Symbolism In Sir Gawain And The Green

Knight Essay, Research Paper

From the first clip I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight I have been troubled by the inquiry of whether or non Sir Gawain was right or incorrect in lying in order to maintain the girdle and salvage his life. He was torn between honestness and his ain life. The inquiry he was forced to inquire himself was & # 8220 ; what did he value more: his honestness or his life? Many bookmans have struggled with this inquiry for centuries, every bit good as the inquiries of why Gawain made the determination that he did, how guilty he & # 8220 ; truly & # 8221 ; felt for his actions, and what the poet is seeking to state the reader through Gawain & # 8217 ; s ordeal.

When I was turning up I was told to ever be honest. I was merely & # 8220 ; grounded & # 8221 ; twice in my life-time: one time for non stating my ma where I went one afternoon and one time for stating her a prevarication. I was in Kindergarten and broke a taper ( wear & # 8217 ; t inquire me why or how ) . I blamed it on the cat. I couldn & # 8217 ; t stand the force per unit area of my female parent & # 8217 ; s intense question that consisted of merely inquiring me how the cat could perchance brake the taper which was surrounded by a hurricane lamp. My guilt was so overpowering that I broke down and told her the truth. Thus, I was introduced to the construct of & # 8220 ; anchoring & # 8221 ; and the importance of honestness. I was taught at a immature age that the foundation of any relationship is honesty and without it, a friendly relationship can merely last so long and its roots travel go merely so deep.

But honestness is non everything. My female parent would likely anchor me once more if I did non lie to person to salvage my cervix. There is another side to the inquiry about Sir Gawain & # 8217 ; s determination to non give Bertilac the green girdle. While honestness should be extremely valued, it may be unwise to undervalue life itself. In about every civilization decease, every bit good as Gawains & # 8217 ; civilization, decease is recognized & # 8220 ; as a terrorizing thing which work forces and animate beings likewise try to get away by every device in their power, irrespective of self-respect or responsibility & # 8221 ; ( Burrow, & # 8221 ; The Third Fit & # 8221 ; 37 ) . It may be even more hard to put an overruling significance on the value of honestness in visible radiation of life & # 8217 ; s option: decease.

& # 8220 ; & # 8230 ; images of decease permeate the medieval universe & # 8221 ; ( Clien. 55 ) .

A modern reader of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight should derive an apprehension of what decease means within the & # 8220 ; cultural surroundings & # 8221 ; which surrounded the Gawain author. Wendy Clein in her book & # 8220 ; Concepts of Chivalry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight & # 8221 ; describes the knightly attack to decease as an uncomfortable and awkward matrimony between the warrior & # 8217 ; s code on one side and Christianity of the the antithetical side. The warrior codification calls for the knight to & # 8220 ; defy decease in Acts of the Apostless of gallantry and thereby derive worldly fame & # 8221 ; ( 55 ) . However, the Christian philosophy demands that the knight resignation worldly fame and accept decease as a & # 8220 ; transition from this imperfect universe to infinity & # 8221 ; ( 55 ) .

If knight is to derive celebrity and carry through the warrior codification that is so profoundly engrained into the mind of a warrior, he must play with decease. This is what war and tourneies are all about. It is about looking decease in the oculus and non squinching. Once a knight can make this he has fulfilled the warrior codification of a knight, at least for the minute.

The Christian attack to decease is much different from the warrior attack to decease. While some parts of the verse form may look be merely & # 8220 ; Christian in harmoniousness with pre-Christian nature belief and ritual & # 8221 ; , the issue of infinity and how to populate life can be rather cacophonic ( Speirs. 85 ) . The Christian is called to reject the secular glorification that is offered by the universe of the knight. However the knight who gives up worldly glorification is non left without any awards or glorification. These temporal glorifications are replaced by the & # 8220 ; religious wagess & # 8221 ; that are enjoyed by the saints.

