The chivalric Gawain

The chivalric Gawain

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The chivalric Gawain
Leffert, Carleigh
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[Tampa, Fla.]
University of South Florida
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Gawain and the Grene Knight ( lcsh )
Green Knight
Courtly love
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- Masters -- USF ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


ABSTRACT: The principal objective of this paper is to analyze Sir Gawain's efforts to balance the conflicting requirements of the Code of Chivalry with the basic needs of human nature to develop insights into the Gawain's character. Using an amalgamated definition of chivalry as the standard, I will examine Gawain's attempts to achieve his goal of being the perfect chivalric knight, determine the nature of his obstacles, and analyze the development of his character. In trying to live up to perfection, Gawain discovers that he is not perfect.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
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Document formatted into pages; contains 43 pages.
Statement of Responsibility:
Carleigh Leffert.

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The chivalric Gawain
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[Tampa, Fla.] :
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3 520
ABSTRACT: The principal objective of this paper is to analyze Sir Gawain's efforts to balance the conflicting requirements of the Code of Chivalry with the basic needs of human nature to develop insights into the Gawain's character. Using an amalgamated definition of chivalry as the standard, I will examine Gawain's attempts to achieve his goal of being the perfect chivalric knight, determine the nature of his obstacles, and analyze the development of his character. In trying to live up to perfection, Gawain discovers that he is not perfect.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 43 pages.
Advisor: William Morris, Ph.D.
Green Knight.
Courtly love.
0 630
Gawain and the Grene Knight.
Dissertations, Academic
x English
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.


The Chivalric Gawain Carleigh Leffert A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: William Morri s, Ph.D Sara Deats, Ph.D Pat Nickinson, Ph.D Date of Approval: July 1, 2007 Keywords: chivalry, Green Knight, medieval, courtly love, Bertilak Copyright 2007, Carleigh Leffert


Table of Contents ABSTRACT Chivalry 1 Offer of a Christmas Game 12 Awaiting and Beginning the Quest 1 5 innings 19 Rendezvous at the Green Chapel 3 3 Return to Camelot 40 References 4 3 i


The Chivalric Gawain Car leigh Leffert ABSTRACT the conflicting requirements of the Code of Chivalry with the basic needs of human amalgamated definition the perfect chivalric knight, determine the nature of his obstacles, and analyze the development of his character. In trying to live up to perfection, Gawain discovers that he is not perfect. ii


1 Chivalry knight, must struggle to balance the varying and oft times conflicting requirements of the Code of Chivalry with the vagaries of human nature. How does Gawain follow the code? What motivates him his desire to live or his desire to be a perfect knight? Not only must Gawain juggle the reality of living with the ideals of the code, at times the requirements which aspects of the code to value during such conflicts reveal insights into his character, growth, and, later, his concerns vis interaction with the chivalric code, we must know what the code represents. Chivalry is a concept with a long history and many interpretations. For the purposes of this paper, we will look mainly at data that has been generally accepted by scholars. We cannot speak of chivalry without speaking of knights, and when chivalry began, many historians do agree that some germinating events did influence the creation of this concept. Most scholars agree th at the first event to have strongly influenced the Under Charlemagne, Carolingian armies consisted mainly of mounted infantry. Because of the great expense of properly equ ipping a soldier, a new system evolved -feudalism. Feudalism was the combination of two customs: commendation and vassalage (Barber


2 Reign place themselves under the authority of another. In exchange for an oath of loyalty and give a parcel of his land to a man of lesser status who would hold it in return for some s emi professional soldiers. The Norman Conquest in 1066 spread feudalism through England. The Battle of Hastings pitted shoulder to shoulder with their battle axes, spears, and swords, whereas the Norman soldiers faced them with similar weapons, but mounted on horseback and supported by archers. It was a with the feudal system and the superficial representation of the chivalric knight a of mounted ret Sir Gawain is a salient example of this superficial representation. By right of K 571 73), steed 597 600), his elegant armor, and his diadem of diamonds all suggest great wealth, which are other signs of nobility. Although not stated, it can be spec ulated that Sir Gawain holds property for the king because of his wealthy accoutrement, his reference to Arthur as


3 wealth, nobility, and fealty to the king combine to conv ince the reader that Sir Gawain is vassal to the king, is another external form of the chivalric knight. Once the outer picture of the chivalric knight was establ ished, an inner reflection of his qualities followed. With the initiation of feudalism and mounted warfare, authors began to write epics, lyrics, folktales, poetry, and prose about knights. Slowly, an image of the internal structure of chivalry formed i of Cambrai, The Song of Roland, and El Cid (Rudorff 102), to name a few, glorified knights for their loyalty, courage, and ability on the battlefield. Later, as feudalism became more established and the Chur ch became involved, court etiquette, morality, and religion became as vital to the idea of chivalry as daring feats of battle. Authors (many of whose names seem to be lost to history) wrote stories of knights, such as Lancelot, Arthur, and, of course, S ir Gawain, who lived for a code which defined their purpose and writing of Percival, imbue the concept with certain qualities, like courtesy, loyalty, and generosity. a voluntary obligation of generosity (Bornstein 51). devotion, c ompassion, and much more. In fact, our anonymous author gives us his account of a chivalric knight when he describes Sir Gaw ain and the pentangle suspended faithful five fold in five


