Chivalric heroes, unlike the epic heroes in stories such as Beowulf, do more than fight to protect their people; they go out of their way in order to look for a test to prove their strength, to fight for their morals and ideals, and to keep their word to prove their loyalty and honor. Gawain, from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, embodies all of the traits that qualify him to be a chivalric hero.
According to the website Luminarium, “the virtues of a chivalric hero are similar to those of his epic counterpart—valor, generosity, loyalty, honor, and skill in battle—however, the sense given to 'loiautee,' loyalty, at this period is more intricate and more significant”, and we see the depth of Gawain’s loyalty and courage early on in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Jokinen). While the Green Knight challenges a room full of Knights, Gawain is the only one to come forth and put his life on the life, for no reason other than to prove his worth, to take responsibility for his duty, and to spare his King. Gawain states that “I am the weakest of warriors and feeblest of wit; / loss of my life would be least lamented”, when in fact, he becomes the only true knight in the story (“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” 193). During the Middle Ages, the Knights seated around the table should have been falling over themselves to stand up and protect their King and to prove their worth and yet Gawain was the only one who took the challenge, regardless of what it would cost him in the end. There is nothing more courageous than offering one’s own life to spare someone else’s, and nothing less should have been expected from a Knight.
A major factor in being considered a chivalric hero is honor. Gawain proves to honor his word in searching for the Green Knight for a year following their first encounter, and he searches throughout the land, through many trials and battles, while he could have easily given up on his adventure. The story states that Gawain “on his grim quest, / passing long dark nights unloved and alone, / foraging to feed, finding little to call food, / with no friend but his horse through forests and hills / and only our Lord in heaven to hear him”, traversed the country, with no help and no direction, with no purpose other than to honor his vow to the Green Knight (”Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” 200). The fact that Gawain kept trudging through this ordeal shows his strength as a person and his honor to his word. Whereas another hero may have given up and let fate decide if the Green Knight would find him on his own accord, Gawain realizes that he has made a promise, not only to the Green Knight and King Arthur, but to himself, and this, combined with his prayer to the Lord for help, allow him to follow through on his journey. We are allowed to see his character and how strong his will to persevere is when Gawain tells us that “I would rather drop deal than default from duty” (“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” 208).