A knight’s word is a powerful thing because knights are sworn into their positions and often opt for death over disgrace. Pride and honor along with respect and reputation are some of a knight’s main ethics and a knight must be a gentleman with a valued inner worth. In “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, Sir Gawain’s inner worth is tested by The Green Knight by playing Knightly games. Each game represents certain virtues in life and gives ambiguous interpretations of how one should morally act in order to remain close with his ethics.
Camelot is the Castle in which the book begins. It is Christmas time and everyone in the castle is feasting when the Green Knight is ushered in. He introduces a game in which none of the other knights accept. Finally, Arthur, the owner of the castle, accepts the challenge. Just as Arthur is about to follow through with the test, Sir Gawain interrupts politely and explains to Arthur that he cannot accept the challenge because it is his home and that the kings death will be unacceptable and Arthur should consider him as an alternative. Gawain respectfully convinces Arthur to back away and let him try his skill. The Green Knight makes Gawain promise to the terms that he offers which are: Gawain is allowed one swing of the axe at the Green Knights neck. The Green Knight is allowed to take his swing at Gawain’s neck in 1 year and 1 day. Gawain must present himself at the Green Knights castle at that date otherwise he will be called a coward forever. Gawain accepts the terms and swings the axe at the Green Knights neck severing the head from the body. The headless competitor reiterates the rules one more time and then rides off prompting the continuation of the feast. Gawain’s actions as well as the rules of the games illustrate some of life’s fundamental ethics. Bravery is explained through Gawain’s actions when he steps up and volunteers for the dangerous contest. Sir Gawain’s integrity will be tested throughout his journey. This game stresses the importance of ones word and what it says about a person. Also that humility is crucial in order to be viewed as a gentleman and be respected as a person.
The second test that Sir Gawain faces is presented to him after he almost freezes to death on his way to find the Green Knights castle. The second challenge represents honesty, integrity and the resistance of temptation. Sir Gawain’s Honesty is tested when the lord proposes his deal. The rules of the lord’s game are: The lord will go out hunting for three days, whatever he kills will be gifted to Gawain’s while Gawain stays at home with the lord’s wife. Whatever Gawain gets back at the castle, shall be given to the lord upon his return. Sir Gawain is not completely honest because there were some things that he could not tell the lord. Gawain’s resistance towards temptation is challenged when he is left with the lord’s wife who is very attractive. Gawain refuses temptation for the first two days. On the third day the lord’s wife gives Gawain three kisses and a green girdle that will protect him from death. Gawain does eventually tell the lord about the three kisses but does not mention the green girdle because he would have to give the garment to the lord and then Gawain would not be protected from the Green Knight. Gawain’s actions prove that even the most respectable people commit wrongdoings but that there is justification towards these actions. Along with Gawain’s integrity being compromised so is his pride because inside he knows that he has not followed the rules and that would come back to bite him in the future.
After Sir Gawain’s encounter with the lord, he finally reaches the Green Knight’s castle. The Green Knight praises Gawain for his punctuality and immediately talks about the deal that they had arranged. This game proves that in life every action has consequences. Since Gawain was on time and followed through with their deal but lied to the lord about the girdle, the Green Knight’s turn to swing the axe consists of three strokes. Gawain flinches on the first one, which illustrates his uncertainty in volunteering for the game. The Green Knight swings again and Gawain promises not to flinch. Gawain does not flinch and this emphasizes the confidence that he has in the girdle that the lord’s wife gave him, also that throughout Gawain’s journey he has gained confidence. The third swing that the Green Knight takes, he follows through with. The swing hits Gawain but doesn’t cause much harm other than a slight scratch. The Green Knight tells Gawain that this was punishment for lying about the girdle. This game explains that faith is a critical component in life because there are many things that cannot be controlled and one must have faith that everything will work out for the best. Gawain did not have faith in the Green Knights rules so he took the girdle that promised him protection which only damaged his reputation. Fear is another theme that is presented for the duration of the games. Even though Sir Gawain is scared and does not know what to expect, he still follows through because, “fear has its use but cowardice has none.” –Mahatma Gandhi
The games represent certain values that are important to follow in order to live a respectable and virtuous life. Sir Gawain does well to follow most of the rules but no one is perfect and mistakes are inevitable. The book explains that there are always lessons to be learned and the morals that one follows represent the values of that person. Each person must remain true to who he is and never stray from his ethics because “conscience is the dog that cannot bite but never stops barking.” -Proverb