Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Response to Literature

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Response to Literature
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, from the original manuscript (no, Arthur isn't eating his head)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the most well-known Arthurian tales. It is a chivalric romance, first written by an unknown author in the late 14th century. The story's main theme is a quest: Sir Gawain has to find the Green Chapel and accept the Green Knight's axe stroke.

[Exposition and Conflict]
The story begins with Camelot on New Year's Eve. A feast is being held to celebrate the occasion. During the meal, a mysterious knight appears. He is all green, and he proposes a game. If a knight cuts off his head, he will give him his green axe. However, this knight must expect a return cut one year and one day later.

Sir Gawain, Arthur's nephew, takes up the challenge and promptly decapitates the Green Knight. However, to everyone's amazement, the knight picks up his severed head and tells Sir Gawain to meet him at the Green Chapel in one year.

[Rising Action]
One year later, the knight sets off on his journey. On Christmas Eve, he comes to a castle, where he stops for the night. There, he meets the lord of the castle, Bertilak, and his wife. They convince him to stay with them until New Year's Day because the Green Chapel is very close by. Bertilak and Gawain decide to play a game: every day the lord of the castle would go hunting. When he got back home, he would give Gawain whatever he hunted if Gawain would give him anything he got while staying at home.

The first day, Lord Bertilak goes hunting and catches a stag. Meanwhile, at the castle, Sir Gawain gets a kiss from Lady Bertilak. At the end of the day, the men exchange the gifts they received during the day. This happens again the next day, when Lord Bertilak catches a boar and Sir Gawain receives two kisses.

The third day, Lord Bertilak goes hunting again, catching a fox after a very long chase. Sir Gawain receives three kisses from Lady Bertilak and also a magical belt that would protect him from any weapon. The knights exchange gifts in the evening, but Sir Gawain doesn't mention the belt, hoping he'll make it through the next day because of its virtue.

[Climax and Falling Action]
Finally, on New Year's Day, Sir Gawain goes to the Green Chapel. The Green Knight comes and swings at his head, but Sir Gawain avoids the blow. The Green Knight chides Sir Gawain for not standing still and swings again, but he stops the blow before it strikes the other knight's neck. Finally, the Green Knight swings a third time, but only scratches Sir Gawain on the neck. The Green Knight reveals himself to be his host, Lord Bertilak. He tells Sir Gawain that he did not strike his head off the first two times because of his faithfulness in the game they played at his castle. However, he scratched him on the neck with his axe because Sir Gawain did not tell him about the belt.

Sir Gawain was ashamed because he failed this test, and offered to give back the belt, but his host let him keep it to remind him of the quest. The knight goes back to Camelot and tells King Arthur and the rest of the knights of the Round Table the whole tale.

Some secondary themes in this story are chivalry and temptation. The main characters are Sir Gawain, the Green Knight or Lord Bertilak, and Lady Bertilak. The point of view is third person, as the story is narrated by Morgan Le Fay, who put together the test of Sir Gawain's character. The mood is sometimes festive and sometimes doom-laded, as most of the action happens in the holiday times and Sir Gawain is fearful of losing his head.

An example of symbolism in this story is the five-pointed star on Sir Gawain's shield. It represents the five senses, as a reminder for the knight not to abandon his duty as a knight and give in to temptation from the senses.