From both Morte Darthur and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it is clear that Sir Gawain is the epitome of a chivalrous knight. One scene in particular exemplifies this to me. As Bertilak’s wife enters Sir Gawain’s chambers, it appears as if she is trying to advance on him in a romantic manner. He tries to fend off her advances in a kind way by explaining that they would both feel more comfortable if he would put clothes on, yet she expresses that she would prefer him naked. She states, “ All right here you lie. And we are left all alone, with my husband and his huntsmen away in the hills and the servants snoring and my maids asleep and the door to this bedroom barred with a bolt. I have in my house an honored guest so I’ll make the most of my time and stay talking” (Line 1230-1235). To me, this is clear that Lady Bertilak’s is a mischievous, conniving woman, yet Sir Gawain continues to fend off her advances, as he does for every encounter they have.
Although Sir Gawain in chivalrous in most aspects, his desire to serve is ultimately his downfall in both Morte Darthur and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In Morte Darthur, Sir Gawain’s need to serve leads him to war, which ultimately leads to his death. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain is primarily concerned with keeping his honor to Bertilak’s wife and himself that he ultimately breaks the chivalric code. The Green Knight states,’ it was loyalty that you lacked; not because you’re wicked, or a womanizer, or worse, but you loved your own life” (Lines 2636-2369). This gives us a lot of detail about him as a character. He has a strong loyalty to honor and duty, yet, as most people are, Sir Gawain is primarily loyal to himself.
As for King Bertilak, he holds many of the chivalric qualities that kings are supposed to be accountable for, yet he is conniving and deceitful, as Morgal La Fay has made him. King Bertilak welcomes Sir Gawain into his castle with great hospitality, yet he is part of a plot with his wife to destroy Camelot. At the same time, he holds qualities of God. He states, “By confessing your failings you are free from fault and have openly paid penance at the point of my axe. I declare you purged, as polished and as pure as the day you were born, without blemish or blame” (Lives 2391-2394). This is identical to the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation, where a person is to confess his or her sins to the Father in order to be “forgiven” of all sins. Likewise, King Bertilak tells Sir Gawain to wear the girdle as a form of penance, just as a person is given penance at the end of Confession. We then lean that King Bertilak is under the power of Morgan La Fay (plot twist!), thus alluding that King Bertilak truly has no control. Therefore, it is actually Morgan La Fay who is creating the ideal form of chivalry and honor as well as the seducement from Lady Bertilak. She is the true seductress and manipulator of the story.
To conclude this post, I must say that, as a woman, I am sick of men blaming women for their own weaknesses. Sir Girwain blames his failures on Lady Bertilak’s, yet he is the one who made the decision to lie to the king. Yes, he was trying to keep her honor, but he ultimately made his own decisions in being false with the king. Similarly in Morte Darthur, Guinevere leads to the demise of several of the knights by asking Sir Lancelot to save her. Guinevere is portrayed as the manipulator, just as women of this time period were viewed. Seeing as women were considered as nothing more than property and play toys to be wowed (mostly because men could not keep it in their pants), they had to place women as the underlying antagonists of stories.