Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Principles Quotes Page 2
How we cite our quotes:
The fifth group of five the man respected, I hear,
Was generosity and love of fellow-men above all;
His purity and courtesy were never lacking,
And surpassing the other, compassion: these noble five
Were more deeply implanted in that knight than any other.
(651 - 655)
It’s easier to understand the difference between some of Gawain’s virtues by looking at the Middle English: love of fellow-men is "felaghschyp," which refers to something more like dedicated friendship than love. Purity is "clannes," which usually refers to chastity. Compassion is called "pité" in the Middle English. This virtue, greater than any other, is probably Christian charity, the love of others and God before oneself.
Now truly, all these five groups were embodied in that knight,
Each one linked to the others in an endless design,
Based upon five points that was never unfinished,
Not uniting in one line nor separating either
Without ending anywhere at any point that I find,
No matter where the line began or ran to an end.
(656 - 661)
The pentangle’s design, with each line transitioning seemingly endlessly into another, emphasizes the way that the five virtues are similarly interrelated, each one depending upon the other. Similarly, Gawain’s ability to maintain his five virtues depends a lot on his devotion to Christ and Mary, two other ‘sides’ of his virtue-pentangle.
Each knight whispered to his companion,
"Now we shall enjoy seeing displays of good manners,
And the irreproachable terms of noble speech;
The art of conversation we can learn unasked,
Since we have taken in the source of good breeding."
(915 - 919)
In addition to being a paragon of religious virtues, Gawain is a master of more secular virtue like the art of good manners, what in medieval romance was known as "courtoisie." The art of conversation depended upon providing delight to one’s companions with talk of matters entertaining but not so serious as to put a damper on the fun. For this reason the poem constantly refers to all the laughter and delight that occurs as Gawain converses with his hosts.