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Personal desire vs. fidelity: Sir Gawain and Sir Lancelot

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  1. Sir Gawain
    1. The fidelity of Sir Gawain
    2. A dutiful character
  2. Sir Lancelot
    1. The ultimate infidelity of Sir Lancelot
    2. Lancelot's disrespect for social standards

There are many ways to understand desire and to define it properly, but in doing so, it is important that we do not fail to mention the elements essential to desire and their corresponding affect on our intentions. Desire is often difficult to attain because it is always pushed back on the list of priorities when analyzed from a societal standpoint - "Let's keep on working, and as far as desire is concerned, come back later" (Lacan 318). This repression of desire is unnatural and results in great human suffering if we believe that "The only thing we can be guilty of is giving ground relative to one's desire" (Lacan 321).

[...] Nonetheless, the reader is astounded by Sir Gawain's fidelity, virtue, and moral values. He proves to be an extremely admirable knight, unwilling to succumb to pressure and always keeping the image of his superiors close to his heart. In selections from King Arthur and His Knights, Sir Lancelot is an altogether very different creature with an alternative set of values. While Sir Lancelot is a powerful, honorable, and fierce warrior, his private desires certainly get the best of him. Unable to succumb to temptation, Sir Lancelot does those things which give him pleasure, and he attempts to hide them in order to remain respectable in front of his kin. [...]

[...] When the author writes, shield and coat in view/He bore that emblem bright,/As to word most true/And in speech most courteous knight? (Sir Gawain 30) the description of Sir Gawain is very honest and accurate. Unlike a deceptive individual with his own inclinations and intentions, Sir Gawain remains noble inside and out, unwilling to do anything in private that would undermine his excellent reputation. He is a loyal friend and knight to King Arthur and his queen, and he is not willing to risk his reputation in any way. [...]

[...] Going completely against his own desire to continue living, Sir Gawain finds the Green Knight and braces himself for possible death. Sir Gawain tells the Green Knight, ?Strike once more;/I shall neither flinch nor flee;/But if my head falls to the floor/There is no mending me (Sir Gawain 68-69). Here, Sir Gawain demonstrates his honor and proves to be a man of his word. At heart, he is not a coward, and he would rather die than to be perceived as one. [...]

[...] Show ye it (Malory 132). Here, Sir Lancelot is tempted to show off and does not regard the feelings of his compatriots or even the feelings of the queen. He knows that wearing such a token, an act considered most strange from a man such as Sir Lancelot, will arouse suspicions and question the character of Lancelot if ever his identify was discovered (since his identity is hidden during the jostling contest). Despite this risk, Sir Lancelot is not humble enough to go against his desires and feels as though he must wear this sleeve and take pride in it. [...]

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