Sir Gawain Analysis


Virtual Museum Map

In the Authorain legend, Sir Gawain has great nobility, honesty, loyalty and chivalry. Sir Gawain is the nephew of King Arthur and a member of the king's elite Round Table. In the texts of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell," Gawain is portrayed as a hero who exemplifies the characteristics of an honorable knight. He is viewed by many in King Arthur's court as a noble man who is loyal to the king, and who will sacrifice his own life to protect his lord. Sir Gawain represents an ideal knight of the fourteenth century.

Sir Gawain's inner values and character are tested to the fullest and are clearly defined in the text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The unknown author describes Gawain and the other knights as "Many good knights" (Norton 159), and he is referred to as one of the "most noble knights" (Norton 159) in King Arthur's land. This claim by the author is solidified by a challenge presented by the evil Green Knight, who enters the court of King Arthur and asks him to partake in a Christmas game. Sir Gawain, after hearing this challenge, asks the king if he may take his place. This represents that Gawain is very loyal to his king. Sir Gawain is also an honest knight in the text because in a year's time he ventures out in search of the Green Knight to endure a blow with the ax as the rules of the game were stated. He very easily could have not have carried out his end of the bargain by not traveling to the Green Chapel to meet the evil being, but Gawain is an honest knight who is true to his word.

Another trait of Gawain that is tested in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is his loyalty. While in search of the Green Chapel where he must face the Green Knight, Sir Gawain is tested by the lady of the castle he is lodging at. The lady tries to seduce Gawain, but he does not fall into her trap by sleeping with her. Instead, Sir Gawain remains loyal to the lord of the castle whom he has promised to be honest with, and the lady describes him as the "noblest knight alive." (Norton 195) Finally, in the conclusion of the story, Sir Gawain is very upset and embarrassed because he has been tricked by the Green Knight who turns out to be Bircilak de Hautdesert, the lord of the castle, and also by Morgan Le Faye. Gawain's honor is tainted by the tests he has just endured, and being such an honorable man, he is ashamed to tell King Arthur and the Queen what has happened. Gawain is shown to be upset when he explains his journey to the king, "With rage in heart he speaks, And grieves with many groan; The blood burns in his cheeks For shame at what must be shown." (Norton 209) This is a clear indication that Gawain is a very honorable man.

Sir Gawain's character as presented in the story "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell" is somewhat similar. In the text Sir Gawain is a loyal knight to King Arthur. One day when hunting in the woods, Arthur kills deer in the forest and his actions action upsets Sir Gromer Somer Joure, guardian of the forest. Now King Arthur must find the answer to the question of the one thing women most desire or Gromer will sentence Arthur to death. Sir Gawain assists his king by journeying across the land in search of the answer. Here Gawain is shown as a kind man who is helpful, especially in it regard to his friends. The goodness of Sir Gawain's character is clearly expressed when King Arthur asks Gawain if he will marry Dame Ragnell, a hideous old hag who will give King Arthur the answer to the question if she can marry one Sir Gawain.

Sir Gawain answers Arthur by stating, "I shalle wed her and wed her again, Thoughe she were a fend, Thoughe she were as foulle as Belsabub, Her shalle I wed, by the rood, or elles were not I your frende; for ye ar my king with honour And have worshipt me in many a stoure. Therfor shalle I not let. To save your life, lorde, it were my parte, Or were I false and a great coward; and my worship is the bet." (Wells 334)

This is a clear indication of Sir Gawain's loyalty, honor and bravery. Towards the end of this tale, the old hag rewards Sir Gawain. She sees how noble and loyal Gawain really is. She does this by turning into a beautiful maiden. I believe that the moral to this story is that if you are a good person, who is kind, helpful and loyal to others, then your life will be rewarded. In this case Sir Gawain is indeed rewarded with a beauitful loyal wife.

By comparing these two tales, we see Sir Gawain from two distinct views. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Gawain expresses his traits of honor, nobility, chivalry and honesty in faceing the Green Knight while withstanding the temptations and seduction of the lady. If Gawain had fallen into the trap of the lord and slept with the lady then I am sure Gawain would have had to endure a greater punishment than just a scratch on his neck; he would have lost his head. In "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell," Gawain's traits of friendship, loyalty, helpfulness and nobility are futher revealed. It is clear that Sir Gawain will go to extremes to help his lord, no matter the consequence. Sir Gawain, however, because he is a brave knight and marries such a hideous dame, is rewarded for his valiant, loyal actions.

The character of Sir Gawain is exemplary, as he is honored and respected by all in the court of King Arthur. Sir Gawain, in both tales, shows that he is a man of great honor and will serve his king whole-heartedly. He truly lives each day by the code set forth by King Arthur's Round Table. It is hard to find a man in the world today with Sir Gawain's traits, due to all the infidelity and materialism in our society. I myself would trust a man like Gawain. Indeed Sir Gawain is a "good knight."

Works Cited

1. Abrams, M. ed. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. vol. 1. 6th edition. New York: Norton and Company, 1993, 253-281.

2. Online. Internet. Available HTTP:// Date Consulted 11/25/00 (Picture of Green Knight)

3. Online. Internet. Available HTTP:// Date Consulted 11/25/00 (Picture of Sir Gawain Ready for Battle)

4. Online. Internet. Available HTTP:// Date Consulted 11/25/00 (Picture of Three Knights)

Site by:
Joseph Demma