Courtesy in Sir Gawain and the Greenknight Essay

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Courtesy in Sir Gawain and the Greenknight

In modern society, Martha Stewart and Miss Manners are authorities in the social amenities of community gatherings, and they promote their ideas in television programs and books. But 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. In this text, the idea of courtesy is shown as the foremost attribute of a knight, and King Arthur is introduced as the “most courteous of all” (26) rulers. In a mealtime setting, the lives and customs of “[t]he most noble knights known under Christ” (51) are displayed, and courteous behavior is established as the hallmark
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In fact, food is so abundant “[t]hat scarce was there space to set before” (123) diners. The sumptuous fare and opulent surroundings distinguish this event from an everyday dinner and reinforce the idea that courtesy requires specific utensils, table coverings, and demeanor. Formal presentation of the repast indicates a high regard for guests because it is delivered on “service of silver” (124), typically associated with special occasions. Further, the narrator specifies the meal is served “on cloth” (125) as befits a formal occasion.

Along with the decor, the superior quality of food and drink plays a prominent role in the idea of courtesy because the finest provisions are generally reserved for special occasions. The narrator describes “[g]ood beer and bright wine” (129) as standard beverages for the event. Likewise, guests feasted on “dainties . . . [and] dishes rare” (121) served in elegant fashion. The superb caliber of the fare reflects a conscious effort to favor guests in gracious style.

The idea of courtesy is further developed in the action of the work. That King “Arthur would not eat till all were served” (85) distinguishes him as a polite host. Also, prior to the meal, guests congregate to celebrate, then “washed, . . . went to their seats” (72) and began eating. Knights are seated according to their rank while King Arthur “stands in state” (103) and surveys the gathering. Music fills the

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