Version 1 - (Irfan Bandoo):
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Passage Analysis (995-1125)
Rash Promises by Sir Gawain
The noblest of knights that resides in King Arthur’s court is undoubtedly Sir Gawain, “his equal on this earth can hardly be found” (Norton, p.176). Gawain is well known throughout many Arthurian stories for his loyalty, humility, honesty, integrity and chivalrousness. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, these attributes are clearly evident as Gawain undergoes many trials and tribulations which put his character to the test. Although Gawain does prove true to his character throughout the story, he does however, have one imperfection. His character is blemished by one flaw in particular – he is impulsive and thoughtless when it comes to making promises. Although Gawain is indeed truly loyal, it is this loyalty that causes him to act hastily and recklessly when making a promise. As a result of his impulsiveness, Gawain becomes a victim of his rash promises. Throughout many medieval texts Gawain makes rash promises – he promises or agrees to a situation without fully knowing or being aware of all the details of the promise. Examples of Gawain’s rash promises are not only seen in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight but also in other Arthurian stories such as “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell.”
In lines 995 through 1125 of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, we can clearly see Gawain’s impulsiveness when it comes to making a promise. On the morning before Gawain sets out to leave on his journey, a great feast is held, and everyone joins in the entertainment and merry making. However, as night draws closer so does Gawain’s stay at Bertilak’s castle because he is to continue his travels in the morning to find the Green Chapel where the Green Knight awaits him. The host of the castle tries to persuade Gawain to stay with him longer, but Gawain declines. The host then asks Gawain what is it that deters him from staying longer. Gawain tells him that he is on a quest to find the Green Chapel and has only three days remaining to find it. Gawain thinks he has to leave in search of it. The host tells Gawain that he must not worry: the Green Chapel is only two miles away from the castle and so entreats him to stay three more days longer. Gawain happily agrees and thanks his host and tells him he will do anything for him. Gawain says, “Now I thank you for this, past all things else! Now my goal is here at hand! With a glad heart I shall both tarry, and undertake and task you devise” (Norton, p.184).The host takes Gawain up on his offer and tells him that they will play a game:
You shall lie abed late in your lofty chamber tomorrow until mass, and meet then to dine when you will, with my wife, who will sit by your side and talk with you at table, the better to cheer our guest. A-hunting I will go while you lie late and rest and whatever I win in the woods I will give you at eve, and all you have earned you must offer to me; swear now, sweet friend, to swap as I say, whether hands in the end, be empty or better (Norton, p.185).
Here the host tells Gawain that he will go out hunting while Gawain remains in the castle and rests. The host further explains that whatever he kills in the forest he will exchange for whatever Gawain earns in the castle. Gawain happily agrees, saying “by God, I grant it forthwith! If you find the game good, I shall gladly take part” (Norton, p. 185). Here we see Gawain’s impulsiveness as he rashly agrees to the host’s promise. He does not stop to think or consider that the game and its rules seem strange and peculiar even to the reader.
Another example of a rash promise made by Gawain is seen in “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell.” In this story, Arthur goes hunting and meets a knight – Gromer Somer Joure who threatens to kill Arthur because he has given all his lands to Gawain. The knight agrees to spare Arthur’s life if he can answer a question, “what is it the women desire most.” The knight gives Arthur a year and a day to come up with the answer. Arthur tells Gawain of his meeting with the knight, and Gawain tells Arthur that he will help him find the answer. They both collect various answers but none of them seems right. Arthur later continues his search and finds an old hag who tells Arthur she knows the answer that will save his life but he can only get the answer if Gawain agrees to marry her. Arthur tells Gawain of his meeting with the ugly, old hag and what she wants. On hearing this Gawain happily replies:
I shall wed her and wed her again, thoughe she were a fend, thoughe she were as foulle as Belsabub, her shall 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. Therefore shall 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 (“The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell,” lines, 342-353).
Here we see Gawain again rushing into a promise that he makes to Arthur. Gawain tells Arthur that he will wed the old hag even if she is as ugly as Arthur describes. He continues to say that it is his duty to do this because Arthur is his king and he would gladly to this to save his life, and if he did not, he would be seen as a coward. Here we see that although after hearing the description of the old and ugly hag Gawain still decides to marry her, he does not consider any of this but rather he hastily gives Arthur his decision – he will marry the old hag.
Undoubtedly the most famous and well loved of all of Arthur’s knights is Sir Gawain. He is depicted as the perfect knight, the most noble, who is brave, true, loyal, kind, courtly and humble. His character makes him truly worth to be called a knight. However, upon close analysis, we see that Gawain does have one imperfection. His character is blemished by one flaw– he is impulsive and thoughtless when it comes to making promises. Conversely, some critics may argue that Gawain’s main flaw is his love for life or rather his fear for his life especially in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. However, upon close analysis we can clearly see that Gawain’s impulsiveness leads him to become a victim of rash promises. He makes a promise or agrees to a situation without fully knowing or being aware of all the details of the promise. Gawain’s rash promises are evident in medieval texts such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and in other Arthurian stories such as “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell.”