While it might look that the two universes of Christianity and the warrior are reciprocally sole, they can truly congratulate each other when human logic is applied. If warriors are supposed to crush up people, and Christians are supposed to populate their lives for God so logic Tells us that we can unify these two life styles by crushing up people for Jesus. The Crusades were great for these particular sort of persons who desired to keep their committedness to the Church while prosecuting in the bang of violent escapade. This is one of the alone times when the values of mediaeval Christianity and the medieval warrior truly compliment each other: when it is clip to crush up aliens for Jesus.

There are a figure of advantages to the religious life that Wendy Clein explores. One advantage that the religious universe has over the warrior universe is that it is non of an sole nature. In a conflict to the decease, merely one warrior can win, while the other warrior must decease. Whereas in the religious universe, redemption is unfastened to all and accomplishable by all who embrace the Christian manner of life, because it is non of an sole nature. Rich and hapless, every bit good as the strong and the weak, can accomplish the wealths of the religious universe.

Harmonizing to Clein the 14th century civilization points out to that another benefit of fall ining the Christian nine is that it does non offer one of those miserable life-time ranks. By fall ining this nine, all members automatically receive an ageless guarantee on the human psyche at no excess cost. A life-time guarantee expires manner to early:

Moralists turned assorted occasions into chances to reflect on decease. John Mirk & # 8217 ; s discourse for the Feast of the Circumcision moves from sing Christ & # 8217 ; s mortality to cheering hearers to believe on their ain & # 8230 ; . Images of disintegrating flesh provide the most dramatic illustrations of earthly transiency. The cadaver as souvenir mori appears early in a Christian context, transforming the Egyptian and Roman image from a carpe diem exhortation to an admonition non to give ageless felicity for the fugitive pleasances of the organic structure. The image pervades the ulterior Middle Ages. ( 60-61 )

In visible radiation of this kind of imagination it is apprehensible how Gawain might hold felt the guilt that appears to be utmost to most modern readers of the verse form. Gawain & # 8217 ; s guilt is utmost when he at the terminal of the verse form he discusses why he wears the set:

This set symbolizes the incrimination I bear on my cervix ;

It signifies the sorrowful loss that I have suffered,

Caught by cowardliness and covetousness at that place ;

It is a item of the untruthfulness that trapped me,

And I wear it for every bit long as I may populate ;

For a adult male can conceal his injury, but ne’er hurl it off,

Since one time it is attached, it will ne’er vanish. ( ln 2506-2512 )

It was believed that the pleasances of the tribunal threaten work forces by deflecting them from the & # 8220 ; truth & # 8221 ; that the cadavers can now understand.

In the civilization of the Gawain poet, merely as in our modern civilization and every civilization in between, there was lip service and handily timed alterations of bosom. After the knights went out into the universe to prosecute in their varied and unhallowed pleasances of the universe, they would reprobate knighthood. There is a certain rhythm to the human status that brings relevancy to the narrative of Gawain. Just as the babe boomer parents didn & # 8217 ; Ts like all that stone and axial rotation music their kids adored so much, the knights did non desire their kids to hold excessively much merriment. The & # 8220 ; Black Prince & # 8221 ; becomes low and rejects the secular pleasances in composing his epitaph:

& # 8230 ; /now I am hapless and lowly, laid deep in the Earth, / My great beauty is all gone, my flesh is all dissolved. / My house is really narrow and I have nil but truth. ( John Nichols. A Collection of All the Wills of the Kings and Queens of England. Clein p.62 )

While his epitaph is quaint and marked by humbleness, the prince still ordered a expansive funeral that was far call from the humbleness he professes:

And we wish that at that clip our organic structure be led through the town of Canterbury to

the priory, that two war Equus caballuss decked in our weaponries and two work forces armed in our weaponries and our helms attend our said organic structure, viz. , one for war in our whole weaponries quartered, and the other for peace in our badges of ostrich plumes with four streamers of the same suit, and that each of those who carry the said streamers have on his caput a chapeau of our weaponries. And that he who is armed for war has an armed adult male transporting after him a black pennant with ostrich plumes ( nichols. p88 CLein p70 ) .

