lady, temptation, and truth to experience the unrealized detail of the poem. Nevertheless, the events are happening in an uncanny reality.
Anonymous, (2004). SparkNotes 101: Literature. New York: Spark Educational Publishing.
Battles, P. (2012). Gawain and the Green Knight. Ontario: Broadview Press.
Barron, W. (2004). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Bercovitch, Sacvan. (1968). “Romance and Anti-Romance in Gawain and the Green Knight. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. Pp. 257-266.
Pearsall, D. (2011). An essay in Enigma. The Chaucer Review, 46, (1-2), pp. 248 – 258
Scaglione, A.S (1991). Knights at Court. California: University of California Press.