Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Stanza 74

Jason Marcus

In stanza 74, fit III, the lady of the castle offers a magical, green girdle to Sir Gawain and explains to him that the wearer of this corset ?cannot be killed by any cunning on earth.? Sir Gawain, amidst an ethical dilemma, accepts the gift and chooses to conceal it from Lord Bertilak. This passage contains three of the main themes of the story ? the inner and outer conflicts between Sir Gawain?s ethics and desire to live, and the test of religion.

When Sir Gawain is offered the girdle, his knightly principles are questioned. The honorable thing would be to reject the offer or bring it to the lord of the castle, but Gawain places the preservation of his life ahead of chivalry. The knight has withstood the lady?s constant barrage of sexual advances, and kept his promise to the lord of the castle, but when the chance to save his life is presented, he snatches it up without a second thought. This point is shown by the way the author puts ?Outright? on a line of it?s own, emphasizing Gawain?s quick decision. He is then ecstatic about the thought that he will survive his meeting with the knight the next day, shown by ?often thanks gave he/ With all his heart and might.? Later, Sir Gawain finds three faults in his actions, the first being his cowardice ? in direct contrast to the main principles of knighthood, the second being his covetousness, his lust for life, and the third being his lack of faith in God. Even when it is shown that God has forgiven him by healing the wound on his neck, Sir Gawain still feels that he has sinned, and is not as willing to forgive himself. He decides that more atonement is in order, so he makes the decision to wear the girdle from then on, as a sign of his eternal sin, but even then he does not feel that he has been cleansed of his sin. He understands that he will be forced to bear the shame and disgrace of the sin for the rest of his life.

The observers? opinions of whether Sir Gawain is forgiven are the complete opposite of Sir Gawain?s. In the passage, it is mentioned that the lady kissed the constant knight. The question arises as to the author?s meaning of constant. It is obvious that it does not mean that Gawain is constant in his moral decisions, as he just made an unethical decision. It also wouldn?t mean that he is determined or steadfast, for he just caved in to his want for life and threw his morals aside. Another improbable definition would be that of unwavering faith because he just gave up on God. It is possible that the author is being sarcastic, yet this has not been the previous style of writing. So what is the author saying by labeling Gawain ?the constant knight?? A likely possibility is the author?s disdain with the current conditions of chivalry and knighthood. He is mocking the misconception of the knights of King Arthur?s court and offers the idea that it is more corrupt and conceited than commonly believed. Therefore, being labeled a constant knight is the author?s way of accepting Sir Gawain?s decision, as it would have been standard with the other knights, though not necessarily condoning it. The question as to whether Gawain is right in choosing his life over his morals is mentioned when the Green Knight reveals himself as Lord Bertilak. The Green Knight feels that it was excusable for Gawain to accept the girdle, as his decision was well motivated. Sir Gawain did not fall due to lust for a woman or to the offer of ?a well-wrought thing? such as the gold ring, but to his love of life, which Bertilak finds to be ?less blameworthy.? Lord Bertilak perceives Sir Gawain as a noble and honorable knight, and invites him back to his castle to celebrate the New Year. Gawain is let off the hook and sent on his way. When Sir Gawain returns to Camelot, he recalls his story, humiliated and humbled. The members of King Arthur?s court, however, feel that Sir Gawain has done well and attempt to cheer the knight up. They do not feel that Sir Gawain has done anything immoral and let it pass