In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, what are the strengths and weaknesses of both Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?
Sir Gawain has a great number of virtues and strengths that the author spends considerable time detailing. One of Gawain's greatest strengths is his reputation; it precedes and acclaims him throughout the story and predisposes everyone who meets him to think highly of him. This reputation is the product of his other strengths.
- Gawain is an extremely pious and honorable person who strives to live by the codes of chivalry and religious duties. On several occasions he is tempted, such as by the lady of the castle and by his guide's offer to lie so that Gawain can flee, but in all cases Gawain does his best to not only keep true to his word and obligations, but also to avoid offending those who presume to undermine his honor.
- Gawain is noted as being a physically attractive, conversationally witty and generally pleasant person. His courtesy and word-play are entertaining and inspiring, and people simply want to be around him.
Gawain's greatest weakness is fear. He shows this at least twice; when he fails to disclose his receipt of the girdle, thinking it will protect him from death, and when he flinches at the Green Knight's first blow. As the Knight says later, this is because Gawain "loves his life," which he can hardly consider a fault.
The Green Knight, aka Lord Bertilak, has a number of strengths, but we should keep in mind that he freely admits to being aided by Morgan le Fay, a powerful sorceress, and so it isn't necessarily obvious which of his traits are inherent, and which are the products of magic. For example, his ability to move and speak after being beheaded are obviously magical benefits, but his other attributes may not be, such as his size, strength, and force of character. He is described as almost constantly cheerful, exuding an air of command and respectability, and demonstrating no end of generosity and courtesy to his guest and his subjects.
The Knight demonstrates no obvious weaknesses in the story. Since death appears irrelevant to him, and his wife and subjects are in fact steadfast and loyal co-conspirators in his test of Gawain's purity, and he exhibits constant energy and cheerfulness, it seems like there is little or nothing obviously flawed in the Knight. This serves to support the point of the story, being the test of Gawain's character, not the Knight's, which is all the more reason why Gawain takes the Knight's lesson to heart (regarding his lie of omission about the girdle) rather than criticizing the Knight for trickery and deception as we might imagine a lesser character to do. The Knight is meant to represent an unbeatable foe with no weakness, and therefore this is the opportunity for Gawain to demonstrate how far his convictions will take him when he can't actually "win."
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