Literature Review On Protection Of The King’s And The Court’s Honor

Type of paper: Literature Review

Topic: Knight, Ideal, Ethics, Honor, Beheading, Criminal Justice, Head, Literature

Pages: 6

Words: 1650

Published: 2020/12/26


One of the duties of a knight is to defend the king’s honor at all costs and by any means possible. In “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, Sir Gawain was an ideal knight as he was ready to spring into action when the King’s honor was questioned or put into jeopardy. This aspect is clearly brought out in Victoria’s Weiss essay, “Gawain’s First Failure”. Weiss first of all states that when the Green Knight rode into the King’s castle and presented his challenge, it was misunderstood. It should have never been a “beheading contest”. In fact, the Green Knight does not mention beheading in his initial proposition. All he asks for is for a “strok” or “blur’ from the axe that he is carrying. Simply put, he does not specify that he wants to be beheaded, and it seems that all he wants is some kind of a blow from the axe. As Weiss points out, it is Sir Gawain who actually decides that this is to be a death blow. Weiss writes that “His first failure comes when he impetuously chops off the head of the Green Knight” (361). Although this can be interpreted as an act of anger, it, however, brings out the willingness of Sir Gawain to protect the King’s honor at all costs. Sir Gawain claims that it is an insult for the King to be challenged for such a silly game and he strives to ensure that the Green Knight will never publicly shame or insult the King again, and this is why he decides to make this challenge a beheading event. He postulates that by beheading the Green Knight, he will have inadvertently killed, and he will therefore never be able to dishonor the king. Through this, Gawain emerges as an ideal knight who is ready to commit even murder in order to ensure that the king is not publicly ashamed or be dishonored. Therefore. Although Weiss main argument revolves around the “mistake” that Gawain makes in turning this into a death contest when it was not actually meant to be, it also brings out the ideality of the knighthood in Gawain.
Gawain does no only protect the king’s honor but also the honor of the court. An ideal knight not only serves and protects the king but also ensures that the entire court maintains the honor that it deserves. This aspect is clearly brought by Greene, who argues that the symbol brought out by Gawain is a representation of the court that he as a knight is supposed to protect. Therefore, when the Green Knight presents the challenge, Gawain takes up on it like an ideal knight who has to prove that the knights stationed there are not there by default but are there to protect the court. Therefore, as an ideal knight, he knows that he is not just fighting for himself but for the entire court. As Hamilton puts, the fight “will test his right to the device as it will test the right of the court he represents to its reputation for perfection” (135).
Therefore, it can be argued that Gawain espoused the qualities of ideal knighthood in the beheading battle with the Green Knight. He defends the king’s honor, even going as far as putting his own life stake as shown by Weiss. In the beginning, he does not fully realize what he is getting himself into, that is, he does not think that his actions in trying to defend the king might result in him dying. However, as shown by Barron, when he realizes the full consequences, he accepts them as a true knight. The sources described above are very persuasive and presents a strong case about Gawain being an ideal knight.

Avoidance of Sin and Upholding of Gentlemanliness and Chivalry

According to Wilkin, one critical measure of knightly success is the avoidance of serious sin as well as the maintenance of a level of gentlemanliness (109). Sir Gawain is able to meet these standards and can thus be considered to be an ideal knight in his beheading contents. Wilkin acknowledges that Gawain has several faults but since the key measure of idealness is avoidance of serious sin and the maintenance of a level of gentlemanliness, his failures can be ignored and considered non-relevant. For example, Gawain is simply guilty of kissing his host’s (who later turn out to be the Green Knight) wife and telling a small omission lie. He is also discontinuously courageous, but he does not at any time exhibit full despair (Tilkin, 109). Therefore, even as he makes his journey to fulfill his promise, he remains an ideal knight.
The aspect of chivalry is upheld by Barron, who focuses on Gawain’s willingness to play the game in place of the King and the upholding of chivalry. When Gawain decides to take the king’s place in the beheading battle, he is not perhaps aware of the full implications of his actions. As mentioned earlier, he decided to instill a death blow to his opponent so that he would die, and that would be the end of that. It is crucial to remember that the Green Knight has claimed that whoever would strike him with the axe must make a promise to be struck back at a later time. A true and ideal knight is one who makes a promise and keeps it. The moment that Gawain chopped off the Green Knight’s head, and the Green Knight picked up and out it back on, Gawain was in a serious dilemma. As Barron puts it “both compromise and cowardice are equally unthinkable” (5). Simply put, as a true knight, Gawain must keep his promise so as to maintain his chivalric values and enhance his reputation (Barron 5). This is what he does exactly, and this makes him come out as an ideal knight. All this he does to maintain the King’s honor. The initial challenge had been made to the King and Gawain graciously took the king’s place as a way of protecting honor.

