Discuss how this short passage represents the theme of shame and show the significance of that theme within Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Authors Avatar by mestagles98gmailcom (student)

Discuss how this short passage represents the theme of shame and show the significance of that theme within ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’

Throughout Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the idea of shame is explored both through Gawain’s own experiences but also through the presentation of the contrasting courts of Arthur and Bertelak, both of which the reader is drawn towards questioning the morals of by the end of poem. As this essay will discuss, it is, ironically, the grief and shame that Gawain clearly expresses in this extract that highlights the depth of his integrity and moreover the deeply flawed integrity of the court, who in prizing renown and honor more than anything else have instead been shown to have very superficial and certainly not honorable values. The poet does not seem to wholly criticize the shame-honour value system of the Arthurian court here, rather he uses the character of Gawain to show that these values are worth something but only when they are combined with strong personal integrity, which both the poet and the green knight, acting on behalf of Morgan le Fay, find severely lacking in Arthur’s court[1].

To this end, this extract, which is set when Gawain returns to Arthurs’ court after his experiences at Hautdesert, presents Gawain in a state of severe anguish and suffering over the shame that has come over him. The poet here describes how, as Gawain retold his tale, his blood was “Rushing, now hot, now cold,/ And his face flushed in shame”. While it could here be suggested that the use of the verb “Rushing” shows how Gawain is feeling adrenaline at retelling his tale, the fact that he responded in a similar manner upon initially learning of his failure from the Green Knight – “ The blood rushed from his heart, flushing his face./ He shriveled in shame at what the bold man told him” – instead suggests strong feelings of anger and shame at the realization that the he has failed to live up to the ‘knightly’ virtues [2]. This repetition of the image of Gawain’s blood “rushing” emphasizes just how strong an emotional reaction Gawain has had to his failure with the Green Knight – even recalling the event leads him to a have noticeable physical reaction to the emotions brought up by the memory. Also, the poet’s use of the term “heart” when initially describing Gawain’s reaction further shows how he truly feels that his failure to resist the temptation of the green girdle has cast shame on his morals and with that anyone who he is associated with[3]. However, it is the use of the word “heart”, along with the repeated vivid description found in the extract, that encourages the reader to sympathize with Gawain here as he is being presented as suffering deep internal turmoil over his shameful failure, contrasting strongly with the superficial reaction of the court[4].
Join now!

As was previously mentioned, the poet does not only explore the idea of shame in relation to Gawain in this extract, but also to the entire court of King Arthur and arguably to the wider readership. Upon Gawain’s return, the other knights of the court simply react to him by “Laughing loudly”, attempting to detract from Gawain’s shame by declaring that they will wear a similar green band to the one Gawain took from Lady Bertelak. The idea of the court as “Laughing” is one is that explored throughout the poem. The Festival at Camelot which we are ...

This is a preview of the whole essay