Patient Endurance in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Corey Owen


Medieval patience discussions provide an illuminating context for understanding the type of heroism Sir Gawain manifests in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Because of the influence of classical authors on the tradition of virtues and vices, a genre that evolved to guide medieval confession, such discussions circulated widely during the Middle Ages, and the virtue was commonly associated with fortitude, which was divided into aggressive and enduring types and negotiated emotions such as anger and fear. While critics often regard Sir Gawain's heroism as passive, the nature of his quest, his final self-assessment, and, especially, the emotions that the poet foregrounds all suggest the tradition of patience. The necessity that Gawain face death without the possibility of retaliation, and of thereby fortifying himself with anger, naturally threatens his heroic, and particularly martial, identity.

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