Character Analysis: Sir Gawain
In the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the character Sir
Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur, this son of King Lot, is proved a
true hero. If we need to describe his character with one word, this
word would be "nobility". Sir Gawain faces every obstacle without any
fear and is always waiting to accept new challenge. He has praised as
the best knight and the most courteous knight in the court.
The first character test of Sir Gawain is offered by the Green
Knight, who comes to King Arthur's castle to play a game during the
New year's celebration at Camelot. The Green Knight challenges the
whole court of knights that they can use the Green Knight's ax to cut
off the Green Knight's head. In 12 months and a day later, this
knight has to find the Green Knight and allow the Green Knight to chop
off his head. King Arthur is going to take this challenge at the
beginning. However, Sir Gawain is afraid that Arthur will be in great
danger by participated Green Knight's game. Therefore, he bravely
steps out to take this challenge. It clearly illustrates Sir Gawain's
loyalty since he is able to save King Arthur from any possibility of
"Would you grant me the grace," said Gawain to the king,
"To be gone from this bench and stand by you there,
If I without discourtesy might quit this board,
And if my liege lady misliked it not,
I would come to your counsel before your court noble"
I am the weakest, well I know, and of wit feedlest;
And the loss of my life would be least of any;
That I have you for uncle is my only praise;
My body, but for your blood, is barren of worth;
And for that this folly befits not a king,"(Norton, 209)
The above excerpt shows the respect Gawain has for his uncle. He
truly understands the importance of king represents in the unity.
Gawain would rather put himself in a horrible situation instead of the
king. In addition, this excerpt shows how courageous and fearless Sir
Gawain is. He first introduces he is the youngest knight of King
Arthur's court and there are some other knights are better than he is.
However, we all know he is the best knight in the court especially
after he is the only knight to take up the Green Knight's challenge.
After Gawain strikes Green Knight and cutting off his head, it files
away off but Green Knight's body does not fall. In contrast, the
headless knight picks up his head and it speaks. The Green Knight
tells Sir Gawain to find the Green Chapel where the Green Knight lived
and will be waiting for him a year and a day.
Sir Gawain asks permission to go to the Green Chapel. Gawain has
dressed in the finest armor. The shield they give him has the
five-pointed star of Solomon on front face and a picture of St. Mary
on the back inside, the saint gives Gawain strength and protects him
in the battle. Each point on the star represents the five virtues of
Gawain: generosity, good fellowship, purity, courtesy, and charity.
On Gawain's way to the Green
Chapel, he has to face numerous physical challenges in the Hautdesert
Castle. The host offers him a nice dinner and a good place to stay
before he continues his journey. The host has challenged Gawain to a
game that the lord will give Gawain whatever he hunts during the day
and Gawain must give back whatever he earns at the same time. In
addition, Gawain has to stay in the castle and enjoy himself. This is
basically a game to test Gawain's honesty. He has passed the first
two days test. However, Gawain does not return a magic belt that he
received from the host's wife on the third day of his visit.
Moreover, because of his dishonesty, the third blow of an ax cut
Gawain's neck as a punishment. It proves that nothing is perfect even
Sir Gawain might have chanced to make mistake. This experience
influences Sir Gawain so much that he wears the belt as reminder even
after the challenge.
Sir Gawain is a hero not only in the poem Sir Gawain and Green
Knight but also in other stories about him. For instance: in The
Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell, when Arthur tells Gawain that
he has to find out what women most desire in order to save his life.
Gawain immediately offers himself to help King Arthur to find out the
answer. Thus, when King Arthur asks Gawain to marry the hag, Dame
Ragnell, he quickly makes up his mind without objection:
"I wolle wed her at whate time ye wolle set;
I pray you make no care.
For and she were the most foulist wighte
That evere men mighte see with sighte,
For your love I wolle not spare."(Burlesque and Grotesquerie, 335)
As long as King Arthur needs him, Gawain will do whatever he asks
even to marry a foul and ugly woman like Dame Ragnell. According to
the above excerpt, it illustrates Gawain's loyalty and love for King
Throughout the poem we see Gawain is honest, brave, loyal, noble,
and courtesy. His fearless loss of his life becomes too great for
him to bear. Despite his little flaw for keeping the belt without
telling the host, I consider Sir Gawain is a perfect knight. He is an
example of how men are supposed to behave.