4 SGGK,these were usually the Annunciation Nativity, Resurrection, knight were beneficence, boundless and brotherly love, and pure mind and 54) conduct melding to form an all encompassing chivalric code. Moreover, as evident from the quote above and other publications of the era, the Church was becoming quite influential in the shaping of chiv alry. During this time, the onset of feudalism, knights, and tales thereof, the Church made an important reversal in its policy. Whereas earlier the Church had damned warfare n of the Saxons made the Church rethink its attitude. Already an established power in England, the Church decided to include the knights within its authority. In the mid tenth century, ted. In the eleventh century, bishops attended every knighting; however the knights did not receive any superior status in society from this action (Barber Knight 26). With the onset of the ds to designate the knights as the worldly arm of the church: O Lord who established three degrees of mankind after the fall in the whole world that thy faithful people might dwell in peace and secure from the onslaughts of evil hear our prayers and gr ant that thy servant


5 may use this sword, which by thy grace we bless and give to him and himself with thy protection against all his foes (Barber Knight 112). This new oath was an a allow the Church to establish its own rules of behavior for the knights. During the Crusades, the reality that armed Christians from different countries all acting as one gave the knights t he awareness that they were members of a patrician warrior fraternity. Some battle, returned from the Crusades with the greatest wealth. By the fourteenth century, the Church had turned knighting into an elaborate ceremonial procedure followed by an devout knights as part of the chivalric ideal. For example, Sir Gawain hears mass, honors on his quest (SGGK 593 96). However, significantly, while piety was emphasi zed as an important chivalric trait, the soldiers were more impressed with acts of bravery and skill. Knighting that took received higher regard than their cohorts be cause they had earned the honor through their valor rather than through a religious ceremony. Despite or because of -the fact that the knights followed a code of combat, while the medieval romance authors created their own idealized system of chivalry, and the Church tried to direct the knights with their particular rules of moral conduct, the


6 three never quite coalesced into a uniform code of chivalry. However, in the late twelfth to action. The younger sons, with no land or responsibility, had little to do other than fight as mercenaries. This left them with plenty of leisure time for listening to minstrels and sharpening their battle skills with tournaments ( Reign 19). It was t he amalgamation of the embodying the conventions that they perceived as valuable into action that gave birth to pennants, retainers, codes, and Reign ). So, what exactly was chivalry? According to Maurice Keen, author of Chivalry a polite veneer, a thing of forms and words and ceremonies which provided a means whereby the well born could relieve the bloodiness of life by decking their activities with a tinsel glass borrowed from luring ideal to which young knights Like a lovely dream, it had many interpretations. Because of this, the definition of chivalry was, and continues to be, in a cons tant state of change. According to the Oxford English Reference Dictionary religious, moral, and social code; the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honour, court contended in tournaments many, joined there in jousting these gentle knights, then came


7 to the court for carol 4143). Like the aforementioned definitions, most explanations of chivalry include a code divided into three parts: religious, moral, and social. Since we know that there are three aspects of chivalry, let us describe each. The first aspect of chivalry we will consider is its religious code. In the Christian culture, one could not become a knight without first being a Christian and b aptized (Gautier 11). Therefore, the most basic tenet of chivalry was to believe in God. Notably, many British and French medieval chivalric romances, especially the Charlemagne By this, they mean men who, other than their misguided religious faiths, upheld all the other admirable obviously agrees with the Christian belief, because the reader meets King Arthur and his Significantly, the Church also calls for complete obedience and trust in itself as an shalt obey all her over and convert heathens. Finally, the Church embellished the mo ral and social codes


8 tale. It seems as if all the characters, with the exception of the Green Knight, are devout Christians. The characters that we meet in the beginning of the poem the knights, ladies, and lords, including King Arthur chant in chapel (SGGK 63) and commend Sir Gawain to Christ (SGGK 596). Lord Bertilak and his wife show th eir devotion to the often, offering thanks to Jesus and Saint Julian (SGGK 774); and constantly speaks in the name of, or calls upon God, his son, and/or heaven. Furthermore the story begins and ends just after Christmas. Throughout the narrative, Sir Gawain is searching for a chapel in which to fulfill his promise. The narrator frequently speaks of faith, heaven, and the that devoted Christianity is an integral part of being chivalrous. The second component of chivalry is its moral code. While the religious aspects refer to faith in God and Christ, the moral guidelines refer to charact er. The authors of famous works, all describe their diverse chivalric heroes as possessing extraordinary morality. Their traits range from chastity to charity to judgin g mercifully to avoiding envy. Leon Gautier, in his book Chivalry, lists the following commandments as part of a


9 these commandments seem to form a sort of umbrella unde r which most of the published tenets of moral chivalry fall: Thou shalt respect all weakness and shalt constitute thyself a defender of them. Thou shalt love the country into which thou was born. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy. Thou s halt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God. Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone. Thou shalt be everywhere and al ways the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil (Gautier 10). These canons include justice, mercy, courage, charity, honesty, honor, and just about every other trait associated with the chivalrous knight. The third and last aspect of chivalry is its social code. This is the code of conduct that includes public behavior expected in upper class society. Tomes were written to instruct young nobles in every facet of social life. Children began training at an early age in the p roper demeanor for their stations. Young boys were even farmed out to other jousting, singing, dancing, and performing on musical instruments ( Mirrors 73). Authors li ke Chaucer used chivalric tales to instruct readers/listeners on greeting, speech, cleanliness, appearance, table manners, carving, poise, and dignity (Mirrors 75). Treatises Boke of Nurture Urbanitatis wr itten


