Honor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

English: "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight...

English: “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, from the Cotton Nero A.x manuscript (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, honor and chivalry are somewhat related concepts. Chivalry appears to be something of a social, public concept while honor is something of a private and personal concept. Gawain is bound both by social and private pressures. Social pressures and customs require him to maintain the esteem of King Arthur’s court and therefore keep his word and act in a chivalrous manner while he travels. Private pressures require him to keep his word and act in a polite, valiant, and honorable manner to maintain his personal honor. Gawain’s honor is tested right from the beginning of the poem. He gives his word in the beheading game and intends to keep it even though it is obvious that the Green Knight tricked him (he did not die when Gawain beheaded him). Gawain continues to keep his word even though his journey is lonely and dangerous.  “He [Gawain] rode far from friends, a forsaken man, scaling many cliffs in country unknown” and “had death struggles with dragons, did battles with wolves” (48). His persistence is an illustration of his honor.

Anonymous.  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Translated by Bernard O’DonoghueNew York: Penguin Books, 2007.

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