Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Questions and Answers
by Pearl-Poet

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Why does Sir Gawain feel he is the one best qualified to accept the Green Knight's challenge in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?

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Phoebe Eason eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Rather than believing himself to be worthy or the best qualified to accept the Green Knight's game, Gawain is the one to take the Green Knight up on his challenge simply because he wishes to spare King Arthur from having to do it himself. In fact, the text supports the idea that Gawain believes himself to be lesser qualified than many of the knights in attendance; his is simply more ready than they are to protect the king from what would have been seen as certain demise.

Upon the Green Knight's entrance into the hall during the feast and explanation of his reason for coming, the onlookers, including Arthur's knights, are stunned into silence. Indeed, it is the silence that causes Arthur to be the one to accept the Green Knight to protect his personal reputation as well as the reputation of the court. It is only once Arthur accepts that Gawain steps in and states,

I am the weakest, I know, and of wit feeblest. / Least worth the loss of my life, who’d learn the truth. / Only inasmuch as you are my uncle, am I praised.

Thus, the humble and loyal Gawain is the one to trade blows with the Green Knight because of his willingness, not his worth.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain's acceptance of the Green Knight's challenge isn't based so much on his feelings of being the best qualified but rather on factors akin to default. None of the knights in King Arthur's court wants to accept the Green Knight's morbid Christmas game; it spells certain death for the player. Under the duress of needing to uphold the strict chivalric codes of honor, King Arthur himself agrees to be the participant.

Even when King Arthur steps forward, all the knights continue to remain silent, except Gawain. Gawain speaks up and says that the King should be spared and that he himself should be allowed to take the King's place because of his stature as a knight of insignificance.

Sir Gawain's acceptance of the challenge then is by default, as it were, because the other team, the more able and less lowly knights, didn't "show up" to accept the Green Knight's challenge. In summary, Gawain's greatest boast of quantification for the challenge is humility.

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