10 Black Book Instructions given are as specific as: do not pick your nose or chew on bones, trim your nails, and wear clothes that fit well ( Mirrors 79). Along with these mundane procedures, there existed another aspect o f social conduct courtly love. While there is a body of literature that claims courtly love existed only in books, I have a different perspective. It is unlikely that such a popular concept was never practiced. The rituals of courtly love are, perhaps the best known of the social code. These procedures pertain to flirting, wooing, and speaking of love without acting upon it. There are many guidebooks for this complicated, yet pleasant aspect of the social code. The Art o f Courtly Love offers an excellent example. According to Andre Le Chapelain (commonly known as Andreas Capellanus), there are some fundamental rules to the art of loving that include the following: fidelity, honesty, courtesy, obedience to ladies, and a Thou shalt keep thyself chaste for the sake of her whom thou lovest. Be mindful completely to avoid falsehood. Being obedient in all things to the commands of ladies, thou shalt ever Strive to ally thyself to the service of Love. Thou shalt be in all things polite and courteous. Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved (Le Chapelain 35). While these basic principles present the heart of courtly love, the outward appearance of courtly lov e seems to consist of extravagant compliments, romantic deeds, and endless flirting.


11 Now that chivalry and its code have been defined and we have evidence of its Gawain, ch will b of


12 Offer of a Christmas Game allenge of a Christmas game. humongous axe then wait one year for an answering blow. After a long silence, Arthur is forced to respond to the jolly green giant. Gawain then takes up the challenge to protect his lord. For Gawain many aspects of chivalry come into play. I will describe the chivalric requirements and how Gawain meets them in the order that they appear in the tale. The motion of the plot begins with an instance challenge goes unanswered by all but King Arthur, feudal duty requires Gawain to speak up and face this fearsome supernatural giant. In a display of loyalty, Gawain steps up to protect his liege from injury to his p ride as well as to his body. When the Green Knight the mystical, fear for his life, and feudal duty. Thus, he remains silent. Once Arthur most important concern. As a man he does not respond; as a knight he defends his lord. With his defense of his king the youthful knight demonstrates humility, love of country, and feudal loyalty, as well as acting as a champion of good. In the process of fulfilling his feudal duty, Gawain exemplifies another attribute of chivalry


13 fear he is feeling. He asks permission of his lord and lady to rise from his seat and stand Notice that Gawain has incorporated courtly love into his courteous words with his deference to Guinevere. Then, in anothe r example of courtesy, Gawain compliments his f ellow knights: While so bold men about upon benches sit/That no host under heaven is hardier of will, / Nor better brothers in Finally, Sir Gawain speaks in the mo st self demonstrating humility. It seems that Gawain faces no struggle vis vis courtly language; it comes naturally to him. Then Gawain converses with the Green Knight, and the pattern of his language changes. Gone are the flowery phrases used when speaking to flourishes. courage. For his lord, Gawain confronts a supernatural being. He recognizes that he may die, but the young knight steps forward anyway, since Gawain values his duty more than his life. In an even greater illustration of his courage, Gawain demonstrates several other characteristics of chivalry in the midst of his fear and awe. His courtly manners are outwardly una his poise and dignity are so well practiced that Gawain continues to enjoy the Christmas


14 Gaw (Tolk ien 41 42). It is possible that pride is responsible for his smooth tongue and smoother conduct; he is the center of attention. But pride alone could not carry it off. Without courage, Gawain would not have defended his lord. Without courage, Gawain wou ld not have retained the poise to represent himself so gracefully. Courage allowed Gawain to confront the Green Knight. Courage enabled the young knight to return to the party and behave as though nothing extraordinary had occurred. Gawain faces only on e conflict at this point in the lay fear versus chivalric duty. and speech. It and ornate, his speech to the Green Knight is merely civil. The Green Knight is an trepidation, gruesome exit, Gawain continues with his daily life merely contemplating the end of the game (and his life?) from time to time. At All Hallows Gawain announces his intention t o meet his deadly obligation and departs from Camelot.


15 Awaiting and Beginning the Quest Gawain spends the year following the challenge living up to his chivalric principles. During that year, Gawain continues to discharge his feudal duty by rema ining living his life normally without showing fear or changing his habits as a result of his eerie encounter. Moreover, Sir Gawain demonstrates his honor when he re quests permission to lord of my life, for leave I escape his promise, but dresses well as befits a knight a nd says his goodbyes without whine or whimper. reveals insights into his character. Gawain follows the tenets of the code with an exaggerated flair. His humility as well as his appearance is not only perfect, it is over the (Tolkien 44). Is this ego, earnestness, or extremism? Why does Gawain wait until the end of the year to begi n his search for the chapel, since he has no idea of how long it will take him to find and reach the place, and he has thus put his promise in jeopardy? Honor demands he search, but does not dictate when. According to chivalry, all of his actions


16 are co rrect, but fear has caused him to wait until the last moment to get the information he needs. The journey to the Green Chapel. Gawain goes on his quest alone, during which time he bat all his friends, forlorn must he ride; / At each strand or stream where the stalwart passed / forbidding wood trolls, ogres, and men. On his own in a savage land, Gawain seeks the Green Chapel questioning those he comes across; he worries about missing mas s at Christmas, and he prays. the qualities of chivalry. Lack of companionship renders most of the social aspects of the code unnecessary, so the religious and moral require ments predominate. The major components of the code required here are courage, honor, championing right, and religious devotion. Gawain meets each of these obligations with ease. Gawain shows courage when he overcomes each of the ferocious obstacles in his path, as he continues his journey in the face of constant threats without seeking help. Further, he persists in this perilous quest knowing that an even greater threat is waiting for him at the end. Honor demands that Gawain keep his word; he must s eek the Green Chapel regardless of the and beating these bad men. Finally, G awain practices religious devotions almost daily.


