Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Courtesy, as it is understood today, is defined as the showing of politeness in one's attitude and behavior toward others. In the Middle Ages, elegant behavior is illustrated in the Middle English poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” in a detailed account of a holiday celebration at King Arthur’s castle and the games involved. In this text, the idea of courtesy is shown as the main attribute of a knight, and King Arthur is introduced as the “most courteous of all” rulers (Page 1644, line 25). Courteous behavior is established as the hallmark of knighthood. By showcasing the common experience of acting courteous, the author makes courtesy the most emphasize virtue in the text out of the five virtues: friendship, generosity, chastity, courtesy, and piety.
Gawain's knightly courtesy is evidenced by the act of aiding his lord. Gawain does not say that he wishes to accept the challenge because he is better than Arthur but rather, Gawain says he wants to accept the challenge because he is the "weakest, well I know, and of wit the feeblest"(Page 1651, line 355). Gawain then says to Arthur: "My body, but for your blood, is barren of worth" "(Page 1651, line 357). By saying this, Gawain is able to replace Arthur in the challenge without insulting him or degrading the king's position among the knights of the court. Gawain's courtesy allows him to do his duty of serving his king without acting insubordinate and unruly toward his king.
Gawain’s courtesy as a knight of the round table is tested at Bercilak's Castle. Gawain is approached by Bercilak's wife (Lady Bercilak) many times. Gawain must refuse the sexual advances of this beautiful woman, because if he were to give in and accept them, he would not be being courtesy to his host (Lord Bercilak) in exchange for his hospitality and would break his trust. However, Gawain must be careful in refusing Bercilak's wife’s sexual advances. Gawain manages to keep the difficult balance...