Idea of Knighthood in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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The image of gallant and noble knights galloping on their mighty steeds to perilous battles has been a longtime icon in numerous fairytales and folklore. This idea of knighthood is especially portrayed and described in detail throughout Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Knights, more specifically, of the Round Table, are depicted as the heroic, noble, almost god-like protectors of Camelot. Ardent followers of Christ, they are perceived as infinitely powerful in times of combat, yet infinitely compassionate and honorable in times of peace. The Endless Knot, a symbolic emblem of knighthood, dictates “The fifth five that was used, as I find, by this knight was free-giving and friendliness first before all, and chastity and chivalry ever changeless and straight, and piety surpassing all point: these perfect five were hasped upon him harder than on any man else.” (38). Sir Gawain, though the weakest of the King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, proves himself as an ideal knight through fulfilling the standards of knighthood described in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Part of a knight’s duty was to defend and love the Church and to have complete trust in God. The Knights of the Round Table were all firm believers in Christ, taking part in “ …[a]feast [that]was unfailing full fifteen days” during the Christmas season, thus implying how religiously vigorous they were. Sir Gawain is highly religious, calling upon God’s grace and power to protect him in times of peril, even having “on the inner side of his shield [Mary’s] image depainted, that when he cast his eyes thither his courage never failed.” (39). Before entering the field to the Green Chapel, Sir Gawain also proved his faith in God by entrusting that He would protect him when the Green Knight repays the blow, praying that “By God on high I will neither grieve nor groan. With God’s will I comply. Whose protection I do own.” (86).
Sir Gawain’s character also proves that he is morally strict in keeping his honorable reputation as a Knight of the Round Table. For example, when Bertilak’s beautiful wife tempts Sir Gawain, although he knew he would die in a few days time, he never fell into her manipulative seduction scheme. No matter how persistent “the lady demeaned her as one that loved him much”, Sir Gawain always “fenced with her featly, ever flawless in manner.”(58). This sends a powerful message to the reader about Sir Gawain’s morality as a person, being able to resist the very temptation that had brought so many other great men to their knees.
The Knights of the Round Table were also expected to be the gallant, zealous defenders of Camelot. Sir Gawain’s perseverance and bravery definitely resembles that of an ideal knight. During his long journey, Sir Gawain “found a foe before him, save at few for a wonder; and so foul were they and fell that fight he must needs” and thus conquering each and every one of the beasts that challenges him (41). The knight was also stunningly brave when he went to receive his repayment from the Green Knight. Even though his guide warned him of his nonexistent chances of surviving, Sir Gawain nevertheless presses onwards, replying that “…if I here departed fain in fear now to flee, in the fashion thou speakest, I should a knight coward be, I could not be excused. Noy, I’ll fare to the Chapel, whatever chance may befall…” (85). Sir Gawain’s unwavering bravery further justifies his rightful title as an ideal knight.
The use of colors reflects his noble position as the protector of Camelot and King Arthur, as Sir Gawain is equipped with armor in the regal color of red, which symbolizes royalty. The ideal knight was also expected to serve the royal family, and to protect the king in times of need, as Sir Gawain had put it, “I find it unfitting…you yourself be desirous to accept it in person, while many bold men abRout you on bench are seated.”(29). One could not help but notice Sir Gawain’s show of selflessness when he offers to sacrifice his life for King Arthur’s even when none of the other elite knights would dare to do so. The knight’s “free-giving” nature could also be observed when Bertilak’s offers him a beautiful ring that “was worth wealth beyond measure.” (75). Sir Gawain promptly refuses the offer, arguing that he had nothing to offer in return. When he promises to hide the green girdle that the lady presses upon him, it was a mistake that was not committed for his own interests, but rather one to protect another’s reputation. This selflessness reflects Sir Gawain’s loyalty to his duty as a knight to protect those who are less superior and to serve the weak.
Through living up to the expected virtues of knighthood such as chastity, selflessness, bravery, and piety, Sir Gawain proves himself time and time again his worthiness to be recognized as the ideal knight. Each time the knight faces a different challenge or trial, his consequent decisions reveal a little about his character. It is nearly impossible to compare the virtues and criterion of the ideal knight to Sir Gawain’s actions and not recognize the stunning. As Sir Gawain and the Green Knight closes to an end, the reader is left with the impression that Sir Gawain had indeed fulfilled his duties as the ideal knight.


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