The Third Seduction of Sir Gawain

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the most famous works of medieval literature, and it is one of the numerous legends of King Arthur and his knights so popular in the Middle Ages. The poet of the work is unknown, and we can only guess where he comes from and who his audience is. The most intriguing part about the poem for me is that based on the descriptions in the work several researchers were able to trace the possible actual location of the Green Chapel. There are a few suggestions about the location, but they generally lie in the same area. The author probably placed Sir Gawain in surroundings familiar to his original listeners.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a story about testing a knight's nobility. The passage of interest for me is the third attempted seduction of Sir Gawain by the Lady of the castle, Bercilak's wife. [Norton, 237-239: 1719-1815] On the third day of Sir Gawain's visit in the castle, Bercilak, also known as the Green Knight, leaves the place to hunt for a fox. A fox is a smart, cunning animal that would rather trick its pursuers than try to outrun or outfight them. It is the hardest animal to outwit in medieval mythology. This day Bercilak's wife tries to seduce Sir Gawain with all her wit. She comes early in the morning to Sir Gawain's room dressed to the bear minimum. He is still asleep, and she wakes him up. After an unsuccessful attempt to lure him, the lady asks Sir Gawain whether he has a girlfriend back home since he resists her charms so much. He answers that he has no lover, and will not have one for awhile; however, God forbids him to take her love. The lady kisses him, and asks if it is possible for her to get some token of love from Sir Gawain. He says that he has nothing to give her and, in addition, it is not honorable for her to have something of his. Bercilak's wife then gives a girdle to Sir Gawain that is supposed to be magical to save him from the Green Knight's blows. This girdle is the centerpiece of the work since it signifies Sir Gawain's mistake and his lesson.

The poet of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is unknown, but he must have been rather educated and very talented for the story is written quite beautifully. There is a striking description of Bercilak's wife in the passage. Reading it, one starts to understand Sir Gawain's temptation and how strong his will power must have been if he is able to resist the beautiful lady. "He sees her so glorious, so gaily attired, So faultless her features, so fair and bright, His heart swelled swiftly with surging joys." [Norton, 238:1760-1762] Considering that Sir Gawain is a young fellow, temptation must have been great. Sir Gawain's behavior is truly noble and this is the theme throughout the passage. Sir Gawain's dedication to the code of knighthood is extreme. He is noble from his toes to his head so to speak.

The passage has a number of phrases that I would consider essential to an understanding of the poem and Sir Gawain's character. "God forbid!" said the bold knight, "That shall not befall!" [Norton, 238:1776] The truth is the most important for the knight, and he is not running away from it and would rather say everything straight than play games. "Nay, noblest knight alive," Said that beauty of body white." [Norton, 239:1812-1813] Since nobility is one of the main themes of the poem, this line is very important since it represents Bercilak's wife's defeat and her acceptance of Sir Gawain's true nobility (though he does make one small error later). In fact, Sir Gawain is considered one of the noblest and most honest knights of King Arthur's court. His honor is also a theme in other Arthurian stories.

The main theme of the passage is Sir Gawain's nobility. He is polite, honest (in the passage), and courteous. In almost every line, it is possible to see Sir Gawain's true nobility as he gently refuses Bercilak's wife's love, being sure that he does not hurt her feelings. This theme of nobility makes Sir Gawain and the Green Knight look like a medieval story of Superman who does not exist in the real world, but is created by poets and artists as are ideal models of human behavior.