Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Ideological Dilemma Assignment


Knighthood- The Idea versus the Real As we have seen in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the ideas a knight should aspire to are sometimes unrealistic. Write an essay in which you explore an aspect of expected knightly behaviors and analyze how that ideal is expressed in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and […]

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Ideological Dilemma: Conflict in Knighthood Ideals

Chivalry, women, courtly love, and a challenge to Arthur and his knights encompass a recipe for an excellent classic medieval tale, and amidst it all lies the protagonist, a knight striving for morals, honesty, and honor while struggling with human weaknesses and frailties; this is the epic tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the analysis, an exploration into how knighthood held unrealistic demands regarding their mannerism will occur, emphasizing Sir Gawain’s dilemma brought about by societal pressure. Additionally, it will be shown that upholding the ideals faithfully leads to a philosophical problem, which cannot be solved by choosing one action over the other.

Honour Above Everything Else

In the tale “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” Sir Gawain visits the castle owned by Lord and Lady Bertilak, where the latter seduces him thrice. A deal had been struck the previous day with the lord of the court, proposing a game to Sir Gawain. Consequently, the lord concludes by saying, “One thing more,’ said the master, ‘we’ll agree: whatever I win in the wood at once shall be yours, and whatever gain you may get, you shall give in exchange. Shall we swap thus, sweet man – come, say what you think! –whether one’s luck is light, or one’s lot be better?” (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 28). Later, Lady Bertilak seduces their guest for three days to no avail. According to the code of courtesy, the knight is supposed to honor the woman and never refuse her; Sir Gawain is conflicted because he knows that the action would be a dishonor and offense to the lord of the house; these two ideals lead to a dilemma.

This dilemma can also be seen in the story The Franklin’s Tale, penned by Geoffrey Chaucer, incredibly when the lady Dorigen is conflicted about what she should do. Was it right for her to stand by her claim, which would undoubtedly end up bad for her, or lie that she had not been earnest when making the promise? Aurelius replies, “I rather would be stabbed than live to see / You fail in truth” (Chaucer 321). This statement conflicts with the ideals of a knight, specifically, respecting the honor of women and protecting the weak, in this case, lady Dorigen, and preserving to the end an enterprise that had been begun.

Arthur’s Knights Comradeship Dilemma

When Sir Gawain agreed to the challenge by the Green Knight, he fulfilled the code of honor by never backing down from an equal challenge, never turning his back upon a foe, and serving the king with faith and courage. However, the events that follow when he is a guest at Lord and Lady Bertilak portray him as a coward, mainly by retaining the girdle to save his life. As Lady Bertilak gave it to him, she explained that “whoever well clasped closely about him, there is none, so hardy under heaven that to hew him were able; for he could not be killed by any cunning of hand” (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 45).

Arguably, even though they were willing for him to see the enterprise to the end, they were also conflicted in guarding his honor, yet he had not gained it or deserved it (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 60). In this case, the idea of keeping the knight’s honor through carrying a task to its end, and the reaction they had towards failure in our protagonist in upholding his responsibilities, shows how unrealistic the challenge was compared to their perception of the knight’s life worth. Arguably, this is true considering that the person responsible for crafting the law, namely King Arthur, makes light of the same based on relief at seeing one of his friends safe from harm.


It can be seen that the laws of chivalry expected of a knight were deeply flawed since performing an ideal by the code would, in any case, lead to breaking another that was supposed to be upheld. Since unconditional obedience to the rules was considered the ultimate honor, conflict in two or more principles would conclude that the underlying ideology was deeply flawed. It is, therefore, conclusive that defending any one of them was by itself a mirage and self-delusion to the individual, and following them to the letter without breaking any other, an impossibility at the least.

Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales: Translated into Modern English Prose. New York, NY: Rinehart, 1954.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Edited by J.A Burrow. London: Yale University Press, 1982.

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Published On: 01-01-1970

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