Many scholars offer different interpretations to the meaning of the poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Several of them interpret the poem as a test of knighthood virtues and believe the first failure of Sir Gawain’s knightly virtue happens during the green girdle test. A particular journal, “The Meaning of ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” by Gordon M. Shedd suggests the heroic struggle that Sir Gawain faces is the truth about “the nature of man” and “the code he finds lacking” (Shedd 4).
In addition, he believes medieval romance stories ignore the fact hat even the most virtuous men fail: “The poem constitutes a glaring violation of the traditional success-story pattern, and the hero’s lapses of courage and honour, those twin corner-stones of the chivalric edifice, are highly untypical of the knightly conduct we find illustrated with such stultifying sameness in medieval story” (Shedd 4). Although this theory is scholarly proven, Shedd fails to analyze the importance of the games put forth by the green knight.
Through a more thorough analysis, the green knight’s tests are to prove how being a hero does not need to result in death. Sir Gawain’s heroic struggle is excess pride in his virtues, allowing him to overlook the true meaning of a hero, which is demonstrated when analyzing the significance of both beheading scenes and the green girdle test. To start this analysis, it is important for a reader to acknowledge how the green knight perceives Arthur’s court.
The author of the poem shows readers Camelot is well-known for having “The most noble knights known under Christ” (Page 1644, Line 51). These knights are known for their courtesy, valor, loyalty, strength, and pride. Therefore, when no one takes on the green night he states, “Where now is your arrogance and your awesome deeds, / Your Valor and your victories and your vaunting words” (Page 1650, Lines 311-312). The author tells us these men remain stunned at what is going on and already lack some of their most lived by virtues because they fear death is involved in the game.
However, because of pride Arthur becomes courageous and steps forward to take on the green knight’s challenge, until Sir Gawain steps forward to save Arthur, which brings readers to the first failure of being a hero. Several critics conclude the green knight’s initial challenge is to have omeone exchange blows with him, implying someone to cut off his head and return a year and a day later to return the blow. However, this is the most overlooked section among many critics.
Shedd found this analysis helpful in proving how Sir Gawain passes the first test with his “customary grace and virtue” (Shedd 5). Conversely, nowhere in the terms of the first challenge does it state an exchange of beheadings, rather the green knight states: If any in this house such hardihood claim, Be so bold in his blood, his brain so wild, As stoutly to strike one stroke for another, I shall give him as my gift this gisarme noble, This ax, that is heavy enough, to handle as he likes, And I shall bide the first blow, as bare I sit (Page 1649, Lines 285-290).
With these lines, it is concluded that Sir Gawain has the freedom to choose what kind of blow he wants to deliver and where. He could have cut off the green knight’s finger or sliced his arm. However, the author does this to show how valor and pride often overpower knightly virtues. Knights are known to defend their people and are proud warriors (often resulting in killing others) therefore, Sir Gawain mistakes this exchange as a eath-blow.
William A. Paris states in his analysis, “As long as this fear [death] is sublimated, men behave as if they are immortal and do not consider that death may be seconds away at any given moment” (147). Sir Gawain sublimates his fear of death because he does not believe the green knight will survive; therefore, he saves the king to remain a hero without realizing if the green knight does survive, death will be around the corner.
In addition, he fails to realize being a hero does not always mean you need to destroy others; therefore, the green knight ecides to test him again in hopes he will understand. The next test Sir Gawain faces is the green girdle test. Shedd believes this test proves another breach in knightly virtues, particularly chivalric code and that the girdle symbolizes “Gawain’s fear and is not until adopted by him as a symbol of human vulnerability and weakness that it achieves real worth, as a reminder of the truth about the nature of man” (Shedd 13).
While this appears to be a great analysis, a reader can view this as another test to prove how important life is rather than just a breach in knightly virtues. By Sir Gawain accepting the girdle, he gives a new sense to the value of life-his own. Paris agrees with this in his analysis by stating the green girdle test reveals, “[Sir Gawain] wants to be in control of that situation, which is why he accepts the silken sash, even though he knows it is blatant violation of his code of ethics to conceal it from Bertilak and the Green Knight” (151).
Sir Gawain does not enjoy not being in control of his death; therefore, he is willing to break his loyalty to the host to keep his life no matter the cost. Once Sir Gawain journeys further and faces the green knight, e finally realizes the importance of these tests. Because Sir Gawain exchanged his gifts during the first two days at the castle, the green knight does not strike him during the first two blows.
However, upon the third strike the green knight nicks Sir Gawain’s neck, resulting in Sir Gawain jumping up and stating, “Have done with your hacking-harry me no more” (Page 1691, Line 2322)! Gawain finally realizes even a strike to the neck does not have to result in death and every life has value. Furthermore, to prove the green knight accomplished what he anted he states, “The cause was not cunning, not courtship either, / But that you loved your own life; the less, then, to blame” (Page 1692, Lines 2367-2368).
William A Paris brings this analysis to light by stating, “Sir Gawain’s recognition of his own mortality is what ultimately precipitates failure; but in coming to grips with the dilemma in his own way, he learns what he is made of… a man among men and hero among heroes (152). Gordon M. Shedd provides excellent points on how heroes have faults because they are men and includes useful evidence to prove his thesis, but he misses many relevant opposing iewpoints.
One important detail most critics, including Shedd, oversee is the rules to the first game brought on by the green knight. In addition, while William A. Paris’s article sheds light on life being of importance, he still failed the initial rule to the game. As for the author of the poem, perhaps during that era people were killing others for ridiculous reasons and the author wanted to remind people that death is not always the answer. Thus, allowing Sir Gawain to become a magnificent hero who has not only pride in himself, but now in other lives as well.