Sir Gawain, the Green Knight and his medieval poem depict two different models of medievalcourtesy: courtesy to men and women. Because the two types are different, they require different and sometimes contradictory acts. Compatibility of Sir Gawain’s and Green Knight’s models of politeness hinders the restoration to social order. Dr. E.L. says that men should be treated with courtesy. Skip Knox stated, “Originally, the term courtesy meant that one knight gave to another.” A mutual contract is made between men for their loyalty. It includes trust, respect, and sometimes, allegiance. Gawain presents this type to Arthur, his monarch, Bercilak, as well to the Green Knight. (Sir Gawain/Green Knight ll. 651-655 The pentacle represents all knightly virtues and “[suits Gawain] exceptionally well.” (SGGK, l.622). Gawain’s peers consider him the ideal knight. He must keep his polite actions throughout the poem. Gawain, who is Arthur’s court member, owes Arthur some loyalty. Gawain is a knight who accepts the challenge of the Green Knight. Gawain also protects the king and maintains Arthur’s honour by verifying Arthur’s bravery. Gawain keeps the benefits of Arthur’s court so the principle is that Gawain must defend it. Gawain’s and Bercilak’s courtesy is very similar to Arthur’s. It is a matter of loyalty and respect. Gawain shows mutual respect when, upon arriving at Bercilaks castle, he is dressed in elegant, warm clothes, and served a lavish meal. Then, he is questioned about who he is. “Then he had to be politely acknowledged that he belonged in the court’s custody. 901-904 Bercilak does not request Gawain’s identity until he has displayed hospitality and courtesy. Gawain rejects Lady Bercilak’s advances because he is loyal to Bercilak. Gawain is spared from death by Bercilak because he does the same as Bercilak. Gawain, just like Arthur and Bercilak treats Gawain with kindness, even though Gawain is a horrible character. Gawain and Gawain have agreed to be friendly one year following their first encounter. This makes it mutual. Gawain was able to keep his promise of the Green Knight because of his sense and honor. It is evident that Sir Gawain’s male-male relationships with the Green Knight include respect, loyalty, and mutuality. This helps to equalize all parties. Contrary to this, the male-female relationship is more one-sided than that of courteous men. Gawain, such an excellent knight, is rightly praised. Whom courtesy is so fully embodied, couldn’t have spent so many hours with a Lady Without asking for a kiss. (Sir Gawain’s Green Knight ll. 1297-1301) These lines were spoken in part by Bercilak’s wives to highlight the uneven courtesy between men, women, and the poem. Lady Bercilak here demands that Gawain kiss her. Lady Bercilak dictates to Gawain what courtesy looks like, rather than having to work together to define it. Larry D. Benson claims that “In Sir Gawain” [courtesy] is what the temptation is all about. Lady Bercilak demands that Gawain exchange courtesy. “The knight reacted cautiously and in the most courteous manner” (SGGK1282). Lady Bercilak makes Gawain follow her notion of courtesy. Lady Bercilak’s dominance is recapped by the author, who has her enter Gawain’s bedroom and not vice versa. Also, she uses her playful lines about imprisoning Gawain as he surrenders. (SGGK ll. 1211-1216. Lady Bercilak’s attack upon Gawain’s courtesy underscores the tension between male and female courtesy. Gawain refuses to follow Lady Bercilak in his model of courtesy, accepting the green gown and complying with her example. Gawain cannot be reintegrated into the Arthurian courts due to the conflicting nature of their courtesies. Gawain doesn’t escape with his head against the Green Knight. The green girdle that he received from the Green Knight is his reminder of his past sins. Arthur is told by Arthur that the green cloth represents the dishonesty which he was caught in, and that he must wear it until his death. 2509-2511: The girdle is symbolic of Gawain’s breach of courtesy. It has forever changed Gawain. Gawain’s new marred personality is difficult to get along with Arthur’s subjects. They “laugh loudly over [the reason he wore the belt]”(SGGK. l. 2514). And they adopt the custom. Gawain, however, is not pleased with the green belt. Gawain feels ripped off by this tension between his two models. Sir Gawain’s Green Knight represents two medieval ideals courtesy. Gawain can’t be courteous because of their differences. Arthur’s court is cut off by this. Sir Gawain, Green Knight, and their courtesy are insufficient to preserve social order. Works Cited Benson. Larry D. Art, Tradition and Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain’s Green Knight. Rutgers University Press is based in New Brunswick, New Jersey. 1965 Knox. E. L. Skip. “Courtesy” 12 October 1995

Whinny. James, ed. Sir Gawain, ed. In 1996, Broadview Press published a book in Orchard Park, New York.


  • rhysgraham

    Rhys Graham is an educational blogger and professor who writes about topics such as literacy, mathematics, and science. He has written several books, including one on the history of science. He is also the co-founder of the website Learn Out Loud, which helps educators create and share classroom activities.