An Extrapolation of Stanza 74 in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

August 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Stanza 74 of the epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the lady of the castle offers a magical green girdle to Sir Gawain and explains that the wearer of this corset “cannot be killed by any cunning on earth.” Sir Gawain, amidst an ethical dilemma, accepts the gift and chooses to conceal it and its powers from Lord Bertilak. Thus, with this passage, two of the main themes of the tale emerge–the inner and outer conflicts between Sir Gawain’s ethics and desire to live and the test of his religious faith.When Gawain is offered the girdle, his knightly ethics are questioned, for the honorable thing would be to reject the offer or bring it to the lord of the castle, but Gawain places the preservation of his life ahead of his chivalry. Gawain has withstood the lady’s constant barrage of sexual advances and has kept his promise to the lord of the castle, but when the opportunity arises to save his own life, he absconds it without a second thought. The point is shown by the way the word “Outright” is placed on a line of its own which emphasizes Gawain’s hasty decision. He is then ecstatic about the thought that he will survive his encounter with the Green Knight the following day, demonstrated by “often thanks gave he/With all his heart and might.”Later, Sir Gawain discovers three faults associated with his actions, the first being his cowardice, a direct contrast to the main principles of knighthood, the second being his covetousness and third his utter lack of faith in God. Even when it is shown that God has forgiven him by healing the wound on his neck, Gawain still feels that he has sinned greatly and is not willing to forgive himself. Thus, he decides that additional atonement is in order, so he makes the decision to wear the girdle from this point on as a sign of his eternal sin, but even with this he does not feel sufficient cleansing of his sin, for he now understands that he must bear the shame and disgrace of sin for the remainder of his life.The reader’s opinions as to whether Gawain has been forgiven appear to be completely opposite of those of Gawain himself, for it is mentioned that the lady kissed “the constant knight,” which questions the true meaning of constant. It is quite obvious that constant does not refer to Gawain’s moral decisions, nor does it mean that he is determined or steadfast or that his faith is unwavering. It is possible that the word is meant to be sarcastic, but more probable “is the anonymous author’s disdain with the current conditions of chivalry and knighthood during the time this poem was composed” (Fox 104). The author appears to be mocking the knights of King Arthur’s court by inferring that they were more corrupt and conceited than legend has led us to believe. Therefore, being labeled a “constant knight” is the author’s way of accepting Gawain’s decision without actually condoning it. The question as to whether Gawain is correct in choosing his life over his morals is mentioned when the Green Knight reveals himself as Lord Bertilak who feels that it was excusable for Gawain to accept the girdle since his decision was well-motivated. With this, Lord Bertilak perceives Gawain as a noble and honourable knight and invites him back to his castle to celebrate the New Year. When Gawain returns to Camelot, he recalls his story, humiliated and humbled. The members of Arthur’s court, however, feel that Gawain has done well and attempt to cheer him up for they are convinced that Gawain has done nothing immoral nor unchivalric and let it pass as they continue their revelries in drink and food.The second of the main themes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the test of Gawain’s faith and devotion to God, whose presence is quite prominent throughout the poem as he helps Gawain and leads him on the correct and moral path. Gawain’s acceptance of the girdle demonstrates his lack of faith in God’s protection; he sees himself as a Christian knight but rather than trust in God, he commits a sin in order to protect himself. At this point in the poem, however, there is no reason to doubt God, for he has protected Gawain during his journey and directed him to the area near the Green Chapel, and when Gawain required a place to worship on Christmas Eve, God led him to the castle in the forest. Gawain remained pious as he refused the constant advances of the hostess (could “constant” be a reference to Gawain’s sexual refusals?), but when he is given the opportunity to save himself from the blade of the Green Knight, he forsakes God and forgets all that He has done to help him. In as respect, Morgan “represents Satan, for by using the lady of the castle as her puppet, she endeavours to tempt Gawain and lead him away from God” (Stone 158). When her original sexual attempts fail, she makes a final effort by offering her own girdle, thinking that Gawain might make the same mistake twice. Gawain, in fact, needs little convincing, for he “allowed her to solicit him and let her speak.”Whereas Gawain had previously thwarted all attempts at corruption, he has only a slight doubt about taking the girdle and allows the lady to talk him into accepting it. By allowing the lady to press “the belt upon him with potent words,” Gawain uses her argument to rationalize the acceptance of the girdle. The word “potent” seems to refer to the effectiveness of her words which apparently were sufficient enough to convince Gawain to abandon his principles. When Gawain accepts the corset, he fails this test of faith for he “binds himself with this belt of green” which is related to the evil of the Green Knight and symbolizes Gawain’s “greenness” when it comes to being unwaveringly chivalric. This decision, however, is but a minor sin, for when the truth about the Green Knight is revealed, Gawain is repentant and this is served through the nick of Bertilak’s axe. Though technically, Gawain fails the test when he succumbs to the lady’s temptations, he does well enough to pass God’s judgment. As mentioned previously, Gawain is forgiven by God as shown by the healing of the axe wound.The combination of these themes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight creates a complex moral dilemma for the protagonist, Sir Gawain. This complexity revolves around the question of life versus religion, for is it acceptable to forsake God only to save one’s life? In this poem, it obviously would have been wiser for Gawain to have denied the gift of the girdle, for it would have been a more ethical and pious choice. Yet Gawain’s acceptance of the gift is seemingly viewed by God as only a minor fault; God, as the ultimate peer, has forgiven him and allowed Gawain to make his own decisions as a free-thinking, moral individual.BIBLIOGRAPHYFox, Denton, ed. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Twentieth Century Interpretations: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968.Stone, Brian. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. UK: Penguin Books Limited, 1971.

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