On Perfect Composure in Moment of Crisis

“Over and over again, Gawain proves the worth of familiar values by facing the marvelous or unknown, and rendering it manageable for the rest of his society. But his preeminence does not simply consist in unhesitating courage or unparalleled ability. . . . It is Gawain’s courtesy - perfect composure in the moment of crisis - that endows him with heroic stature. Repeatedly, Gawain exhibits a willing restraint of available force . . ., which separates him from non-chivalrous opponents . . .. Each courteous conquest stages the general triumph of civility, ensuring that the rituals that organize social meaning prevail in spite of confusion or even threat to life. . . . Moreover, his courtesy makes his conquests all the more complete, for they entail not annihilation or brute suppression, but the ungrudging concession of Gawain’s superiority by some previously hostile or unknown Other. Gawain’s role in the romances works therefore to effect reconciliation or reappropriation, rather than destruction” (Hahn 24-25).

Hahn, Thomas. Introduction. Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Medieval Institute Publications, 1995. pp. 1-35.


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