17 Thee, Lord, / And Mary, thou mildest o f mother so dear, / Some harborage where haply I stronghold, Gawain thanks Jesus and Saint Julian. Gawain prays when he is alone; he prays when he wants something; he pra ys when something good takes place. Gawain is a devout Christian, an honorable knight, and a courageous man. Gawain faces two kinds of conflicts during this passage: physical and emotional. His physical conflicts include the basic tasks of implementing the journey itself and facing and defeating his foes. The journey involves constant riding, climbing steep hills of shelter, clean clothes, and convenient food. His success in executing this trek shows that Gawain is healthy, hardy, and not discouraged by hardship. Despite the rugged living conditions, Gawain still manages to engage in several mles with opponents of varying size, strength, and intellect -and wins them all. Gawain is not a pacifist by any means; when he is faced with an obstacle, he overcomes it. This knight does not give up, give in, or compromise. These skirmishes show that Gawain is strong in mind as well as body. T he other kind of confl ict that Gawain experiences is emotional. He is alone, uncomfortable, constantly encountering opposition as he rides to finish a game that may his loneliness. Gawain focuses just on the immediate goal of finding the chapel (rather than what will happen there) to ease his fear. Gawain does not waste his time lamenting his position; he does not turn and run, nor does he ask anyone to join him. A true


18 chivalric knight stout of heart, strong of mind, Gawain uses his loneliness to make him more of a knight and focuses single mindedly on his quest. He allows neither loneliness nor fear to stop or slow him down. Throughout his journey, Gawain reveals himself to be pers istent, devout, and chivalrous. He encounters many obstacles and conquers them all while practicing the chivalric code he loves so well.


19 astle involve very different aspects of the discomfort, exposed to the harsh elements and harsher natives of varying lands, Gawain nghold. Enjoying this welcomed refuge, Gawain meets the residents of the castle, who greet him with gracious welcome, luxurious surroundings, clean clothes, a sumptuous feast, and a warm bed. There, he takes pleasure in his new found companionship and h is much longed for mass. This new state of affairs calls for the practice of the social and religious elements of the Code of Chivalry. As a chivalric knight, Gawain must exhibit courtesy, good manners, a lordly appearance, and courtly love; and he must continue to observe his sacred customs. Gawain meets these demands with varying success. Gawain follows his religious needs religiously. Always keeping his Lord in mind, Gawain responds to his 176). After a sumptuous meal, our young knight finally attends his long awaited mass. appearance is given literally: his host provides him with his lavi sh robes and water to precedes him; and though he is likely weary from his travels, Gawain lives up to them except for one possible imperfection drinking a little too


20 conversation; he practices perfect table manners, and his dialogue drips with courtesy. Gawain constantly compliments the host and his staff, is appreciative of all offerings, and answers all questions asked of him. His conduct is so well approved that the praise from the other men of the household adds to his reputation: Each said solemnly aside to his brother, all dazzle our eyes And the polished pearls of impeccable speech; The high art of eloquence is ours to pursue tations. Upon her companion. Gawain not only pays court to the ladies, but he treats both the lovely young woman and hideous crone with the same courtesy and defere and obedience to the ladies. Yet it is a difficult task to greet an ugly old woman and a achieving this is a credit to his character. Overall, Gawain performs his social duties: some with assistance, some slightly flawed, and some superbly executed. deportment is deeply ingrained. On the other hand, his mild int oxication suggests that either Gawain is extremely relieved at finding refuge, able to celebrate the holiday


21 properly a symbol of his religious devotion or has a tendency toward excess. Either treatment of the crone reveals his concern for others, his desire to behave with faultless courtesy, and his depth of character. The next sections of the lay involve the Exchange of Winnings. Bertilak thanks Gawain for his presence; Gawain returns his thanks and promises to do anything for him. by Green Chapel on the condition that the young knigh t participate in a game. According to the rules of the game, each day [for the next three days] Bertilak will spend the day hunting and Gawain will spend the day resting in bed until mass, after which he will act as a companion to the e end of the day each man will give the other whatever he has gained that day. Gawain now reveals a verbal excess that will get him in trouble. His promise to do whatever Bertilak asks reveals either a nave trust in his host or a lack of thinking ahead Gawain has always spoken with words measured by courtly chivalry, proving that he thinks before he speaks. In this instance, he may be attempting to portray largesse with his words as he has not yet had an opportunity to display that aspect of chivalry On the first day of the exchange, Bertilak leaves for his hunt as promised. While his next actions, feigns waking up, and greets the young woman. While Bertilak c hases deer, his lady chases Gawain with equal persistence. Only the lord of the manor manages to capture his prey: Bertilak slays his deer; However, Gawain quicker than the deer,


