Sir Gawain’s Shield of Virtue

Gawain’s shield of virtue represents five important symbols that conjoin with his own character to formulate the conception of what it means to be a Christian knight. The device is a very testament to his virtue and good character. Below is the passage explaining Gawain’s mysterious five-pointed shield, along with a visual to affirm what is therein described.

“Then they showed forth the shield, that shone all red,

With the pentangle portrayed in purest gold.

About his broad neck by the baldric he cast it,

That was meet for the man, and matched him well.

And why the pentangle is proper to that peerless prince

I intend now to tell, though detain me it must.

It is a sign by Solomon sagely devised

To be a token of truth, by its title of old,

For it is a figure formed of five points,

And each line is linked and locked with the next

For ever and ever, and hence it is called

In all England, as I hear the endless knot.

And well may he wear it on his worthy arms,

For ever faithful five-fold in five-fold fashion

Was Gawain in good works, as gold unalloyed,

Devoid of all villainy, with virtues adorned

in sight.

On shield and coat in view

He bore that emblem bright,

As to his word most true

And in speech most courteous knight.

And first, he was faultless in his five senses,

Nor found ever to fail in his five fingers,

And all his fealty was fixed upon the five wounds

That Christ got on the cross, as the creed tells;

And wherever this man in melee took part,

His one thought was of this, past all things else,

That all his force was founded on the five joys

That the high Queen of heaven had in her child.

And therefore, as I find, he fittingly had

On the inner part of his shield her image portrayed,

That when his look on it lighted, he never lost heart.

The fifth of the five fives followed by this knight

Were beneficence boundless and brotherly love

And pure mind and manners, that non might impeach,

And compassion most precious- these peerless five

Were forged and made fast in him, foremost of men.

Now all these five fives were confirmed in this knight,

And each linked in other, that end there was none,

And fixed to five points, whose force never failed,

Nor assembled all on a side, nor asunder either,

Nor anywhere at an end, but whole and entire

However the pattern proceeded or played out its course.” (19-20)

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