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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

by Pearl-Poet

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Discussion Topic

Comparing and contrasting characters and themes in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "Lanval."

Summary:

Both "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "Lanval" explore themes of chivalry and honor, but they contrast in character portrayal. Sir Gawain exemplifies the ideal knight, facing trials to uphold his honor, while Lanval, though also chivalrous, is depicted more romantically, relying on the love and aid of a fairy queen. The stories differ in their emphasis on personal virtue versus romantic salvation.

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What are the differences or similarities between Gawain and the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight?

Both Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are valiant and noble knights. That means that they follow all of the rules of the court and of knighthood. Proper etiquette is always required and proper protocol followed when there is a fight or challenge between knights. For example, they must greet each other, know each other's names, and make sure both know what the battle's rules are about before commencing. There is always respect between contenders. Another similarity is that they both own wealthy armor because of the details on both knight and horse that signify it. Both knights have jewels and costly embroidery on their person and on their horses. The colors and pictures that the knights bare with them on their person or shields are important, too, because they symbolize what they stand for. Both are brave and courageous with how they approach their duties and challenges as knights, too.

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What are the differences or similarities between Gawain and the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight?

In "Sir Gawain and The Green Knight," there are many differences between Gawain and his nemesis. First, Gawain is a young and less experienced knight while the Green Knight is older, wiser, and more clever. Also, the Green Knight has an agenda from the beginning and Gawain is forced to play the Green Knight's mysterious game. The Green Knight is always in control of the situation and Gawain is truly at the mercy of that agenda. Gawain is being tested on all the merits of a good knight by one who is an experienced master. The two main characters are perfect for this coming-of-age story because they contrast each other perfectly as teacher and student.

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How are "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "Lanval" similar and different?

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Lanval are both stories of magical temptation and testing centered around King Arthur's court, but they differ in their plots and in the motivations of their characters.

Sir Gawain, a knight in King Arthur's court, receives his test when he accepts the challenge of the Green Knight. He cuts off the Knight's head, but the Knight (who is clearly magical) merely picks it up and reminds Gawain that he must receive a blow in return in a year. When the time comes, Gawain keeps his promise and sets out, arming himself with the symbols of Christianity on his gear and virtue in his heart. He manages to hold onto that virtue through a series of attempted seductions by Sir Bertilak's wife (who is testing Gawain). Yet Gawain fails in one way. He accepts the green girdle in hopes that it will protect him from the Green Knight's blow. He gives in to superstition, and he laments his cowardice.

Lanval is also a knight in King Arthur's court, but he differs in that he falls in love with a mysterious, magical woman who gives him wealth and promises that she will come to him when he calls only if he never tells anyone about her. Lanval, however, succumbs to temptation when the Queen herself tries to seduce him (notice the parallel to Sir Gawain's experiences, except here, the Queen really means the seduction; it is not a test). Lanval speaks of his lady to try to save his reputation. The Queen, who has a vicious streak, tells Arthur that Lanval tried to seduce her, and Arthur decides that he will have Lanval executed unless his lady shows up. She does in the end, and the two lovers go off together away from the sinful court.

We can see the similarities here in the trials and temptations as well as in the magical elements of the stories. However, their plots are quite different, and the King's court is much more sinister in Lanval.

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