22 manages to escape the forbidden lady with just a kiss for her efforts. Th e two men meet and exchange their winnings. This one day requires a great deal of effort from Gawain. Gawain wants to follow the code of chivalry, but the conventions of his religious, moral, and social code are not completely compatible. He must perfo rm his religious tasks. As a chivalrous knight, Gawain must also carry out his duties to his host, act with honor, and perform the rubrics of courtly love. Under normal circumstances Gawain has little difficulty following any of the protocols of the cod e; however, he has not had the wife of someone to whom he is pledged pursue him so diligently before. Although Gawain is trying to follow all the rules, it is now impossible. Courtly love demands that Gawain woo Lady Bertilak; Christianity demands Gawai that Gawain keep a respectful distance; in other words no cuckolding his host! Gawain juggles the needs of the various set of rules and emerges with his chivalry only slightly marred. Courtly love involves a great deal of flirting and fawning, and Gawain is adept at then begs the young lady in suitably admiring tones for permission to greet her in a less However, Lady Bertilak uses the very strictures Gawain follows so carefully against the young knight. She very prettily refuses his request, stating that she wants them to enjoy each other in the bedroom. What follows is a verbal sparring mat ch couched in the most


23 dulcet words and tones. Gawain remains firm even though he is battling both his and the winsome, the warrior had / The less will to woo, for perfect manners and demands a kiss. Gawain, stung at the idea of not being perfect, (Tolkien 73). With one last jab, Lady Bertilak has struck the first blow. Gawain has performed perfectly the ideals of courtly love, but his other ideals are now flawed. Although Gawain strictly follows his pledge to Bertil ak, he is no longer the perfect guest. When Bertilak asks who gave Gawain the kiss, Gawain does not lie; he simply refuses to answer, maintaining his reputation for honor and chivalry by not embarrassing a woman. However, Gawain gives Bertilak all that is due him; he is still courteous, polite, and mannerly in his actions toward Bertilak and his household. isolated with a beautiful alluring woman who pursues him. His religious doctrine dictates that Gawain does desire her; he kisses her; yet instead of seducing her, Gawain commends her to Christ and attends mass. His halo slightly tarnished, Gawain polishes it and moves on. g the chivalry requires him to speak to the wife. Had he continued to fake sleep, it is possible


24 that the lady would have left and Gawain could have dressed and met he r in less pregnable circumstances. Yet, he chooses to leave himself in a vulnerable position. Gawain believes that following the code of chivalry is more important than any possible perilous predicament that may result. Yet, would it have been breaking the code to fake sleep and see the wife later? The code requires deference, flirting, and honesty. Thus, it interpretation suggests that Gawain is using the code as an ex cuse to surrender to temptation. It is not necessarily lying to pretend to be asleep just a signal that one is not perfect chivalric knight is not so perfect when sex is involved. However, Gawain proves himself quick witted in his dealings with Lord and Lady Bertilak. While the lady is (Tolkien 72). The young knight manages to parry every verbal thrust until the end, when y acts on this patently false logic because he wants to kiss the lady; there is no thinking involved. If Gawain had truly believed admitted it to Lord Bertilak; in stead he hides the details of his deed when he speaks with Lord Bertilak later that day. When Bertilak asks Gawain who kissed him, Gawain replies Gawain is pretending that he is being noble and honorable


25 a way that pr otects himself and allows him to enjoy some temptation. Day one of the two Lady Bertilak redoubles her siege. On the second day of the Exchange of Winnings, Bertilak lea ves on his hunt and Gawain remains in his bed as he has promised. Soon both Bertilak and his lady have their prey in sight and the hunt begins in earnest. While Bertilak chases wild boar, his lady chases the gentle knight with equal diligence, and this she enters she enters his chamber. The lady is prepared and demands a kiss in greeting, which Gawain gives her, then diverts the determined woman with verbal rather than physical pleasures. The battle of wills ensues, but, with mild manners, Gawain stands his to entice him to sin, But so fai r was his defense that no fault appeared, / Nor evil on either encounters a huge, murderous boar that engages him in a long hard chase. While Bertilak is busily tracking his boar, Gawain kisses Lady Bertilak goodbye, attends mass, and then celebra te with a Christmas feast, after which Gawain petitions the lord for permission to leave for the Green Chapel, but Bertilak refuses. Day two calls for the same chivalric skills as the first day of the exchange. First and foremost, Gawain must apply


26 the disciplines of courtly love; he must continue to perform his duty and live in honor; finally, Sir Gawain must continue to observe his religious practices. Again, Gawain meets all of his obligations. Although he faces the same struggles as the previous day, Gawain continues using the same strategies, causing him to further jeopardize his moral position. Although he must surely expect what is coming, he offers no resistance to the kisses that frame his conversation with Lady Bertilak. Again, Gawain cou ld feign sleep, but he does not. He could employ his nimble brain and skillful tongue th the damsel entertains her, rebuts most of her advances, and causes no insult. The morning is an echo of the day before with the same actions and even more unsuccess ful results. Instead of charm with even more of his own. He knows he is losing ground, but continues to behave with courteous care: So uncommonly kind and complaisant was she, With sweet stolen glances, that stirred his stout heart, But he could not rebuff her, for courtesy forbade, Yet took pains to please her, though the plan might ). Here, Gawain values courtesy over the other obligations of the Code of Chivalry, and


