In early criticism of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight it was a commonplace that the poem was the most perfect English example of romance, celebrating and lovingly detailing chivalry—even as chivalry was nearly dead in real life and in works by other, more sophisticated writers, like Chaucer. Perhaps not until Gordon Shedd's 1967 article "Knight in Tarnished Armour" was the possibility raised that the poet's view of chivalry wasn't straightforward, wasn't simple. Yet Shedd's suggestion has largely been ignored. What I'd like to suggest is that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight contains a more wide-ranging, more serious criticism of chivalry than has heretofore been noticed. The poet consistently, though subtly, points out the shortcomings and the pitfalls of chivalric life. Chivalry's limitations are evidenced both in the person of Gawain and in the society as a whole, represented by Arthur's court and Bercilak's castle.



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