The tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by John Gardner, is a prime example of a romance in literature. The story focuses on three elements of romance: the quest, bravery, and chivalry.
The first element represented in the story is the quest. It is during the quest that the hero undertakes a perilous journey in search of value. In this case Sir Gawain accepts the Green Knight’s test because he is always in search of a challenge due to his knightly call to chivalry. In this quest Gawain has to overcome danger for love of a high ideal. He is tested several times by the Green Knight first at the castle and then again during the second part of his challenge. Gawain, like all true heroes, overcomes every obstacle thrown at him and if he cannot overcome it then he redeems himself for it later on in his journey. He takes on this challenge to uphold his high ideal of how a knight should act. Though at the end of his quest he learns that he cannot always live up to such high ideals since he, like all others, is human and capable of making mistakes.
The second element represented in the story is bravery. During Sir Gawain’s quest he remains courageous and brave at all times. He feels that honor and valor are the most important qualities in a knight and always strives to uphold them. The first evidence of Gawain’s bravery is demonstrated when he accepts the challenge put forth by the green knight. He is truly brave since he is the only knight to step up to the challenge. “Gawain accepts the challenge—no other knight has dared to, and Gawain refuses to let the king give up his life.” His bravery never falters and he commits to the first part of the challenge by cutting off the knight’s head. He shows more bravery by actually returning in a year for the second part of the challenge. He also proves his honor by setting out to find the Green Knight a year later; even though he does not know where he lives and is certain his death will come about from the meeting. Only once does his bravery decline when he flinches at the green knight’s first stroke of the axe. “But you! You tremble at heart before you’re touched! / I’m bound to be called a better man than you, then, / my lord” (118-120). But he regains his bravery and survives the knight’s axe. Afterwards even the green knight congratulates him on his bravery, calling him the worthiest of Arthur’s knights and forgiving his actions.
The final element represented in the story is chivalry. Throughout the story Sir Gawain’s chivalry is constantly being tested. The ideals of chivalry come from the Christian concept of morality. When Sir Gawain sets off on his journey his morality is tested at the castle. He agrees to give the lord whatever he wins but his morality fails him and he does not live up to his word. He was tempted by the lord’s beautiful young wife and succumbed to her. However, it wasn’t just that he was kissing the lord’s wife but he also kept the green girdle from the lord, going against their agreement. “When the lord returns from the hunt, Gawain gives him the kisses but keeps the sash a secret.” Although Gawain was un-chivalrous in kissing his wife he still maintained some morality by not sleeping with her. Sir Gawain now posses the magical green sash and also a guilty conscience, though he is able to redeem his earlier actions by confessing to the Green Knight, who was lord of the castle. Sir Gawain shows this time that he is truly chivalrous by admitting his wrongdoings; he has regained his sense of morality, and asks for the knight’s forgiveness. “I can’t deny my guilt; / My works shine none too fair! / Give me your good will / And henceforth I’ll beware” (256-259). From this Gawain learns that he is just a physical being who is concerned above all else with his own life. Chivalry provides a valuable set of common ideals towards which one strives to achieve, however, a person must still remain conscious of his or her own morality and weakness. When Gawain flinches from the knight’s axe and accepts the green girdle it shows that even though he may be the most chivalrous knight he is still human and capable of error.
The story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight focuses on three elements of a romance: the quest, bravery, and chivalry. In the end Sir Gawain realizes his weakness after completing his quest, upholding bravery, and remaining chivalrous.
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