Consider the treatment in any one text of spiritual and/or sexual love

Written by: Neilfin

Of the knights of high chivalry and King Arthur, a time for courtly love, the story of Sir Gawain evokes tales of spiritual and sexual love, which for Sir Gawain a man of high standing ‘God had not made a better knight’, and ‘a servant of God’ albeit that he does have his temptation for love.

Temptation is given to Gawain. For long as he lives in the world, he cannot be without trouble and trial. Wherefore it is written in Job, ‘the life of man upon the earth is a trial. And therefore ought each of us to give heed concerning trials and temptations, and watch unto prayer, lest the devil find occasion to deceive; for he never sleeps, but goes about seeking whom he may devour. No man is so perfect in holiness that he hath never temptations, nor can we ever be wholly free from them’, of which temptation for love is hard to ignore through the journey of Gawain’s story.

Gawain’s journey finds him in a castle being mildly seduced by a fair lady, which ends with him being handed a major sexual symbols that being the girdle given to him by her. The girdle having come from the lady’s leg, embroidered and girded with gold thread, having actually been on her person gives more credence to the token of love. Be it as sexual love through symbol he takes it and the fact of not showing it to Morgan le Fay (her husband) only highlights the significance of how he feels about it or how Morgan le Fay can interpret it as sexual symbol from his lady to Gawain. Does Gawain want to keep it as a token of a lady he feels he has seduced or been seduced by, like a keepsake of a romance that might have happened with the lady?

The fair lady of the castle is of superfluous beauty she goes to see Gawain in his chamber clad in a rich mantle with her throat and neck bare. Wearing a network of precious stones on her head. Here more of the sexual love shown by her letting her throat and neck be bear. She doesn’t wait for him to wake, the element of surprise, that she wishes to catch him from his dream only to open his eyes to her beauty. And, so it does as he awakes and expresses that it ‘warms his heart to look upon her’.

The fair lady’s banter with Gawain can be equaled at points with two lovers as she greets him in the morning. He does try and calm her with ‘cease that speech’ when she says ‘I taught you of kissing’. No sooner after she gives him a kiss on the cheek. Sexual love is racing across this scene where they are on the bed the lady sat beside him gently talking, although after this, he does ends this confabulation with the statement that he recognizes himself being led a little astray; ‘evermore I will be your servant, so help me Christ’. Still they have gone so far.

Gawain readily admits he has been misled and admits that many historic figures have been beguiled by woman. So he must just be in a long list of other of the same mold.

But being of that mold doesn’t stop him. Although only a glancing reference to pure sexual love Gawain does ‘make merry with the ladies’. A feet he achieves at the lady’s castle all through the day commenting that he ‘had never been so merry’. It is in this vein we only fleetingly get the impression of pure sexual love.

Sexual love has a powerful message where chivalry is upheld and society believes that a knight should not be afraid of death because they will be rewarded in the later life for having chivalry. The society’s view of the afterlife affected standards of conduct and Gawain was a Knight who had to uphold such a position. He must achieve spiritual love (where following the faith would lead to the after life) through society but he also falls for sexual love (temptation). The Green Knight aptly comments to Gawain at the end ‘But you failed a little, lost good faith, Not a beautiful belt, or in lust, but for love of your life’. neil_finney@yahoo. com

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