27 to Lord Bertilak. Gawain remains in bed, though he knows temptation in the fo rm of Lady Bertilak is on her way. At the end of the day, he gives Lord Bertilak the two kisses line. Worse, his Gawain carries out the physical functions of Christianity he prays, attends mass, sings 190). Yet Gawain is breaking one of the Ten Commandments; he is yearning for awain tries to save himself by asking to depart the stronghold, but he does not try very hard. Again, Gawain meets most of the religious requirements, but his success as a chivalric knight is fading. Overall, Gawain is having difficulty performing his i deal code under far from ideal circumstances. Gawain faces two problems: the temptation of a woman and his final meeting with the monstrous mystical being awaiting him at the Green Chapel, eager to return his killing blow. Of the two, Gawain is more con cerned with the more immediate please; / You may lay on as you like, and leave off at wi follows the letter of chivalry, but not the intent. At the beginning of the tale, Gawain is outwardly the epitome of chivalry, but as the tale unwinds his character does not quite


28 measure up to the chivalric ideals. Gawain wan ts to be the perfect knight, but he is a man given to the temptations of all men. from that temptation as well as his concern with fulfilling his promise as he struggles with h is desire to meet the code. Yet, though Gawain manages quite skillfully to avoid versus more temptation? Or desire to please his host/keep his pledge to Bertilak? Gawain is probably following the code to remain with the lady a little longer. The dawning of the third and last day of the Exchange of Winnings changes of his situation. With the end of the exchange in sight, Gawain becomes more concerned with the upcoming lethal reunion with the jolly green giant than with his tryst with Lady Bertilak. As on the preceding days, Bertilak leaves on his hunt and Gawain Once again Bertilak pursues game, while his lady plays one and Lady Bertilak is playing to win chamber door], throws wide a window wonderfully pleasing visage. Their verbal sparring now assumes greater intensity as Gawai n struggles between desire and chivalry. Under her ceaseless verbal assault the


29 young knight fears he will fail to uphold his chivalric standards: For that high born beauty so hemmed him about, Made so plain her meaning, the man must needs Either take her tendered love or distastefully refuse. His courtesy concerned him, lest crass he appear, Lady Bertilak persuades Gawa in to kiss her, then requests a gift to remember him by. Sir Gawain refuses, saying he has nothing worthy of her, whereby Lady Bertilak offers Gawain a gift instead, first her ring, then her belt. Gawain refuses her tokens until the damsel explains the value of the belt it will protect the wearer from death. After considering his impending confrontation at the Green Chapel, Gawain accepts the belt and promises to keep it secret. Lady Bertilak and Gawain exchange more kisses ere she departs. Gawain the n goes to confession and the priest absolves him. While Gawain has own; before evening arrives, he has caught him. The men meet for the exchange, and Bertilak give s Gawain his prize the Reynard while Gawain gives Bertilak three kisses. The day ends with feasting and good byes, for Gawain must leave for the Green Chapel the next morn. Gawain is required to follow several aspects of the code throughout the Exchange of Winnings. Each day he has struggled over conflicting needs, and this last day is the most difficult. Each of the three days has required Gawain to demonstrate his abilities in courtly love, as well as the social and moral aspects of the code. Each d ay Gawain has managed to do well, but has struggled a little more, and each


30 day Gawain has fallen a little farther from his ideal standard. Whereas in the beginning, Gawain is presented as the superlative model of chivalry, on this day, the noblest knigh t In matters of courtly love, Gawain has reigned supreme, lavishly flirting and while keeping his honor (for the mo st part) intact. Until this third day, he refuses her nothing other than the full use of his body and that he manages to do graciously without affect his practice of courtly love, but rather his social and religious duties. Gawain courteously eludes Lady Bertilak until she chooses to pursue his material possessions. Gawain refuses to give her the token she requests though a knight is supposed to be obedient to a lad token into battle, and Gawain complies with this practice by accident. However, he accepts th her body is veiled in honeyed words, compliments, and supplication to be her admirer, he does not exhibit similar artful courtesy and wit when the lady demands more. Sir Ga wain also fails to achieve his ideal in his dealings with Lord Bertilak. Gawain does not follow his own pledge he cheats and lies, with one action, breaking his oath to Lord Bertilak. When the time comes for Gawain to give Lord Bertilak his winnings, he gives the lord three kisses, and no belt. Further, he brags that he has upheld


31 claims without once mentioning his new belt. Concern for his life has outweighed Ga and his soul is clear. Religion is important to Gawa in. He attends mass, seeks confession, and worries about his immortal soul when tempted by Lady Bertilak. Yet, Gawain, after being pardoned just that afternoon, sins again that evening when he lies to and cheats Lord Bertilak. His actions do not match t he chivalric ideal. Gawain is afraid. His fear causes him to break his oath to Bertilak and not mention the girdle. He values survival before chivalry. Courtly love involves receiving a token from a lady and self preservation encourages the acceptance o f the girdle and lying to Bertilak. Gawain is strong enough to refuse her a gift, why doe s he yield the kisses? Had he maintained the flirting and his strength of purpose in both cases his chivalric conduct a gift. His siren asks for a small token, yet that since he has nothing really valuable with him, he can give her nothing. She did not ask for anything valuable, onl y for a gesture. Chivalry requires a knight to display largess. Gawain has earlier proven that he highly values courtesy, but here Gawain shows that he values himself and his belongings more. On this day Gawain is so consumed with


32 the thought of his ap pointment with the Green Knight, that he gives more consideration to his future than to his ideal.


