Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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The poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th century Middle English alliterative romance. It explores the notion of temptation through the quest of a hero. It presents this quest as a game between the green knight and Sir Gawain and involves numerous sets of laws and codes of chivalry that need to be adhered to. The question of whether Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem that is a social critique of medieval society or a challenge to personal morality and virtue causes much debate. However, this essay will argue that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem that criticizes medieval courtly society. This essay will prove this through a focus on three fitts of the poem while using numerous secondary readings.

Before inquiring into the notion of a social critique or personal morality, one needs to be aware of the beliefs of that society. Furthermore, if the society believes something, so too do individuals. The world of ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ is ruled by well-defined codes of behavior, namely the code of chivalry. This convention shapes the values and actions of the characters in this poem. However, sometimes not for the better. The epitome of a chivalric action is seen through the behavior of Sir Gawain at Arthur’s court. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge presented by the green knight, not letting his King perform it, which is to give him a blow to the neck and a year later meet again to receive the return-blow. Sir Gawain lives up to these conventions through the chivalric characteristics of bravery and courtesy. Furthermore, for a failure to act in a chivalrous manner is to bring about shame, as chivalric deeds are a religious duty. Therefore, with this understanding, it is clear to see that if one does not act in accordance with the law, one may feel a sense of guilt as an individual towards society and furthermore towards god.

When analyzing how Sir Gawain and the Green Knight can be seen as a social criticism of...
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