The & # 8220 ; truth & # 8221 ; of which the Black Prince writes in reasoning his epitaph was improbably of import to 14th century moralss. The importance of truth is manifested in Gawain & # 8217 ; s guilt trip at the terminal of the verse form. He wears the green sash to remind him of his & # 8220 ; untruthfulness & # 8221 ; ( ln. 2509 )

Not merely was I taken aback by Gawain & # 8217 ; s extreme guilt which seems absurd, but I was thrown off by the wickednesss with which he chooses to reprobate himself, peculiarly the Cardinal or capital wickedness of & # 8220 ; covetousness & # 8221 ; ( ln 2508 ) .

J. A. Burrow dismisses Gawain & # 8217 ; s self-conviction of covetousness. The observer argues that Gawain & # 8220 ; is non conceited or envious: he does non have on the lady & # 8217 ; s gift & # 8216 ; for wele & # 8217 ; ( lns. 2037,2432 ) . It seems clear & # 8230 ; that the ring episode is designed to do the same point-to brand sure in progress that the reader does non misconstrue the hero & # 8217 ; s motivations & # 8230 ; .It clears the land. Anyone who refuses such a ring is immune from covetousness at least & # 8221 ; ( Burrow. 42 )

The job with this reading is that the author defines covetousness excessively narrowly and more narrowly than the writer intended. While it might be easy to state that Gawain merely went brainsick at the terminal of the verse form this merely opens up a whole new set of inquiries. Why would he desire Gawain to travel brainsick when he has been a symbol of the closest a homo can acquire to perfection? Why would the writer make the tribunal which has appeared foolish and weak in the right while Gawain was in the incorrect?

D. F. Hills explores why Gawain was right to impeach himself of covetousness, why Gawains & # 8217 ; response was proper, and how the poet & # 8217 ; s usage of & # 8220 ; covetousness & # 8221 ; maps to clear up and stress instead than confuse.

It is obvious why Gawain accuses himself of & # 8220 ; cowardness & # 8221 ; ( ln 2508 ) and & # 8220 ; untruthfulness & # 8221 ; ( ln.2509 ) , but why would he bear down himself with & # 8220 ; covetousness & # 8221 ; ( 2508 ) ? Hills recognizes that in order to understand why Gawain every bit good as what the poet is seeking to state us we & # 8220 ; must analyze the medieval construct of covetousness & # 8221 ; ( 313 ) . Hills quotes St. Thomas Aquinas from Summa Theologiae:

& # 8230 ; covetousness can be diversely understood. In one sense, it is an inordinate desire for wealths & # 8230 ; . In another sense, it means an inordinate desire for any temporal goods whatsoever & # 8230 ; . In still another sense, it can intend some disposition of a corrupt nature to overly want bribable goods. And therefore they say that covetousness is the root of all wickednesss, by analogy with the root of a tree, which draws its nutriment from the Earth, for in the same manner all wickedness grows from the love of temporal things. ( 314-315 )

Gawain reacts as he should if life in the universe of Aquinas, because he has tapped into the root of all wickedness. Gawain senses that his being has been usurped by his wickedness, and he will get down decomposing from the interior out.

Along this same way of medieval idea, covetousness is the & # 8220 ; antithesis of charity & # 8221 ; ( 315 ) . It is a love of the universe which is non a love directed toward God, but instead covetousness is love directed towards the ego:

Covetousness is the component in all wickedness which is due to loving oneself more than God and seeking & # 8230 ; a solace which has no solace & # 8230 ; . So no affair how much the human psyche contains, it is ne’er full unless it can keep God, whom it can ever keep. O envious adult male, if you wish to be satisfied, discontinue being envious, because every bit long as you are envious you can non be satisfied. ( 318 )

Hills states that & # 8220 ; It is basically a religious disease & # 8221 ; ( 319 ) and Gawain monsters out when he accepts that he has contracted the disease.