33 Rendezvous at the Green Chapel The night after the Exchange of Winnings, Gawain is unable to sleep. At dawn he favor porter to an area near the Green Chapel. The porter warns young Gawain about t he in this land / And dealt out deadly bale; / Against his heavy hand / Your power cannot quest and arriving at the Green Chapel. Once there, he notes his bleak surroundings and hears the sound of iron being honed. Gawain calls out to the Green Knight who comes knights take their positions and the Green Knight hurtles the fier ce blade toward The men retake their positions, and this time the Green Knight merely feints the strike. Insults fly fast between the two as the mystical green giant the men return to their positions, the supernatural colossus with his potent axe poised


34 scratches Gawain who jumps away and fiercely declares th e game completed. The Green Knight agrees and explains his actions, revealing himself as Bertilak de Hautdesert and the Exchange of Winnings as a test that Gawain passed with the exception of the third night when Gawain kept the girdle. At this confessi knight admits his failing, and receives forgiveness and more: the belt honestly given, offer to visit and sets on his way back to Camelot. achieve his chivalric ideals. Once again, Gawain takes special care that his appearance portrays all that a knight of Christ should be: In his richest raiment he robed himself then: His crested coat armor, close stitched with craft, With stones of strange virtue on silk velvet set; All bound with embroidery on borders and seams And lined warmly and well with furs of the best. Yet he left not his love He ends his quest as he began; Gawain and Gringolet are clean, combed, in freshly polished armor and fine clothes prepared to confront evil. Although outwardly perfect, Gawain must still display the inner merits of chivalry: honor, courage, courtesy, and spiritual faithfulness.


35 Green Knight, but it receives a black eye instead. Gawain arrives at the appointed place, at the appointed time, ready to receive the blow that he has earned. In fact, though he has been having nightmares and dreading this moment, Gawain rides off to face his doom at daw n. Listening as the porter tries to scare him away, Gawain refuses to flee; he remains walks right below the Green Knight and calls out to alert his opponent to his pre sence. His courage would be without question except for two blemishes. The first is negligible; he flinches. An enormous sharp blade is racing toward him as he watches unable to defend himself and he slightly shrugs his shoulders. He makes amends by hol ding perfectly still the next two times that the blade falls. The black eye appears in the form of honor or God, Gawain relies on a green supernatural article of clothing to defend himself from a green supernatural being. This act not only faults his courage, it stains his spiritual conduct as well. Gawain consistently prays and speaks with the words of a devout Christian. Gawain goes to the chapel. He verbal God to protect him from evil; instead, he uses green braided belt; he reveals it in his deportment as well. Throughout the lay, Gawain has consistently prized courtesy as on e of his most conspicuous expressions of chivalry. He hones it and wields it as a conversational


36 s appreciation to An amusing and insightful incident occurs when Gawain is stomping about the Green Chapel searching for the Green Knight. As he walks about the ground Gawain starts insulting the chapel: He turns fear to anger, scapegoating the chapel and the land. Gawain, the meek, the courteous, the lowly knight with the glib tongue, the knight who deftly acts the perfect chivalric lord, rants and insults a piece of ground! When he finds the Green Kni ght, Gawain rebukes him instead Gawain exchanges no courteous conversation with the f iend, merely tells him to proceed! Earlier, when Gawain was the one swinging the axe, he was the model of courtesy, but now that he is receiving the blow, fear obliterates his courtly manners. He insults the Green Knight and calls him names. Even when t he game is finished and Gawain has transgressions does Gawain realize how far he has deviated from his principles. Gawain then repents and tries to regain lost standing through his favorite chivalric tool courtesy:


37 ost dire is my misdeed; / Let me gain back your good honorable intent if not the utmost courtesy. He arrives at the G reen Chapel intending to face a frightening peril in order to keep his pledge. He has traveled a long and difficult path to meet his fate at the hands of a frightening supernatural being without once turning r offers Gawain the opportunity to turn back without penalty to his reputation, Gawain continues, demanding of himself that he meet the mandates of honor and chivalry. He does not recognize that his honor is already impugned until the Green Knight clear of Winnings in plain words that leave no room for hiding and renders his verdict. Gawain has wooed and kissed his wife, but has returned the kisses to her lord husband; therefore, Gawain earns the first t wo feints and passes the first two parts of the test of his chivalry; but Gawain, the flower of chivalry, has failed the third test by keeping and wearing the belt: She made trial of a man most faultless by far Of all that ever walked over the wide earth; As pearls to white peas, more precious and prized, So is Gawain, in good faith, to other gay knights. Yet you lacked, sir, a little in loyalty there, But the cause was not cunning, nor courtship either, But that you loved your own li Gawain, forced to analyze his actions, recognizes how lenient the Green Knight has been


38 in his verdict. Angry and ashamed, he returns the belt and admits his failings. Gawain accuses himself of cowardice, cove tousness, stinginess, and disloyalty. Although Gawain is as harsh as the Green Knight is lenient, he makes the first steps toward regaining his honor. He returns the belt and admits his mistakes. pths of his character. Gawain is afraid, but tries to hold to the ideal. Fear causes him to flinch, and be rst because of fear, then because of pride. Later, Gawain candidly admits and accepts his faults, almost wallowing in his shame and embarrassment, as he realizes that he has failed to meet the ideal. However, instead of simply accepting the minor faults that are inherent in mortals the desire for sex and the desire to live Gawain exaggerates his flaws and allows himself no excuse for being human: Accursed be a cowardly and covetous heart! In you is villainy and vice and virtue laid low! Your c ut taugh t me cowardice, care for my life, And coveting came after, contrary both To largesse and loyalty belonging to knights. Now am I faulty and false, that fearful was ever I confess, knight, in this pla ce,


