Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Public and Private Spheres College

As Derek Brewer comments, the Gawain-Poet creates an “honour-driven”[1] society. From this, almost everything within Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is assumed to be in a chivalric context, specifically Gawain’s through the romance typically focusing on an individual knight. These given spheres of chamber, halls and wild are thus within the romance tradition as each area facilitates the testing of honour. The poet’s use of the “private” and “public” –the halls and wild initially assumed to be the public and the chamber as the private –allows the testing of the many different attributes of honour that are embodied through the symbol of the Pentangle. Honour is thus tested in terms of courage in the wild, loyalty within halls and chastity in the chamber. As a person is only considered a true knight through the combination of all attributes embodied by a wider ‘troth’, Gawain must therefore be tested in reaction to different dangers. To be honourable is to also be consistent; the behaviour in private must meet the high moral standard of public behaviour.

Tensions arise between the public and private when they stop remaining separate and one interferes with the other. However tensions also become apparent within each sphere, as to...

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