Date of Award

Spring 5-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Scholarship on medieval and Arthurian chivalry in recent decades has focused largely on the Gawain Poet’s 1375 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Sir Thomas Malory’s 1470 Le Morte D’Arthur. These two romances seem to offer more critical looks at the chivalric system than the glorification of knightly life provided by romances from the previous centuries of the high medieval period. In past works such as L’atre Périlleux and Claris et Laris, Sir Gawain is depicted as the ideal knight—in these poems he is humble, strong, noble, and always perfectly in accord with the chivalric code. In Sir Gawain and Morte, however, Gawain comes to represent the inconsistencies within chivalry and its conflicts with medieval Christian principles. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain makes a crucial mistake that suggests he, as a human being, cannot achieve perfect chivalry, and that the chivalric expectations to which knights are held contradict the instinct of self-preservation as well as Christian values of life and mercy. Meanwhile, Gawain’s vengeful reaction to the death of a loved one in Morte D’Arthur demonstrates how the chivalric ethos can allow for a knight to handle complex emotions in a destructive and violent manner as opposed to the Church-endorsed route of penitence and peaceful resolution. In discussing the complexities of medieval chivalry and the consistent use of Gawain’s character as its representative, this analysis will consider medieval writings on chivalry, grief, and Christianity as well as recent scholarship on Sir Gawain, Morte, and minor French romances involving Gawain. Research for this project will explore the way that Sir Gawain’s character transformed from being the symbol of the model knight to emblematic of the conflicting qualities of the chivalric code and its opposition to Christian principles.