In the epic poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the author uses the protagonist, Sir Gawain, to illustrate the heroic ideals of chivalry, loyalty and honesty in fourteenth century England. The poem depicts the fabled society of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It extols and idolizes the virtues of the fabled kingdom. In the poem, Gawain is the epitome of virtue and all that is good. Throughout the poem, however, his character is constantly tested and his integrity is compromised.

In the end, Gawain proves that, although he is fallible, he is an honest and chivalrous man of heroic stature. The poem begins on New Year’s Eve in Camelot during a huge dinner celebration. The author elaborately details the “feasting and fellowship and carefree mirth” and sets the scene with “fair folk” and “gentle knights”. (p. 2) Amid the merriment and festivities of these noble persons, a huge man on horseback dressed entirely in green, gallops into the hall. Arrogantly he issues a challenge to everyone at the feast for someone to come forward and strike him with his axe.

To this man, the green knight promises to award his adversary with his beautiful axe on the condition that in a year from hen the challenger should also receive the same single blow of the axe in return. Such a challenge baffles the court and no one responds until, finally, King Arthur stands up and accepts the green knight’s offer, though claiming it ridiculous. With grandeur and the courteous air of a hero, Sir Gawain stands up and graciously asks to be granted the challenge on behalf of the king. Such a courageous and noble act defines the character of Sir Gawain.

With an adept swing of the sword he swiftly beheads the illustrious green knight. Yet, instead f killing him, the green knight picks up his head, tells him to seek out the green chapel and warns him not to shirk from what he has promised, “Sir Gawain, forget not to go as agreed,/ And cease not to seek till me, sir, you find. ” (p. 10) After almost a year has passed, Gawain has not forgotten the green knight or his promise. Therefore, he resigns himself to his duty and prepares to leave Camelot in search of the green knight.

He arms himself with a five-pointed star on the outside and the image of the Virgin Mary on the inside to protect him, a symbol of his purity and goodness. Before he leaves, Arthur tells him “In destinies sad or merry,/ True men can but try. ” (p. 12) Such a statement aims to further highlight the nobility and integrity of Sir Gawain. Upon his departure, he travels for many arduous days until finally reaching a paradisiacal castle in which he is taken in as a guest. His host, “A man of massive mold, and of middle age” (who shares a remarkable resemblance in build to the green knight) is welcoming and very hospitable to Gawain.

During his stay at this castle, Gawain is repeatedly besieged with temptations. The wife of his host constantly tries to cajole Gawain into having an affair with her. To the credit of his impeccable character, however, he declines. Though she cannot tempt him with herself, she is able to break his moral purity by convincing him to accept a gift that could protect his life against formidable the green knight. Furthermore, what makes the acceptance of this gift a true shortcoming is the fact that Gawain was not honest with his host and tell him that he received such a gift, although earlier they had agreed to such terms.

After this, Sir Gawain departs, no longer infallible, to seek out the green knight. He finally comes upon the green chapel and the knight appears. The green knight commends Sir Gawain for being noble and keeping his word and with this Gawain prepares for blow of the axe. The green knight returns the blow by merely cutting the skin and drawing a little blood. This astounds Sir Gawain and he jumps up and is ready to fight. The green knight laughs at Gawain and tells him to relax that he did not intend to cut off his head.

The small cut represented Gawain’s small sin of accepting the “magical” sash from he green knight’s wife (who reveals that he had been his host at the castle after all). Besides that small shortcoming, the green knight proclaims that Gawain is truly a noble, honorable man henceforth absolved of all guilt. Gawain is deeply upset and disgraced by his behavior and decides to keep and wear the sash as a sign of his shame. After this, he returns to Camelot and is hailed by all the court as a hero and they lightly dismiss his recent disgrace. Throughout the poem, the importance of chivalry, nobility and integrity is an overarching theme.

It defines Gawain’s behavior and heroism as ideal. This attitude illustrates the values of fourteenth century England. Through his actions, Gawain proves his chivalry, valor and status as a hero by courageously defending King Arthur, keeping his word to seek out the green knight, refusing to have an affair with his host’s wife, and holding to his ideals and principals. Therefore, if Sir Gawain, the heroic knight, is depicted as the epitome of all that is good and pure then, one can conclude that the society as a whole placed great emphasis and value upon the ideals of chivalry and nobility.

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