The Importance Of The Chivalric Code In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

1389 Words 6 Pages
In King Arthur’s court, where “the most noble knights known under Christ” (51) reside, Sir Gawain acquiesces to a fatal challenge proposed by the elusive Green Knight, in order to defend the honor of his ruler. Throughout Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Pearl Poet has portrayed the chivalric code positively, with adherents described favorably as the “happiest of mortal kind, (56)” “[courteously] gracious (247),” and “faultless in [the] five senses (640). The chivalric code serves as the foundation for the knights’ behavior, consisting of “beneficence boundless and brotherly love...pure mind and manners...and compassion most precious” (652-54). And yet the reality of the chivalric code was often at odds with its ideal purpose. For instance, …show more content…
Throughout this romance, the chivalric code calls for acts of bravery and loyalty that might put the lives of its adherents at risk. Sir Gawain, for example, agrees to a proposal from a mysterious guest on the behalf of King Arthur, even though doing so would put his life in jeopardy. When the Green Knight introduces his beheading game, Gawain volunteers in the place of King Arthur out of feudal duty, stating that “this folly befits not a king, and it ought to be his” (358-359). The chivalric code mandates that as a knight, it is Gawain’s responsibility to protect the honor of Arthur. Even when Gawain is fully aware that he might perish “in this fashion to bear a bitter blow” (559-60), he nevertheless undertakes the task - thereby demonstrating the lengths that he is willing to go to preserve his lord’s reputation. Ultimately, Gawain himself proves fallible - because he does not want to die, he wears Lady Bertilak’s green girdle - which is purported to render its wearer immune to “any craft on earth” (1854) - without the knowledge of her husband. Sir Gawain’s sense of self-preservation eventually outweighs his honor to the agreement he has made with the Green Knight; thus by wearing the green girdle “to keep himself safe when consent he must to endure a deadly blow,” he breaks the chivalric code. Because “[he …show more content…
Although the King Arthur’s knights were esteemed as the “champions of chivalry achieved in arms” (95), their actions seem out of place in juxtaposition to their chivalrous descriptions. None of them had stepped forward to accept the Green Knight’s challenge save for Gawain, who proclaims himself “the weakest” (354) of the knights. While the knights were lauded as “the most noble knights known under Christ” (51) in the romance, many of the knights do not truly embody the tenets of the chivalric code; they are not brave enough to sacrifice their lives for their liege. When Gawain returned to court with the girdle around his shoulder as a “sign of sore loss...for cowardice and coveting” to remind him of his sin, King Arthur’s court does not realize the true meaning behind the girdle, and instead proudly donned similar green belts “to be worn with one accord for that worthy’s sake.” This indicates that the rest of the knights have a shallow grasp of chivalry; for them, it is more of a facade than a way of living. Sir Gawain is another knight whose characterization may not reflect who he truly is, although he is arguably one of the more honorable individuals in this romance. Portrayed as “faultless in his five senses, nor found ever to fail in his five fingers,” (640-41), Gawain eventually does fail to abide by the chivalric code by neglecting to reveal the

Related Documents