By specifying covetousness in this manner we open up a whole new manner of looking at the significance of Gawain & # 8217 ; s mistake. Hills takes the Aquinas definition of covetousness and brings it to fruition by using it to Sir Gawain & # 8217 ; s self-proclaimed wickedness of covetousness:

Clearly a rigorous regard for the truth & # 8230 ; would necessitate that Gawain should manus over the green girdle to Bertilak or possibly decline to accept it in the first topographic point. In non making so because he loved his life excessively much he was puting his love for himself above his love for truth and hence God. ( 321 )

By the poet explicitly calling Gawain & # 8217 ; s mistake & # 8220 ; covetousness & # 8221 ; he is clear uping his subject of the H2O and oil nature of the religious universe and the the secular universe. He is calling the root of wickedness. Man valuing this universe over the following. Why does it count if you get your caput violently cut off? You are traveling to decease shortly anyhow, so you should be free of any wickedness, even the small 1s, in order to acquire on God & # 8217 ; s good side. Eternity is a long clip.

While Gawain sees himself as this dark evil individual the reader joins Arthur, Bertilac, and the Court of Arthur in thining the significance of Gawain & # 8217 ; s discourtesy. Bertilak sees it as & # 8220 ; a little defect, my friend: you lack some faithfulness./ It didn & # 8217 ; t originate for an disingenuous object or amative fling-/ No! You merely loved your life! And I blame you the less for it & # 8221 ; ( ln. 2366-8 ) . This did non function to soothe him, because it merely precipitated a & # 8220 ; Shivering inside himself with a black fury & # 8221 ; ( ln. 2370 ) .

John Burrow argues that covetousness is non so of import to understanding the poets purposes. Rather that cowardliness is the root of Gawain & # 8217 ; s failure. Burrow provinces that & # 8220 ; cowardliness led him to perpetrate one of the traditional & # 8216 ; Acts of the Apostless of covetise & # 8217 ; & # 8221 ; It was merely because Gawain was a coward foremost that he subsequently became covetousness harmonizing to Burrows reading.

I will fall down on Hills & # 8217 ; side and suggest that the poet is utilizing the fact that Arthur & # 8217 ; s tribunal doesn & # 8217 ; t reprobate Sir Gawain, but in fact laugh at him for doing such a large trade out of his wickedness, to foster his motive of the cyclical stupidity of the multitudes. To add sarcasm to diss the writer has the Round Table where the sash as a grade of award when it is truly intended to be a grade of shame. The writer is shouting to the reader that the Court with all of their energies focused on this universe merely do non grok what is traveling on.

When Gawain accepts the lacing, he does non understand the nature of the trial ( Benson. 224 ) . For Gawain & # 8217 ; s trial is non a trial of temporal endurance as with what we see with the fox, it is a religious trial. It is a trial of which universe Gawain will take to populate in, and he can non populate in both. It is either/or with nil in between. For Gawain recognizes that in the 14th century universe that he took the first measure, which is non undistinguished in theological footings, on that long way to hell.


Benson, Larry. Art and Tradition in & # 8220 ; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight & # 8221 ; . New Brunswick: Rutgers Universty Press, 1965.

Burrow, John. & # 8220 ; & # 8216 ; Cupiditas & # 8217 ; in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight & # 8221 ; . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964. Critical Surveies of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968.

& # 8212 ; & # 8221 ; The Third Fit. & # 8221 ; A Reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Ltd. , 1965. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Clein, Wendy. Concepts of Chivalry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Norman, Oklahoma: Pilgrim Books, 1987.

Hills, David Farley. & # 8220 ; Gawain & # 8217 ; s Fault in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight & # 8221 ; . Review of English Studies. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.

Spiers, John. & # 8220 ; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight & # 8221 ; . Scrutiny. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1949.


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