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09/04/2019

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?

QUESTION
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?
I have to do an essay planning page on sir Gawain and the Green Knight. What are some reasons Sir Gawain is a romance hero?

ANSWER
In the heroic age a hero was simply a mighty warrior. Achilles (in the Iliad) is not a particularly pleasant person (he quarrels with Agamemnon – which puts the whole Greek expedition at risk – and later kills Hector not through any sense of duty, but as revenge for the death of Patroclus). But Achilles is the greatest warrior of the Greek camp, so he is a suitable hero for the Iliad.

A romance hero is a rather more evolved character. A romance hero will usually have a sense of playing by the rules, is likely to take special care of women and children (or other defenceless characters), and will often show a measure of intelligence – as well as the raw courage he shares with more traditional heroes. (John Wayne’s brainless murder-machine – Mike Kirby – in The Ballad of the Green Berets is a traditional hero. Gary Cooper’s more nuanced and conflicted Will Kane in High Noon is a romance hero).

At the beginning of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, King Arthur accepts the Green Knight’s challenge – simply because it is a challenge, and any challenge must be accepted. In fact, accepting the challenge is not a clever move – since the beheading game is a trick. King Arthur has got the knights at Camelot into a tricky situation by being conventionally heroic. (The poem calls Arthur 3ep and childgered. This might mean ‘eager’ and ‘lively’, but can also be understood as ‘hotheaded’ and ‘childish’).

Gawain is too wise and cautious to volunteer for the Green Knight’s trap; but once Arthur has accepted (the damage is already done) Gawain comes forward to get his king out of a tight corner. Gawain – the romance hero – is normally clever enough to avoid pointless dangers, but will walk into a stupid situation if duty calls him to do so. Similarly, once the quest has started, Gawain is careful to show due care and consideration for his hosts at Hautdesert Castle (even though most knights errant facing imminent death would have had trouble remembering to be courteous and grateful guests).

Gawain’s romance politeness even brings a grim comedy into the tale. When the Lady Hautdesert pretty much demands sexual favours, Gawain is caught in the dilemma of whether he turns her down (keeping faith with her husband) or gives her what she has asked for (a good guest is supposed to indulge his hostess’ minor requests).

Gawain would never dream of telling tales out of school;- no gentleman would ever do that.

Gawain is a romance hero because no matter how brave he needs to be (and he is probably the bravest knight in medieval fiction), he never lets it stop him from being the perfect gentleman.