chivalry and gawain

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Chivalry was an ideal way of behavior for nobility during the Middle Ages. In Gawain and the Green Knight, the main character Gawain strives to live up to these ideals. These ideals, however, are too hard for Gawain to live up to at the time. When Gawain stumbles, he is able to make himself a better man because of this experience. He shows us that man makes mistakes, but a great man is one who recognizes that he is wrong and tries to learn from the mistake. By learning from his mistakes, he is coming closer to the ideal of chivalry than if he tried to hide them.

Chivalry was not intended to be restrict the nobility from being the people that they really are. Instead, it was meant to help them maintain their Christian ideals. It was supposed to help them to live up to the commandments that God had given to them. The code was supposed to help the nobility to become closer to their God. But, it made things for them extremely difficult, because they were viewed as inferior if they did not always live up to the code. The code was very hard to follow all of the time for the nobility.

Gawain tries to live up to the chivalrous ideals of his time. The problem is that these ideals are too hard for a man to always fulfill. Gawain was not a superhuman, and therefore could not always do exactly what he was supposed to do. He was, however, one of the greatest men of his time. The Green Knight refers to the goodness of Gawain when he says, “She made trial of a man most faultless by far” (6). Gawain was one of the best men of his time. He was respected everywhere. He strived with all of his might to follow the ideals of chivalry to the fullest. So, if there was anyone who should be able to live up to the ideals of chivalry, it should have been Gawain.

Although Gawain should be the one man that is able to hold to all of the ideals of chivalry, he is not able to do so. He fails while attempting to conform to the chivalrous ideals. Gawain does not fail because he is a bad person, he fails because he is a human being and , therefore, is not perfect. No matter how hard he tried, he was bound to make a mistake simply because he is only a man. Gawain admits to his failure when he says, “Now am I faulty and false, that fearful was ever Of disloyalty and lies,” (8-8). Gawain recognizes that he was not able to live up to the standards of chivalry. He had tried as hard as humanly possible and failed. Gawain was one of the most respected and loyal men of his time. If he is not able to follow the code of chivalry, what mortal man could be able to do so.


Gawain was a great man that earned the respect of his peers. He was as close to the ideal of chivalry as humanly possible. Yet, Gawain still failed in his attempts at being the chivalrous knight. If one of the greatest men of the time is not able to be completely chivalrous, how could any other man think of being able to meet all the obligations that it entails? The answer is that they could not possibly think of being wholly chivalrous. It is in human nature to make mistakes. The only thing that could live up to these ideals completely would be God.

The nobles of the Middle Ages were not able to live up to the ideals that their society tells them to follow. No matter how hard they try, it is in their nature to make mistakes and fail. When people realize this, they become discouraged with the ideals. They will give up on trying to live up to these ideals and only put on a show when they need to do so. They will only be trying to cover up the fact that they are making mistakes. In reality, they will not even be trying to live up to the ideals of chivalry. This will eliminate the whole purpose of having a code of conduct.

With the people no longer being faithful to and striving to maintain the ideals of chivalry, there will be a great amount of immorality taking place. The people will be sneaky and deceiving in the way they go about breaking the rules. The will do this so that they avoid being looked down on as failures. The want to be looked up to with reverence and as heroes, not as failures. This will make them try to hide what they really are and prevent them from improving themselves. Which will make things worse than they were before the code of chivalry was put into place. The whole point of the system, which is to respect other nobles and further the Christian cause, is not going to be lived up to. In order for them to get back to their original ideals and again live up to the ideals that they have set, there would need to be changes to the way they went about living up to their ideals.

The system of chivalry was not perfect. It’s ideals were good, it was just too hard for any man to be able to always live up to them. And if a man made a mistake he was looked down upon and disgraced. This led to people covering up their mistakes and not learning from them, unless they were caught and publicly humiliated. A change had to be made to stop the spread of immorality and deceit. Gawain shows us the way to do so after he fails in his incident with the Green Knight. Instead of hiding the fact that he messed up, Gawain makes the fact that he failed known publicly. In addition he wore the ladies’ green belt on him at all times as a reminder to himself and everyone else of his failures (505-5 ). When he returns home, Gawain approaches King Arthur and tells him of the belt, “This is the badge of false faith that I was found in there, And I must bear it on my body till I breathe my last” (50-5 0). Gawain steps outside of the normal behavior of the nobility of his time and admits his mistake. He made a mistake and instead of making the fault worse by lying about it, he learns from it and uses it to make himself a better man.

Gawain, by breaking the code of chivalry and learning from his mistake, becomes a better man. Since he wears the green belt as a reminder of his blunder, he is respected by his peers even more than he already was. The rest of the knights of the round table, seeing what Gawain does, wear there own green belts as a sign of respect (5 5-5 8). The rest of the knights realize that Gawain is improving himself by admitting to his mistake and learning from it. Gawain has now set a new standard for the rest of the knights to follow. Gawain is a trendsetter for making changes to the way that nobility acts when they have failed to live up to everything that they have promised they would.

Not only is Gawain more respected after his mistake than he was before, but he also learns from his mistake and knows that he has to correct his faults. He will strive to stay away from what caused him problems. Gawain says, “For where a fault is made fast, it is fixed evermore” (5 ). He recognizes that he is a man and is therefore faulty. This is the first thing he has to do to make himself better. Men can only try to correct their shortcomings after they realize they have them. Gawain makes people see this because he was supposed to be the most chivalrous knight, and not even he could always be perfect. This made people realize that they had their own faults that needed to be corrected. Gawain starts a new trend with the knights of the round table to look at themselves for their own faults before the criticize other people for their shortcomings as chivalrous nobility.

Gawain’s new approach is one that is a breath of fresh air to the stiff way of doing things that is called chivalry. His actions show that people are going to make mistakes and not always follow the code, but when they do stumble they have to pick themselves up, learn from the experience and not be ashamed that it happened. Instead of hiding their faults, the knights should embrace them and work with them to make themselves better people. By doing this, the men will be coming closer to the original intent of the code of chivalry than they would by hiding their discretions and making the same mistake repeatedly.

Gawain and the Green Knight shows us that men are flawed and will never be able to fully live up to standards of conduct. But, shaming them for making mistakes only makes things worse. Men can only become better people by making mistakes and learning from them. They have to look at themselves and see that they are not perfect and accept that fact. Recognizing and trying to correct their mistakes will help people to behave in the way that the code of chivalry intended them to act.

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