In the poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", the author captures the attention of the reader through various techniques like the chronological flow of events.Courtly love occurs through wooing of women into accepting the advances of their male counterparts. The characters, especially the king Arthur and the knights at the round table are associated with most romance tales as characters. Characterization is an important aspect that is employed by the poet.These events that occur in the poem such as adventures and quests help shape up the courtly love through different characters that bring courtly love into manifestation.
Courtly Love in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight": Wooing, Romance, and the Round Table
Courtly love has been developed in the poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" through the inclusion of France Romance knights who are said to be 'ladies men' and they enjoy the practice of wooing ladies in the name of love talking and romance builds up the story regarding medieval romance. Gawain is given the attribute of loving through love talking, but he maintains his purity and chastity by avoiding sexual temptations and advances (Boroff 73). Gawain's courtship defines courtly love with a wife whom he has never met; to which Gawain obliged only because he felt that the love would not interfere with his quest. I feel that courtly love in this case because Gawain was not exercising love but he felt that it was just part of his destiny. I disagree with the author's sense of the development of courtly love in this case because it is based on intentions that are created by the characters in pursuit of their own individual interests.
I think the way the author shapes up the characterization concept in the poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" reflects a broad sense of the effect of events on a person's personality regarding the development of attributes related to courtly love. One character, Sir Gawain, is given the attribute of courage by which Gawain challenges the green knight with him fighting in place of the King Arthur. On the journey to the battle, Gawain reveals that he is a worthy and noble knight who is entitled to taking care of the king despite the conditions that are presented and their peculiarity. Gawain performs the actions in the care of the king so that he can build a good reputation. Reputation comes along with self-fulfillment, and therefore this is an important quest that is supposed to be achieved by Gawain, which he does so modestly under the command of King Arthur. The Gawain requests Arthur to let him participate in a beheading game, and Arthur finds no reason to go against the nephew's request which he obliges to with immediate effect (Boroff 74). This is a sign of self-sacrifice, which Gawain, the noble servant, was willing to undertake for the sake of his master. Gawain performs this action for self-fulfillment, and I acknowledge the author's method of shaping up Gawain's personality through characterization.
Shaping Characterization: Gawain's Courage, Self-Fulfillment, and Self-Sacrifice
Courtly love is also affected through a person's appreciation of the person's self-consciousness. Gawain develops self-consciousness through his experiences as he prepares for the battle with the green knight and narration is made about how Gawain eluded from a temptation made to him by the lord's wife who took sexuality to her advantage by trying to lure Gawain into her seductive approaches that she made to Gawain night after night. I think if Gawain thought that it was courtly love that made the lady Bertilak approach him rather than her evil plans of robbing Gawain of his chastity then Gawain would have easily fallen for the trap; with him taking the risk that seemed worth in consideration of his recently built courage. Gawain's self-consciousness makes the courtly love that seemed to be building up between him and Lady Bertilak wane out due to him realizing that it was not genuine. Gawain takes the girdle because he felt that it would save his life despite the fact that in the society, it would be taken as a shameful act. It is only through Gawain's self- consciousness that he evades this trap and his self- consciousness also guides him into confessing that he wore the girdle; a symbol of shame on the part of a knight, according to the culture of the people in the book.
The courtly love that ensues between Gawain and Lady Bertilak is one that is unacceptable in the society where the book is set up and there are rules that should be conformed when one is dealing with someone else's wife. Gawain conforms to some of them while he breaches others. One of the rules according to (Boroff 74) mentions that a person is not supposed to engage in activities that can compromise love that exists between two people with the knowledge of the third person about the affair. However, Gawain allows Lady Bertilak to kiss him, one kiss, two three, and the courtly love develops to a point of Lady Bertilak allowing Gawain to keep the girdle for himself. I feel angered about the actions that Gawain commits by allowing himself to indulge in love with someone's wife yet he knew that the law was against it. I agree with the author by him exploring the negative effects of the affair to Gawain through his shame.
Courtly Love as an Attitude: Gawain's Aspirations and Chivalric Merit
Courtly love occurs as an attitude of the Gawain as a knight with an intention of performing an act that will help him win the heart of the woman that he loves. Gawain aspired to prove to Lady Bertilak that he would attain chivalric merit through acts of courage which make him worthy of the courtly love that ensued between them. I disagree with the scholar (Boroff 71) that courtly love is honest and loyal just like it was between Gawain. This is because Lady Bertilak had ill intentions against Gawain that were aimed at testing his moral integrity which he maintains. I feel like the creation of a dilemma of Gawain maintaining his love and losing his reputation by losing the courtly love that existed between him and Lady Bertilak as a perfect situation that required Gawain to make a tough decision that would affect the love.
Another important case of characterization is the case of Gawain confessing that he is shameful through accepting defeat. This is not what is expected of a gallant knight, and the king takes him back into his court as a majestic warrior who accepted his fate of being defeated both mentally and physically. Gawain accepts that he wore the girdle that presented a temptation to him and which eventually dishonored him and made him a disgrace. Gawain, instead of getting downtrodden by the shame that comes along with the disgrace he surprisingly turns against the shame and this makes me appreciate the author's style of building up the characterization aspect through the character's reactions to situations such as Gawain's situation. Gawain's sense of acceptance to shame makes him avoid future mistakes after him learning his lesson in the near-death experience. Gawain shames himself before and in the final rounds of the beheading game, and he learns his lesson.
Generally, the author uses the concept of characterization to shape up the direction of courtly love to build on characterization and also on the plot of the story. Courtly love reveals itself through a courtship that is meant to originate from love, but some characters only take it up as a means of achieving their desires and others, without seriousness since they deem it as being the ultimate destiny for them
Boroff, Marie, and Laura L. Howes. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Authoritative Translation, Contexts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print. Pg70-80.
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