Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
How we cite our quotes:
In knowledge of fine manners
This man has expertise;
I think that those who hear him,
Will learn what love-talk is.
(924 - 927)
As part of Gawain’s knowledge of "courtoisie," he has expertise in love-talk, meaning that he knows how to talk to a lady so as to delight her.
"So good a knight as Gawain as rightly reputed,
In whom courtesy is so completely embodied,
Could not easily have spent so much time with a lady
Without begging a kiss, to comply with politeness,
By some hint or suggestion at the end of a remark."
(1296 - 1301)
The lady’s implication here is that Gawain would be breaking the rules of courtesy not to seek a kiss from a lady who has asked for it with her flirtatious manner. Gawain is really in a bind now, because to reject the lady’s advance so overtly would certainly break the rules of courtesy, while to become romantically involved with her would be to betray Lord Bertilak and break the code of knightly conduct.
[Gawain] approached a priest privately, and besought him there
To hear his confession and instruct him more clearly
How his soul could be saved when he leaves this world.
There he confessed himself honestly and admitted his sins,
Both the great and the small, and forgiveness begs,
And calls on the priest for absolution.
And the priest absolved him completely, and made him as clean
As if the Judgment were appointed for the next day.
(1877 - 1882)
Gawain displays his great piety by seeking forgiveness and absolution for his sins at what he thinks is likely to be his last day on earth. This passage raises an interesting question, however: does Gawain confess that he plans to withhold the girdle from Bertilak, breaking the terms of the agreement? If he omits this, can he be forgiven? Is it ok to confess a sin you plan to commit, but haven’t yet? And is this withholding of the girdle even a sin, or is it just a breach of knightly conduct?