The poem immediately establishes Arthurian Britain as a great society, whose people were ‘ϸe hapnest vnder heuen’. The scene is of ‘rych reuel’ and ‘rechles merϸes’ (l. 40), and though Arthur and his knights are full of ‘joyfnes’ (l. 86) – ‘youth’ – the emphasis on the fittingness of the celebrations (they are ‘rekenly’, l. 39; and oryƷt, l. 40) determines that this is civilised behaviour, that Camelot is the pinnacle of civilisation. When the ‘aghlich’ (l. 136) Green Knight arrives, he approaches the ‘heƷe dece’ (l. 222) and seeks the king directly. The wild – as the ‘Other’ Green Knight necessarily is – intrudes into the very core of the civilised world. The description of the foreign knight’s arrival in Gawain is markedly different from the poem’s analogue, the First Continuation of Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval (c. 1195). ...
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...ecomes a place where Gawain is offered mercy. Like the Green Knight, who also frustrates our expectations by refusing to act with coarse brutality, the Green Chapel is civility within wilderness.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight continually frustrates our expectations, even refusing its own categorisation as a straightforward medieval Arthurian romance. As this essay has discussed, it is difficult, even erroneous, to attempt to address the notions of civilisation and wild as distinct from one another. The poet continually juxtaposes and interposes the concepts, inviting us to interrogate what exactly constitutes ‘civilisation’ and what determines its separation into the definition of ‘wild’. This tenuous relationship is typified through the character of the Green Knight, whose liminality disrupts and defies attempts to define him as either one thing or the other.
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