Sir Gawain is a nephew of King

Arthur and the brother of Sir Gaheris

and Sir Gareth. In the poem he is

described by the author as "the good

knight" and "most courteous" (1. 109,639).

His character is shown through supernatural

tests when he steps in for King Arthur and

takes the challenge of the Green Knight on

himself. Then his second test in the poem is to

withstand the lust of the Green Knight's wife.

Both of these challenges Sir Gawain passes,

and gains more respect and honor than he had before.

The tasks that he accomplishes prove once

more the true Gawain and help the reader to

understand his character more clearly.

Sir Gawain is a hero in the poem, and as always, heroes

have to overcome all their foes and many dangers. The same

heroism and presence of supernatural forces are also found

in Beowulf. Beowulf fights with dangerous enemies

and creatures all around him. On his way to the Green

Knight's chapel, Sir Gawain encounters many wonders and

monstrous foes: "So many were the wonders he wandered

among ... Now with serpents he wars, now with savage

wolves ... And giants that came gibbering from the jagged

steeps ... He had met with many mishaps and mortal harms"

( 2.718-725). As we see the author shows his character as a mighty

warrior, maybe even with supernatural power. Yet it is not clear

how he could fight with giants and was afraid at the first sight of the

Green Knight. As author describes the Green Knight, "Half a

giant on earth I hold him to be..." (1.140). If he is half a giant and

later we see that Sir Gawain is fighting with giants, it is not clear

here why everyone in Camelot at first is afraid of the Green Knight.

Sir Gawain appears, as a real hero and a noble

knight, almost from the very beginning of the

poem when he is accepting the challenge of the

Green Knight. No one is brave enough to accept the

beheading game proposed by the Green Knight,

and if no one of the knights will accept the

challenge, then king Arthur has to accept it,

so that he and his knights will not be regarded

as cowards. Sir Gawain, as a noble knight who

truly serves his king, takes the challenge upon himself

when he says to the Arthur, " Would you grant me the grace"

(1.343). Also we see how modest Sir Gawain is when he

says, " I am the weakest, well I know, and of wit feeblest;

and the loss of my life would be least of any "(1. 354-355).

As we can see, Sir Gawain, despite his heroic deeds, does not

regard himself as a hero, but instead he characterizes himself

as the weakest and most worthless of any Arthur's knights. He does

not even care for his life much. His love for the king is such that if it is

necessary he can give up his life for him.

Sir Gawain's second test is to withstand the

temptation of the Green Knight's wife. She

praises him with courteous and seducing words

and tries to seduce him but without success. She

says to him, "For as certain as I sit here, Sir

Gawain you are, Whom all the world worships,

whereso you ride; Your honor your courtesy are

highest acclaimed By lords and by ladies,

by all living men " (3. 1226-1229).  Once again we see how modest

Sir Gawain is in his replies to the "good lady." He says,

" I am one all unworthy, and well do I know it " (3.1244).

He is very noble knight, and as a true one, he holds his esteem

for the host of his temporary shelter very high:

His courtesy concerned him, lest crass he appear,

But more his soul's mischief, should he commit sin

And belie his loyal oath to the lord of that house.

"God forbid!" said the bold knight, "That shall not befall!"

(3. 1773-1776)

The only sin he commites is the kissing of that lady, but even then, he

kisses only because of his politeness to her and not because of his own will.  


Sir Gawain, throughout the poem, appears as a

knight who has the qualities that are necessary to

be in King Arthur's court. He is a noble, courteous,

humble and true knight to his king. King Arthur's

court and his Round Table are associated with these

ideas. His second test, with the "good lady," is well

contrasted by the author to the hunting of the host of

that house. While he is fighting with wild animals Sir

Gawain has to fight with many temptations that befall

him. The more difficult it is to hunt the wild animals with

each day for the lord, the harder it is for Sir Gawain not

to commit a sin, and on the day when he finally rejects the

love of the lady, his host also does not get, on his hunt, anything

but a small fox. At his return to the castle Sir Gawain bears "the badge

of false faith" on his neck forever and suffers from this with all his true

heart. As he says, "For one may keep a deed dark, but undo it no whit,

For where a fault is made fast, it is fixed evermore " ( 4. 2511-2512 ).


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Here is my recording of a small passage from The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dane Ragnell

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