Mary Rives Rice
November 17, 2017
The Green Knight’s Test of Sir Gawain’s Honesty
The Green Knight is a strong knight who challenges King Arthur’s round table to cut off his head with an axe with the condition that he can return the blow one year later. Sir Gawain, a peer of King Arthur, accepted the challenge and returned to the Green Knight’s chapel on Christmas the next year. The Green Knight’s literal challenge for Sir Gawain is from a physical perspective as he proposes that Gawain chop his head off with the axe, however, the meaning of the Green Knight’s challenge was to test Gawain’s moral character and honesty.
Approaching the challenge, Gawain thought the Green Knight was testing his bravery. The Green Knight says, “If you are as courageous as everyone says, You will graciously grant me the game that I ask for by right" (272-274). Gawain responds to this by adhering to the King Arthur’s code of chivalry and accepts the challenge. The novel depicts the Green Knight as strong, yet the Green Knight is really seeking an individual who is loyal. The Green Knight created a plot for Gawain to follow; he was consistently testing Gawain to see if his moral character would propel him to follow through on his promises. Gawain’s first test was to return to the Green Knight’s chapel exactly one year, on Christmas, after Gawain had decapitated the Green Knight’s head to return the axe and to receive a blow. Gawain could have kept the axe and avoided the Green Knight, but he “passed” his first test and his moral compass led him to do the right thing and find the Green Knight. The Green Knight tests Gawain again when they made the deal they would give each other everything the other got that day. Gawain stayed loyal to the Green Knight for the first two days by returning the kisses, but on the third day when given the girdle that will ensure he will not get hurt with the axe, he fails the Knight’s test and selfishly keeps the girdle for himself, despite the Green Knight fulfilling his part of the deal.
The Green Knight’s tests were intended to see if Gawain would stay honest and loyal to the Green Knight or if Gawain would selfishly take advantage of the Knight. In addition, Gawain was challenged in front of Arthur’s round table which consisted of people who Gawain respected and valued bravery. Shedd says “Given the fact of the Green Knight's blunt challenge in the presence of the assembled court, the trial is by definition an overt one, designed to put to the proof the courage, honour, loyalty, and courtesy of whoever accepts“ (4). Gawain adhered to the code of chivalry and took on an...