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, prowress, courageosness, 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 extremesA 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 sheild with a pentangle on the front and a picture of Mary on
the back. The pentangle itself represents Gawains character and his beliefs by
representing 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 non might impeach,
And compassion most precious–these peerless five
Were forged and made fast in him, formost of men.
The chivalric hero rarely fights in defense of man, but mostly for defense of
mankind, an ideal, or an abstraction.
Sir Gawain steps up to the Green Knight to defend
the chivalry of King Arthurs court when the embarrassed king attempts to participate in
the Green Knights 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 by using
the most courteous words to release Arthur of this knightly duty. Gawain says:
I am the weakest, I wot, and the feeblest of wit,
And it will be the less loss of my life if ye seek sooth.
His humbleness is of his heart and he knows that he is giving his life away for the sake of
his king. This obedience to the chivalric code shown 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 traveling nights, sleep on hard grounds, lack of sufficient food, cliffs to scale,
solitary travel, serpents, wolves, wild men, bears, bores, bulls, bitter cold, sleet and rain.
These trials prove his honor to the code of chivalry through his courage, obedience, valor,
and also his will to go forth on the journey. This will comes from Gawains 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 for Christianity is intertwined with the
chivalric code of loyalty, honesty, couragousnesses, etc.
The introduction of Bercilak and the very beautiful, very cunning, wife of Bercilak
begins Gawains tests of his honor to the chivalric code. He makes a promise with the host
that they will exchange gifts that they are allotted each day. In the meantime, the hosts
wife tries to provoke him to fail at upholding his code of chivalry with sexual advances.
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, therefor restoring his chastity and his
honor to his host. The author describes Gawains 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 .