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Kayla Johnson

AP Literature/Composition Period 1
How Sir Gawain Disparages Chivalry

As the quills of the bards pluck the strings of their wooden lutes, all eyes snap toward the
copious amount of food brought forth from the kitchens. The commanding king and his serene
lady wife glance from their designated places to men conversing jovially. Though other guests
break from the table to drink and dance roguishly with lovers, one knows this behavior goes
undone for these knights of the castle. Courteous to the very marrow of their bones, medieval
warriors exuded a pure sense of loyalty and respect to all friends. A knighted man whose heart
harbored festering deceit seems nearly unimaginable. Of course, those clad in bright, tawdry
armor and armed with weapons of might often set aside niceties. Tasks of battle and of utter war
fell upon knights yelling praise for their liege lord before skillfully embedding a silver blade in
the soft skin of a foe. In modern times, these valorous instances survive as connotations of the
word knight. People admired and flocked to these protectors of the lands, who could return from
a vicious combat session and immediately attend mass. Knights of the day regularly
demonstrated their devotion to Christianity and its values by which they lived through constant
prayer and signings of the cross. However, with such images of near perfection, knights left
themselves open to a slew of satirical jabs. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight reveals itself to be
just that. Within its lines, the titular Sir Gawain of King Arthurs Round Table embarks on what
may be a final quest to finish an exchange of blows with a monstrous green man. The Gawain-
poet potently chips away at the very foundations of chivalry when our hero accepts a mystical
green ribbon from another lords lady. In a matter of mere moments, the reader watches the
unseating of loyalty, gallantry, and religion from their pedestals in the code of knighthood.
Kayla Johnson
AP Literature/Composition Period 1
Every waking minute of a knights life should feature him acting out on his feelings of
respect. Because the Code of Chivalry operated as one built on morality, followers vowed to
speak nothing aside from the truth. But knowing this, Sir Gawains deed in the house of
Bercilak stands incredibly improper. Upon receiving the ladys silk, she and Gawain agree to
stay silent, to hide / The gift from her husband (1862-1863). This pact between the two exists
as a clear violation of the laws of knighthood. Three days prior, the lord of the castle initiated a
game of exchanges with the visiting knight, promising to swap his hunting earnings for anything
Gawain obtained daily. Despite this, the Gawain-poet paints his heroic figure as dishonest when
he fails to relinquish the sash to Bercilak. In this misdoing, Gawain disobeys an authority figure.
It can be inferred that the knight holds his own possible fate in a much higher regard than his
duty. Gawains grabbing for the green gift leaves him likes a thief for a gem (1857). With a
word such as thief used as a descriptor for our protagonist, the poet shatters the vision of a pure
knight. The reader now wonders if they should continue to show allegiance to a corrupt man
who slinks around with anothers lover and takes what does not belong to him. Here, the poet
effectively portrays Gawain as an increasingly false knight.
Medieval England had no dire shortage of conflicts, providing knights with acres upon
acres of training grounds for honing their skills and gaining fame. A brave man spurring his
steed into the depths of an enemy horde composes a significant portion of our vision of a knight.
However, the truth is much less fantastic. A majority of knightly combat consisted of raids
staged on other castles and villages. The fact that a vast multitude of warriors died not from
battle wounds but as a result of fierce disease leaves one with an even smaller sense of
entertainment. Bearing this in mind, the high battle standards faced by knights seem especially
absurd. The Gawain-poet addresses the issue of valor. As Gawain dreams fitfully, like a man
Kayla Johnson
AP Literature/Composition Period 1
deeply troubled in mind (1751), the reader becomes alert to the knights severe feelings of
dread. His upcoming meeting with the Green Knight unnerves him greatly; no vow of
knighthood can shield him from experiencing fear. By taking the ladys token upon his person,
we witness Gawain succumbing to his stifling terror from which sleep fails to rescue him. In
addition, the acquisition of the green silk signals Gawains loss of faith in his own prowess. A
man sporting the item can never be killed, [t]here under Gods / Own heaven (1853-1854).
Notably, if Gawain continued to possess the bravery he exhibited in striking at the Green Knight
at the tales beginning, he would have no need of such a thing. Sheer belief in his abilities
garnered no longer appears at this point. Through Gawains wavering spirit, the poet conveys a
breach of the chivalric code.
Knighthood thoroughly embraced Christianity as a lifestyle. The flawless, courteous
warrior also adhered strongly to the values and teachings of Jesus Christ. We know of the
immense importance religion held in the Middle Ages because of the infamous Crusades.
Successful parts of these expeditionary wars brought Christianity to the Islamic areas around the
city of Jerusalem. From the Crusades and on, knights fought for their lords and for God. In a
grievance against the code of chivalry, Sir Gawain commits the sin of greed for invincibility. He
is well aware of how he is damaging his knightly vows, as demonstrated by his seeking a priest
in private / Ask[ing] to have his confession heard (1877-1878). Even the most proper of
knights remain prone to occasional superstition; for Gawain, the taking of the ladys sash is yet
another strike against his rank. When Gawain completes his confession, the poet tells us that the
mans soul [is] anointed so completely clean that the Day / Of Judgment could have come with
the sun, and been welcome (1883-1884). Both the reader and the Gawain-poet know of the
intended plan to keep the silk a secret from Bercilak. Therefore, the result of the confession
Kayla Johnson
AP Literature/Composition Period 1
seems as false as the new Gawain himself. Should Judgment Day arrive suddenly, the knight
would still be found guilty of his ongoing wrongdoings. The awesome powers of God have little
effect here.
A great deal of Sir Gawains journey to the Green Chapel encompasses typical knightly
behaviors. We approve of his skills astride his horse, Gringolet, and praise his tenacity as his
crosses icy rivers and scuffles with countless aggressive creatures. Indeed, the Gawain-poet
never relays instances of his character accepting monetary rewards, disrespecting Bercilaks
wife, or committing some other offenses. In spite of this, the violations of the chivalric code that
the reader can see are enough to deeply mar the reputation of Gawain. By tackling the subject of
knights, the Gawain-poet takes advantage of a simple quarry. The godlike figure of a knight is
trumped easily by dishonesty, by cravenness, by greed and guilt. Gawain experiences a
symbolic death when he accepts the silk well before he meets the Green Knight and his fear.
The words of the foe himself turn out to serve as what Gawain needed to once again become a
noble knight. Through Sir Gawain, the poet presents knighthood as vulnerable to the natural fear
of death, and knights themselves as flawed men with their own emotions regardless of what
intricate heraldic designs leap from their shining bodies.