‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” ctd.

The lady continues her attack. The predicament of Gawain is spelled out: “his courtesy  concerned him, lest crass he appear/But more his soul’s mischief, should he commit sin” (ll. 1773 – 4). The author puts here his finger on the intrinsic problem of the ideal of courtly love: it was supposed to be just sweet talk, with the knight professing himself the lady’s servant and being inspired by his love to become even more virtuous and noble. But if one of the conventions of courtly love is that the knight should do anything his lady requires, what should he do if she requires to have sex with him? And how to reconcile this with the Christian norms, according to which any form of extramarital sex is a mortal sin?

Gawain still manages to laugh the lady’s advances politely off. Exasperated, she asks him whether he has a girlfriend, to whom he promised to be faithful, because that would explain his coldness, but no – no girlfriend, and no plans of having one. “Can you give me at least some kind of small present, to console me, for instance your glove?”, asks the lady. “I would gladly give you the most precious thing I have, if only we were at my place and I weren’t a lonely traveller with nothing more but what i am wearing. But a glove…I don’t think it’s a good idea, taking into account you’re married”, answers Gawain cautiously (this kind of small gift would be like an official declaration of love). “Then I am going to give you something, for instance this precious ring”. Gawain again declines. “Fine, I see it’s too expensive a gift and it may be awkward for you. How about something small, like my belt?”. Gawain again declines. “Do you think it is too inconsequential a gift?” (the belt is in fact made of silk with golden thread and very pretty). “But it is a charmed belt – it can protect you from any sort of wounds”. And this is the moment when Gawain finally caves in, thinking about how it might come in handy during his decapitation. So he takes the belt and the three kisses the lady gives him. He also solemnly promises not to breathe a word of it to her husband. This is going to have very serious consequences, as we shall see later.

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