39 He further overreacts in his passionate self reproach by swearing to wear the girdle as an emblem of shame. most introspec tive of knights. Gawain does not see his actions as falling short of his chivalric values until the Green Knight points them out to him. He constantly strives toward the chivalric ideal, but is not aware when he falls short. Once Sir Gawain realizes tha t he has not lived up to his ideal, he is filled with self reproach. It does not occur to him that it is impossible to achieve the ideal required of the chivalric code because he is human, not a saint. Instead of making allowances, as the Green Knight do es, Gawain unrealistic, but the result of a surfeit of pride. Gawain mouths the words of humbleness, referring to himself as the weakest of knights and so forth, b ut really he believes that he excessive remorse reveal his proud and passionate nature.


40 Return to Camelot The rn to Camelot, and the knight has many adventures on his return. Although his scratch heals, the wound to his ego does not. At all times he wears his new baldric, the girdle, as an emblem of his fault. Soon Gawain arrives and is warmly welcomed at Camel ot. Gawain tells his tale omitting nothing. He describes the Exchange of Winnings, the wooing of the lady, the girdle, and the meeting to see. He ends his confessio n with an impassioned diatribe during which he wallows in excessive self censure and describes his self imposed punishment: This is the blazon of the blemish that I bear on my neck; This is the sign of sore loss that I have suffered there The cowar dice and coveting that I came to there; This is the badge of false faith that I was found in there, ns as so calamitous and try to convince Gawain otherwise. Arthur and all those belonging to the Round Table decide to also wear the bright green baldric to honor their brother; they turn a symbol of failing into an icon of honor. Although Gawain mourns the loss of his chivalry, he still follows his code. He returns directly to Arthur upon completion of his quest, thereby performing his feudal duty. In an act of honor and courtesy, Gawain entertains the court and regales them with


41 his story openly, ho speech wh G awain acknowledges that not admitting to a fault does not make it go away. Yet, Gawain takes his discovery even further. Now he believes that his weaknesses cannot be overcome; he sees his flaws, accepts them, bitterly, and envisions no hope for self improvement. The entire concept of chivalry is the idea of being the best that one can be Here, Gawain accepts that he does not measure up to the standard, stating that he cannot strive for more. Is this then what Gawain has learned from his adventure? Gawain continues to claim that he is false for not attaining the ideal. While Arthur and the others understand that Gawain did not do anything unforgivable, the unknown author of the response may be unconstructive and emotional, his habits are too deeply ingrained to ignore; they will sustain him through this depression and help him to maintain his chivalric standing. In the final analysis, Gawain proves himself to be a man of good character. He is well mannered, determined, courageous, passionate, an d honorable. When pressed, Gawain will give in to temptation enough to compromise his principles, but not enough to totally abandon them. Gawain faces mundane dangers, such as those on the road, without fear; it is only the supernatural that makes his c ourage falter. Gawain truly desires to be the embodiment of chivalry. Although he tries, his humanness, does not let


42 him. Gawain can be tempted by his appreciation of the gentler sex; he has a strong will to live; and he experiences fear. At the same ti me, Gawain is brave and courteous and true, skilled in all the courtly manners, devout, and devoted, honorable, and just. In many ways, Gawain has succeeded in becoming the personification of chivalry; he is as close to the model as humanly possible. Bu t the ideal is not humanly possible. Obligations to lord, survival is not included in the ideal and no allowance is made for fear or anger in the description of courtly courtesy. Gawain stru ggles to balance all these moral demands and when he learns that he cannot, he blames himself instead of the ideal. Gawain never considers why he failed to fulfill this ideal, other than to hold himself guilty. Unlike his fellowship, Gawain never thinks that the ideal may be too elevated to achieve. Is this egotism or he does accept his own sex ual desires; he does meet the Green Knight and courageously bare his neck for the blow considering his meekness of speech and willingness to give others tribute I conclude that Ga wain is nave enough to believe that the Code of Chivalry in all of its forms is possible to realize in the real world. However, in trying to live up to perfection, Gawain learns to accept that he is not perfect.


43 List of References Barber, Richard. The Knight & Chivalry London: Longman Group Limited, 1970. ----. The Reign of Chivalry Bornstein, Diane. Mirrors of Courtesy Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1975. Gautier, Leon. Chivalry New York: B arnes & Noble, Inc. 1968. Keen, Maurice. Chivalry London: Yale University Press, 1984. Le Chapelain, Andre. The Art of Courtly Love Trans. John Jay Parry. Ed. Frederick W. Locke. New York: F. Ungar Pub. Co., 1957. Oxford English Reference Diction ary: Revised Second Edition Ed. Judy Pearsall. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Rudorff, Raymond. Knights and the Age of Chivalry New York: The Viking Press, 1974. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: TheMiddle Ages Ed. M. H. Abrams. 7th ed. vol.1A. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000. Tolkien, J.R.R. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo New York: Ballentine Books, 1980.


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