Most women dream of one day finding a knight in shining armor, a man that will give her love and loyalty forever. This conception of a knight began in the 12 th century and is present in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The story has a mystique that combines Christian virtues, aristocratic qualities, and the courtly love of women. Chivalry was a system of ethical ideals developed among the knights of medieval Europe. Chivalry was the code of conduct by which knights were supposedly guided. Arising out of the feudalism of the period, it combined military virtues with those of Christianity.
In addition to loyalty to God and the knights feudal lord, it called for courtesy toward enemies and generosity toward the sick, widows, and other disadvantaged people. The ideal of courtly love incorporates romantic devotion for a sexually unattainable woman, usually another mans wife. Courtly love was practiced among the aristocracies in a very common manner. The courtly lover provided service or duty to his lady. Since the marriage was probably the result of a business interest, his love was more than likely adulterous.
The lover saw himself as serving the god of love and worshipping his lady-saint: faithlessness was a mortal sin. The courtly lover did show some outward signs of passion, but was not driven by sexual rewards, but was fueled by respect for his lady. Courtly love was like a game played in society, played by the elite. Planned weddings, arranged families, building of estates are what courtly love was about. The ideal of chivalry and courtly love can be found in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, between Gawain and the wife of the lord he is visiting. In part III, the lord has left for the day to hunt and has told his wife to take care of Gawain in his absence.
The lady is very interested in Gawain romantically and after her husband leaves she enters his bedroom and sits beside him on the bed. Hop in to gain his affection she lets Gawain know that she desires to kiss him. He replies, I am yours to command, to kiss when you please. (III, 1501) This statement shows how Gawain already feels, that he is to respect the ladys wishes, even if it is kissing.
The following morning, the lady enters his room and Gawain greets her in courtliest style. (III, 1759) He is overcome with emotion, as he feels great joy in her presence. He realizes that he can receive her love or refuse it. His courtesy concerned him, lest crass he appear, But more his souls mischief, should he commit sin, and belie his loyal oath to the lord of that house. (III, 1773 -1775) In this stanza, Gawain debates in his mind whether he should honor the ladys wishes, or refuse.
It concerns him that he may appear crass to the lady if he refuses, and disloyal to the lord if he accepts. Gawain decides that he will not let that happen and tells the lady That shall not befall! The lady replies that the only way she can believe that he would deny her love is if he has already pledged his love to another lady. Although it was not what she wanted to hear, Gawain told her that he had no lover. Gawain realizes that he cannot take her love, because he would be breaking the rules of courtly love and breaking the trust between himself and the lord. The relationship between Gawain and the lords wife is a good example of courtly love. Although Gawain desired the lady he knew that they should not pursue their relationship any further.
The knight was to provide service for the lady, such as in protection, not in love. However, Gawain does not act in a courtly manner when he kisses the lords wife, or when he fails to stick to the terms of the game. When the lord confronts Gawain about his conduct with his wife he says, You kissed my comely wife... for that is my belt about you, the same braided girdle, my wife it was that wore it... I know well the tale, She made a trial of a man most faultless by far... (IV, 2351 2362).
Although the Green knight set up Gawain he says, You lacked, sir, a little in loyalty there... Gawain immediately confesses that he is full of disloyalty and lies, and that he has not showed loyalty belonging to knights. (IV, 2381 2383) The Green knight accepts his confession and gives him gold-hemmed girdle asking him to remember this meeting when he mingles with chivalrous knights, and remember what happened. (IV, 2399) The relieved Gawain thanks the Green knight and his courteous wife, and his other honored ladies. (IV, 2411) In conclusion, the makings of a knight required the following of ethical ideals of chivalry and courtly love. This philosophy as seen in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight shows how important the conduct of a knight was held in medieval society.
The ideal knight was to show loyalty and generosity. Gawain was disloyal to his host by wearing the braided girdle that belonged to the wife and by his kissing her. As a knight, he should have conducted himself better when around the lords wife. Farther, in the later Middle Ages chivalry became more exclusive, like a duke for example. It became one of hereditary honor, and fewer and fewer had the right to claim it. Chivalry and courtly love have given the world romantic love.
We see it in the modern world in our movies, novels, and television shows. It is what every woman desires and what every man wishes to bestow. 359.