Medieval times are commonly referred to as the 'Dark Ages', implying they had no advancements or intellectual achievements, however, the manners and the etiquette established during that time still exists in our culture today. The courts were the center of the medieval culture, where lords, knights and ladies joined together for elaborate feasts, musical sets and romance. Courtesy and table manners ruled the society and people were encouraged to live under their various appropriate codes. The knight, the lord, the noble woman each had their affair, which they tended to with honor and pride. Knights lived under the code portrayed by the pentangle representing the five virtues they must live by of friendship, generosity, chastity, courtesy and piety, all were highly Christian doctrines. God and Christianity roamed in very aspect of life and formed the customs of the time, such as feasting (often referred to in the Bible), as well as manors of courteous towards woman and polite actions. From the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight one is able to learn the importance of the courtly affairs and how social standing dictated ones place in the world. Manners and courtly love proved prominent in the story by the acts of the knights in good faith.
The feasts in the court were a time for gathering and a proper display of courteousness at a time where it would be admired: "So courteous and considerate," a reoccurring description of the knight as he is the model of how a knight should behave once in the court (court is a stem of courteous). Medieval courtesy emphasized the rituals of lordship and service within the household (Gillingham 275). Manners and etiquette were to be exhibited whilst at the table in the court or castle and these aspects were essential to the social elite in order to prove one's civility. The knight was to be humble and good-hearted as discussed in the text. The 'gentleman' arose during this time, relating to the need to live a Christian lifestyle following in grace and charity. Respect, deference and politeness towards someone are essential to a notion of living in charity (Nicholls 22), and manners are derived from this goal. A strong emphasis in table manners at the great feasts is present throughout the text, setting the standard of how the elite of the time were to live. "Lead by example" again stated in the text presumes how the knight should present himself as a model of service toward his lord in the court. Throughout the text one can see the knight's code as remaining in his place and acting graciously towards his hosts whom perform an exemplary amount of hospitality.
The manners displayed in the court transfer over to one's place in romance. The knight is to bow down to a high-ranking noble woman and become a servant to her. From the scene described in the text one gets an impression of the relation of knights towards noble women. Courtly aspect of love was one in which the woman held the power as love was generally aimed at a woman of higher status then she choose the man. The knight states "unfit for your favors", the knight must constantly be modest and courteous towards the noble lady, he does not want to disobey his hostess, and must maintain honor towards his code. "Gawain's sub service to the desires of his host and hostess is encapsulated by his request to be the ladies' servant, an innocent gesture of chivalric politeness," (Nicholls 130). In courtly love the noble woman is in the position to shift from social mannerism to one of wooing. The excerpt above describes a common method of pursuit: talking about love, in which the two pass time discussing the tales and the aspects of love. The lady tempts the knight, a virtue of Christian beliefs to not give into one's temptation, courtly love becomes a game, the game of love. The woman displays the power over the situation when she is able to kiss the knight, a feature of departure during medieval times. The events of courtly love seem to be designed to test the virtues of the knighthood (Nicholls 112).
The knight was to honor and serve in his love as love is a spiritual existence, relating to the divine manifestation of God, justifying that whatever is under loves compulsion cannot be sinful (Denomy 44). The line "no evil in either only ecstasy", shows God's presence in their love, love was not considered evil rather it was an out of body experience connecting the two spiritually. The knights were supposed to serve their lords and their lady. They had to exhibit courage and courteous simultaneously, such as in jousting tournaments. The casket of The Assault on the Castle of Love displays the relationship between fighting and love, as the sides of the casket depict scenes of knights fighting while ladies and siege machine throw roses into the air. The service of the knights to the courts and castle line the casket and the depictions of love as a contrast to battle. "Personification of love as a God with absolute power over his army of lovers," (Denomy 47), love was the driving force of the battle displayed on this artwork.
The text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight describes the common features of medieval lifestyle of: Christian morals as the foundations for actions, courts dictating the actions of the elite and the woman possessing the power in matters of the heart. Sets of behavioral codes are put into action for every member of the lordship. The elite are required to act in good faith of manners and etiquette and not out step their place. Noble women exhibit temptation to the honorable knight as well as the power of love, both relating to Christian ideas. Knights are required to serve and bow down to those ranked superior to them and to the woman they admire. In matters of love the woman makes the selection of her suitor. The complexity of the lifestyles of the time to follow codes while still following one's heart discusses the individual's challenges. From the text one is able to understand the culture of the time and the value of manners in a hierarchical society.
- Denomy, Alexander J. "Courtly Love and Courtliness." Speculum, Vol. 28, No. 1.
- Medieval Academy of America, 1953. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2847180>
- Gillingham, John. "From Civilitas to Civility: Codes of Manners in Medieval and Early Modern England". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Sixth Series, Vol. 12. Royal Historical Society, 2002. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3679348>
- Nicholls, Jonathan. The Matter of Courtesy: Medieval Courtesy Books and the Gawain- Poet. Dover: D.S. Brewer, 1985.