Chivalry. Honor. What do you think of when you hear these two words? Do you see endless rows of medieval knights in full armor fighting for their king and displaying courtly love for a fair lady? Or do you see the Broad Run Honor Code you have to sign before taking a quiz in math class? No matter what you think of, chivalry and honor thrived in England in the Medieval Era and is still thriving today, but contrasts the ways honor was used among knights and kings. Honor was a driving force behind the actions of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and is presented differently in our modern era. Gawain shows chivalry towards the Host’s wife by obeying her commands as she tempts him in different ways each day trying to seduce him.
On the first day, she commands him to obey her as she is the hostess and as a chivalrous knight, he must show honor to her. On the second day, she attacks his manliness and pride asking if he’s such an amazing knight how come he doesn’t have a lady on his arm. Lastly, on the third day, Lady Bercilak uses the biggest temptation, her body. She is described to be wearing a dress low both in the back and the front. In this instance, Gawain does honor the Host’s wife by allowing her one kiss on the first day, two on the second, and three on the third, but also honors the Host by doing nothing more than kissing his wife in acts of courtly love. Today, this would not happen because arranged marriages to a father’s best friend are almost obsolete, but can be shown in the way a man must respect a lady and also respect the father of the lady.
In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Host can be compared to a female’s father, mostly because of age, but also in the way the knights were allowed to have courtly love with the wife, but at the same time must respect the elder husband. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, when Gawain is on his journey to find the Green Knight, he stops at a castle. The Host honors Gawain, as the amazing knight that he is, with food, drink, his wife, and hospitality. The Host requests that on the three days that Gawain stays in his castle, at the end of each day, the two men honor each other with one present from their day. Each day the host returns from hunting to give Gawain the game he receives.
The first day, the host brings back a piece of venison, the second a prized Boar head, and on the last day a fox pelt. Each day Gawain gives the Host a vigorous kiss, starting at one kiss, and increasing by the day. The kisses he gives the Host explain his day with the Host’s wife, which he chooses not to tell the Host. Little does Gawain know, that the Host has set his wife on him as a trap to test his honor. Honor in this piece of the tale can be shown in modern day as a promise. A promise can be made between two people and for them to be loyal, they must honor their promise and follow through with the action.
In a sense, the Host and Gawain made a promise to each other to bring the other a gift at the end of each day at dinnertime, and both comply, honoring the promise. Although the events in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight would not happen today, it can be easily compared to a promise honored by two acquaintances. Sir Gawain honors his word a year and a day later by taking his journey to find the Green Knight. This is similar, again, to a promise. He carries out his word which shows great character and honor. Even though Sir Gawain knew that the Green Knight would chop off his head as he did to him, he went to face him with dignity.
In the Medieval Era, a man keeping his word is the most honorable thing he can do, no matter the consequences. Today, there is little beheading nor is there a magical Green Knight that’s head can be put back on his neck, but there are promises made, sometimes with serious consequences. A person can make a promise that they might not want to complete, but the true honor is found when they show bravery to finish the job. Unlike the incident with Sir Gawain beheading the Green Knight and keeping his promise to find him a year later, in modern day a promise similar to that may seem more difficult to be completed, but is still possible. Chivalry is not dead; neither is honor.
In Medieval Times, chivalry and honor took on its own code of law that all knights had to abide by. Now, in the 21st century, chivalry is no longer a strict code that must be upkept, but more of morals and ethics, something everyone should be doing, yet isn’t punishable by the law. Chivalry and honor have taken on a new meaning, with less importance, though this doesn’t mean that it is not used. Women still should be treated with respect. The strong should still aide the weak.
We are still told to be loyal to our friends and be fair to all people. Gawain was truly motivated by honor and chivalry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and can be seen in modern times, just a little bit differently.