When the ideal knight or concept of chivalry is mentioned in contemporary times, names like King Arthur and Sir Lancelot immediately come to mind. However, writers from the Middle Ages have woven tales of many other chivalrous knights in an effort to preserve their memories. Sir Gawain is a name not known to the common reader, but those who have read Sir Gawain and The Green Knight know all about him and his heroic deeds. Some of the attributes of a chivalric knight include bravery, faith and morality.
In the story of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, Gawain demonstrates chivalry in numerous situations.
Chivalry is a code of conduct associated with the medieval days of being a knight. This term was developed between 1170 and 1220 A.D. Knights lived and operated by this code because it is what defined their honor, honesty, valor and loyalty. A knight was relied upon to have not only the quality and aptitude to face battle in the rough period of the Middle Ages, but also was required to temper his forceful side with a chivalrous nature.
The requirements of the Code of Chivalry were exemplified by the vows and promises that were confirmed in the Knighthood ceremonies of the Middle Ages and the Medieval period.
These holy promises of battle were framed by the actions of gallantry and with strict standards of manners and codes of conduct, especially towards women. The vows and promises taken as knights of chivalry were published in the poems, ballads and literary works of many Medieval authors.
Many wandering bards and poets sang these ballads and poems which described a knight’s valor and the acts, of chivalry. The Medieval Age stories and legends about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table gave perfect representations of the Code of Chivalry. Arthurian legend revolves around the Code of Chivalry which was the law for the Knights of the Round Table. Probably one of the least renown knights in King Arthur’s court, Sir Gawain provides some of the best examples of what being a chivalrous knight was like during the Dark Ages.
Coincidentally the best example of Sir Gawain’s chivalry is found in his dealings with the famous King Arthur. Of all the famous knights that served under King Arthur, there was only one who was brave enough to sacrifice his own life in place of the King. Sir Gawain offered to participate in the Green Knights death game in place of King Arthur. Gawain shows his most chivalric deed by putting his kings life before everything else, even his own life. Gawain accepts the challenge of the Green Knight and shows his bravery by promising to meet his death a year from that day.
Along the journey to find the Green Knight, Gawain finds himself lost, freezing and starving in the woods. Thinking he was going to die, Gawain offers a prayer to Mary to help him celebrate mass on christmas. Gawain’s prayer was answered, and he soon found a castle where he celebrated mass with much thankfulness in his heart. The faith of a knight is very important, Sir Gawain put his faith even before his health. Sir Gawain was starving and freezing on christmas night but the most important thing in his mind wasn’t finding lord shelter, it was being able to have a christmas mass. The faith Gawain shows is that of a chivalric knight ten fold, for faith came before food, truly a heroic quality.
Once Gawain found the castle and said mass in it he met the lord and lady of the house. Gawain’s reputation preceded him in this castle and everyone was in awe at one of the knights of the round table. The lord of the castle convinced Gawain to stay a few days for the Green Chapel was only two miles away. After hearing the news the lord proposed a game that he and Sir Gawain could partake in over the next three days. During the day the lord would go hunting with other nobles and bring what he caught back for Gawain. In exchange whatever Gawain earned while staying in the castle, he had to give to the upon his return from the hunt. Each of the three days when the lord left, his very beautiful wife would come to Gawain’s’ chambers and attempt to seduce him.
For three days this went on, and for three days Sir Gawain remained chaste and steadfast in dealing with the lords wife. Everyday Gawain accepted only a kiss, for it was customary for a knight to greet a fine lady with a kiss. When her husband returned each day, Gawain gave the lord the kisses he received from the wife. However on the third day the wife offered Gawain a green Girdle that was said to keep the wearer safe from all harm. With Gawain’s judgment day fast approaching he accepted the girdle but decided not to tell the lord of this gift. Gawain restrained himself from committing adultery with the lords wife for three days. His morality and chivalry for treating a woman helped keep Gawain steadfast and pure.
People might say that Gawain’s one misgiving, lying about the girdle, overshadows all his other chivalric actions. Gawain’s one flaw in his chivalric code does not change the goodness of his other deeds, it merely shows how human he is. A knight would be superhuman and unreal if they did not make their fair share of mistakes.
Everyone makes mistakes and one flaw does not prohibit Sir Gawain from being considered the ideal knight.Gawain fits the ideal knight in that he has the shiny armor and the noble steed. Readers of his tail get a glimpse into the human side of knighthood through the revelation of his human temptations, distress, hunger, and resorting to falsehoods in order to protect his life. Though Gawain’s flaws are minimal they define him as a noble, human, and worthy knight of the round table.