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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

by Pearl-Poet
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Why does Sir Gawain kiss the lord's wife?

Sir Gawain kisses the lord's wife because she tries to seduce him, and he doesn't wish to offend her by rejecting her advances completely. As a knight, he cannot jeopardize his loyalty to his hosts, both lord and lady. So, by kissing her, he is able to satisfy her desires without committing a graver sin.

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When the lord's wife, Lady Bertilak, comes to visit Sir Gawain in his bedchamber, she is on a mission to seduce him, but Gawain is not as easily swayed as she expected. He will not sleep with her, but he agrees to exchange a kiss: once upon her first visit,...

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When the lord's wife, Lady Bertilak, comes to visit Sir Gawain in his bedchamber, she is on a mission to seduce him, but Gawain is not as easily swayed as she expected. He will not sleep with her, but he agrees to exchange a kiss: once upon her first visit, twice upon her second, and three times upon her third.

When the Lady Bertilak first offers herself to Gawain, he turns her down. He is flattered by her attention, but his knightly code of conduct and the rules of courtesy demand that he not do anything to offend his host, which would certainly include being intimate with his wife. As Lady Bertilak is also Sir Gawain's host, he is just as careful not to cause her any offence. Due to her persistence, he settles on a compromise:

Then said Gawain, "Very well, as you wish be it done.

I will kiss at your command, as becometh a knight,

and more, lest he displease you, so plead it no longer."

Per his agreement with Lord Bertilak, Sir Gawain must give his host everything he has "gained" during the day, and if he did anything more than kiss the lord's wife, he would certainly be violating his knightly code of conduct. Instead, Gawain confirms his honesty and loyalty by each night giving the lord the kisses he receives from Lady Bertilak during the day.

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