Maintaining One’s Honor

Knights are supposed to be honorable people. As the second most powerful people in the land after the king, knights were supposed to keep their word after making a promise. Throughout the story, Gawain is extremely honorable and keeps most of the promises he makes with the most conspicuous one being his agreement of being struck with an axe by the Green Knight. Winny also shows how Gawain keeps other promises throughout the story. One of these is at the Lord Bertilak’s house. Winny writes “Gawain gives his word that he will observe the agreement faithfully, and does so on two successive days by giving Bertilak the kisses he has secretly received from his hostess” (25). He goes on to state that a true man is required to repay what has been given to him, keep his word and give to his creditors what he owes them; traits that Gawain espouses. Although of his faults is not giving back the magic belt given to him by the hostess of the house, the Green Knight forgives him because he knows that he was simply trying to preserve his own life. Apart from this minor blemish, Gawain remains honorable in his beheading battle with the Green Knight and since honor is one of the most important attributes or virtues of a knight, Sir Gawain can, therefore, be considered to be an ideal knight. The book by Winny is very convincing in depicting this attribute.


The above discussion shows that Gawain espouses elements and characteristics of true knighthood in his head chopping contest with the Green Knight. As it has been shown, the entire head chopping contest could have been avoided. However, because of Gawain’ ideal knighthood and his dedication to the king, he chose to turn it into a beheading contests so as to first of all preserve the honor of the king. This is an aspect that is brought out brilliantly in Weiss’ article. The ideal knight is supposed to protect the King’s honor and Gawain does exactly this when he decides to cut off the Green Knight’s head once and for all and prevent him from ever disrespecting the king ever again. The other aspect that proves that Gawain is an ideal knight in his head chopping contest with the Green Knight is his gentlemanliness and lack of sin. He exhibits these characteristics, for instance, when he fails to sleep with Lord Bertilark’s wife who is actually the Green Knight. Finally, Gawain comes across as an ideal knight because he maintains his honor and keeps his promises throughout this contest. Therefore, a credible thesis about this tale and that would without a doubt be supported by many sources would be that Sir Gawain is an ideal Arthurian knight in spite of a few inconsistencies in his character.

Works Cited

Barron, W. R. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998. Print.
Richard Hamilton Green. “Gawain's Shield and the Quest for Perfection.” ELH 29.2(1962): 121-139.
Weiss, Victoria L. "Gawain's First Failure: The Beheading Scene in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"" The Chaucer Review 10.4 (1976): 361-66. JSTOR. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.
Wilkin, Gregory J. "The dissolution of the Templar ideal in Sir Gawain and the green knight." English Studies 63.2 (1982): 109-121.
Winny, J. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1992. Print.

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WePapers. (2020, December, 26) Literature Review On Protection Of The King’s And The Court’s Honor. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
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"Literature Review On Protection Of The King’s And The Court’s Honor," Free Essay Examples -, 26-Dec-2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 16-Jul-2024].
Literature Review On Protection Of The King’s And The Court’s Honor. Free Essay Examples - Published Dec 26, 2020. Accessed July 16, 2024.

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