Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The Imperfection of Mankind: The Chivalric Code in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

"King Arthur was counted most courteous of all." Line 26 of Part 1, one of the opening lines of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, reveals a society in which people are ranked in accordance with their adherence to a certain code of behavior: the chivalric code. Indeed, the knightly chivalric code, derived from the Christian concept of morality, is an essential element of Sir Gawain's belief system as a knight in Arthur's court. Sir Gawain's behavior is governed by this code; indeed, it is what prompts him to accept the Green Knight's challenge in Arthur's place, despite his initial hesitance. It is also what prevents him from granting the improper request of his host's wife.

Despite its divine origins, the chivalric code is ultimately a human ideal. Chivalry is not a trait naturally found in man, but rather a concept constructed by humanity in its pursuit for Christ-like perfection. It has even been suggested that chivalry is at odds with the nature of man. Despite the weakness of his human nature, however, Sir Gawain is expected to maintain the chivalric code, and he must depend on his faith in God in order to do so. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the chivalric code - or rather, the human...

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