Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Conflicting Models of Courtesy in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight depicts two different medieval models of courtesy - courtesy towards men and courtesy towards women. Defined by different members of the community, the two types of courtesy also necessitate different, sometimes contradictory conducts. The incompatibility of the two models of courtesy displayed in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight impedes complete restoration of the social order.

Regarding courtesy shown towards men, Dr. E.L. Skip Knox states, "Originally, courtesy meant the special consideration one knight showed to another." The courtesy that two men exchange is a mutual contract of loyalty that they define and practice. It involves trust, respect and, in some cases, allegiance. Gawain presents this type of courtesy not only to Arthur, his king, but also to Bercilak and even to the Green Knight.

The description of Gawain's pentangle and the virtues it symbolizes confirm the importance of courtesy to Gawain's character:

The fifth group of five the man respected, I hear,

Was generosity and love of fellow-men above all;

His purity and courtesy were never lacking,

And surpassing the others, compassion: these noble

Five were more deeply implanted in that man than any...

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