Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Respect and Reputation Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"For I know well, in truth, that you are Sir Gawain,
Whom everyone reveres wherever you go;
Your good name and courtesy are honorably praised
By lords and by ladies and by all folk alive.
[. . .]
And since I have under my roof the man everyone loves,
I shall spend my time well, while it lasts,
(1226 - 1229, 1234 - 123)
Lady Bertilak explains that her eagerness to talk with Gawain is due to her knowledge of his great reputation as "the man everyone loves." Since this reputation prompts her to trap him in his bedroom and attempt to seduce him, Gawain must certainly be wishing that he wasn’t quite so well-known.
"Truly," replied Gawain, "I am greatly honoured,
Though I am not in fact such a man as you speak of,
To deserve such respect as you have just described
I am completely unworthy, I know very well."
(1241 - 1244)
Some people think that Gawain’s modesty here is false - that he’s just saying he’s unworthy because it’s the proper thing to do, not because he really believes it. But on the other hand, maybe he’s just trying to reject his reputation - what everybody says - as the thing his identity depends on. It seems reasonable enough to not want to be defined by what others say about you. After all, that gives other people an awful lot of control over who you are.
"So good a knight as Gawain is 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."
(1297 - 1301)
As the Green Knight did before Arthur’s court, Lady Bertilak uses a particular reputation - here, one for courtesy - to force a desired behavior from her prey. Like Arthur’s court, who risked besmirching their reputation for bravery if they failed to comply with the Green Knight’s game, Gawain must comply with the lady’s wishes or risk damaging his reputation for courtesy. Yet Lady Bertilak takes it one step further by implying that Gawain is not Gawain if he fails to comply.