Being a knight was not easy, you had to be apt at swordplay, to have strength and be able to face the violence of the medieval ages. To complicate matters, the more aggressive side of their lives were supposed to be tempered by a rule of conduct, known as the Code of Chivalry. The Code of Chivalry was a moral system, a standard all men of Knighthood strived and struggled to live by. It was a set of idealized qualities such as bravery, courage, loyalty, and honor in your conduct towards women. There were many rules that needed to be followed, and qualities these men needed to exemplify in order to be considered a true knight. Some things expected of them were to serve their Lord God in fear and faith, to honor and obey their liege lord, to be kind and courteous, to guard honor and truth, to be gallant to women, to never flee a foe.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is filled to the brim with examples of chivalrous attitudes and actions, a few examples are as follows. Agreeing to allow the same deadly blow he dealt to the Green Knight to befall himself, Gawain is taunted by the Knight, “‘So come, or be called a coward forever’” (l.456) Gawain’s determination increases with these scathing words. He made a solemn vow, the Green Knight was not only questioning his bravery, but honesty as well. He goes on despite his fear, searching relentlessly for the Green Chapel, as he would rather die than be branded a coward. When he arrives the Green Knight comments, “‘Your visit keeps your vow’” (l. 2238) He is recognizing Gawain’s honor and honesty.
Body strapped into layers of armor, he still holds to his troth to honor God, “Yet for all that metal he still made it to mass/ honored the Almighty before the high altar” (ll.592-593). No matter the situation, Gawain always found time to honor the Lord and attend confession. He never allowed great deeds or boasts to get in the way of his faith. Gawain always remained faithful and brave in the face of adversity.
One of the most complicated and treacherous rules for Gawain is to be gallant towards women always. He has promised to serve Lady Bertilak, but he mustn’t dishonor his host or her virtue. It is a slippery path that he struggles to tread, as she insistently tries to seduce him. Gawain, however, is able to walk that knife’s edge with a surprising amount of grace, though he nearly slips a few times.
“‘But to the best of my ability I’ll do your bidding,
bound as I am to you forever
and to serve you, so let our Savior preserve me!’
So the lady tempted and teased him, trying
to entice him to wherever her intentions might lie.
But fairly and without fault he defended himself,
no sin on either side transpiring, only happiness
Knights were obliged to be many things by the Code of Chivalry. They were required to be honest and true, faithful and charitable, brave and humble, the demands were for the highest of character. Wouldn’t it be nice if more men tried to put some of these qualities into practice today?