During the Middle Ages, knights lived their lives following the chivalric code. In an essay, define the chivalric code and prove how Gawain, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is both a laudation and a condemnation of the chivalric code.
The code of chivalry is a collaboration of virtues including loyalty, honesty, courteousness, obedience, chastity, prowess, courageousness, valor, and truthfulness. When a Medieval man becomes a knight, he vows to follow the code of chivalry. This code evolved from the values of the Christian religion and exemplifies perfection to the utmost extremes. A knight abiding by these rules does not fight for man, but for mankind, an ideal, or an abstraction, including fighting for women. Sir Gawain is known as the epitome of chivalry. He abides by the chivalric code at all times. Gawain carries a shield with a pentangle on the front and a picture of Mary on the back.
The pentangle represents Gawain’s character and beliefs, symbolizing strength, chivalry, Christianity, joy, and faultlessness. The author states, The five of the five fives followed by this knight were beneficence boundless and brotherly love, and pure mine and manners, that none might impeach, and compassion most precious – these peerless five were forged and made fast in him, foremost of men.” The chivalric hero fights not only for the defense of man but also for ideals and abstractions. Sir Gawain defends the chivalry of King Arthur’s court by stepping up to the Green Knight when the embarrassed king attempts to participate in the Green Knight’s game, a game in which the king had no place to play.
He obeys his knightly code of honor, loyalty, courage, valor, and courtesy by volunteering and using the most courteous words to release Arthur from this knightly duty. Gawain says, I am the weakest, I wot, and the feeblest of wit, and it will be less loss of my life if ye seek sooth.” His humbleness comes from his heart, and he knows that he is giving his life away for the sake of his king. This obedience to the chivalric code is more than any of the knights at the Round Table. The tasks Gawain must face on his journey to find the Green Knight include long nights of travel, sleeping on hard ground, lack of sufficient food, scaling cliffs, solitary travel, encountering serpents, wolves, wild men, bears, boars, bulls, bitter cold, sleet, and rain.
These trials prove his honor to the code of chivalry through his courage, obedience, valor, and his will to go forth on the journey. This will comes from Gawain’s Christian aspect of the chivalric code. He displays purity, chastity, and charity, not only as a Christian, but as a true knight of the chivalric code. Christianity is intertwined with the chivalric code of loyalty, honesty, and courage. The introduction of Bercilak and his wife begins Gawain’s tests of his honor to the chivalric code. He makes a promise with the host that they will exchange gifts each day. In the meantime, the host’s wife tries to provoke him to fail at upholding his code of chivalry with sexual advances.
It is very difficult for him to deny the wife without being unkind to her, but he succeeds in not accepting her advances in a courteous manner, therefore restoring his chastity and his honor to his host. The author describes Gawain’s success after two days of advances: Thus she tested his temper and tried many a time, whatever her true intent, to entice him to sin. But so fair was his defense that no fault appeared.” Consequently, Gawain fails to live up to the chivalric code in the latter part of the tale. He is more vulnerable at this time than he was before, now that it is the eve of the beheading. His hostess comes in with a gift for him, a girdle.
Gawain tries so hard to be courteous and remain true to Brecilak, but he is eventually persuaded into accepting the gift and keeping it a secret when he is told it has magic powers which will protect him from any craft on earth. By doing so, he becomes guilty of breaking the chivalric code. He is now guilty of cowardice, for he feels he needs magic to protect him, and covetousness, for he has coveted the gift.