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She answers his prayers and leads him to Bertilak’s castle; however, his arrival at Bertilak’s court throws him into a totally different world.Here, Gawain impresses courtiers of Bertilak’s castle with his prowess in the field of courtly love rather than the feats of daring or his upholding of his honor, traits that would draw compliments in Arthur’s court.
Camelot is portrayed in its youth, long before it too is tainted by Lancelot and courtly love; Arthur is young, “child-like (86)” and the “fine fellowship [of Camelot] was in its fair prime.” The analogy is obvious: Arthur’s court embodies chivalry’s pure roots, where martial exploits were the primary subject of interest, whereas Bertilak’s castle represents the low point of the degeneration the poet perceives chivalry to have undergone.
The Lady’s association with courtly love also ties this aspect of chivalry with degeneration and sin.
Eve’s antithesis is the Virgin Mary, who is the only women who achieves motherhood while maintaining her chastity; she represents spiritual love, obedience, chastity, and life That Gawain is Mary’s Knight is made clear as he is robed for battle; the pentangle represents the five joys of Mary, and he has “that queen’s image / Etched on the inside of his armored shield” (648-649).
As long as he is solely focused on his quest for the Green Knight, he derives his prowess and courage from his special relationship with Mary.
The discrepancy between this and the church’s mistrust of women and desires of the flesh is obvious, and the poet uses women in the story to deliver this message.
In contrast to reality at the time, women in the story are given great power: Mary, when properly worshiped, gives Gawain his power, Lady Bertilak operates alone in the bedroom and singlehandedly taints the chevalier, and Morgan the Fay instigates the entire plot, wielding enough power.
Instead of finding solace in the meaning of Christmas, Gawain and the Lady “found such solace and satisfaction seated together, in the discrete confidences of their courtly dalliance” (1011-12).
When Gawain was alone in the forest, fearing death, he could only think of one thing, that Mary should lead him to a place to say mass on Christmas.
Although superficially Sir Gawain and the Green Knight appears to be a romantic celebration of chivalry, it contains wide-ranging serious criticism of the system.
The poet is showing Gawain’s reliance on chivalry’s outside form and substance at the expense of the original values of the Christian religion from which it sprang.