Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Rules and Order Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"And I give it all to you, Gawain," said the man then,
"For by the terms of our compact you may claim it as yours."
"That is true," said the knight, "and I say the same to you:
What I have honourably won inside this castle,
With as much good will truly shall be yours."
He takes the other’s strong neck in his arms,
And kisses him as pleasantly as he could devise.
(1383 - 1389)
The way that Gawain and Sir Bertilak fulfill the terms of their agreement has led a lot of people to speculate about what would have happened during this scene if Gawain had had sex with Lady Bertilak. For Gawain returns his "winnings" to Sir Bertilak exactly as he received them, and not in some way representative or symbolic of his winnings. So, if Gawain and Lady Bertilak had sex, then . . .
"It is excellent," said the lord, "Many thanks indeed.
It could be even better if you would inform me
Where you won this same prize by your cleverness."
"That was not in our agreement," said he, "ask nothing else;
For you have had what is due to you, expect to receive
(1392 - 1397)
Naturally, Gawain is not eager to reveal the source of the kiss he has "won." And luckily, he finds a loophole in the rules that enables him to avoid doing so.
"Sir, if you are Gawain, it astonishes me
That a man always so inclined to good,
Cannot grasp the rules of polite behaviour,
And if someone instructs him, lets them drop out of mind.
You have quickly forgotten what I taught you yesterday
[. . .] about kissing," the fair lady replied,
"To act quickly wherever a glance of favour is seen;
That befits every knight who practises courtesy."
(1481 - 1485, 1489 - 1491)
The lady of the castle uses the "rules of polite behavior" to trap Gawain into kissing her. According to her, these rules dictate that a knight must always be quick to kiss a lady when her flirtatious behavior indicates she wants him to. Gawain has even less wiggle-room once the lady has stated this bluntly, however; were he to say no at this point he would really be rejecting her.