Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a fourteenth-century tale written by an anonymous poet, chronicles how Sir Gawain of King Arthur’s Round Table finds his virtue compromised. A noble and truthful knight, Gawain accepts the Green Knight’s challenge at Arthur’s New Years feast. On his way to the Green Chapel, Gawain takes shelter from the cold winter at Lord Bercilak’s castle. The lord makes an agreement with Gawain to exchange what they have one at the end of the day. During the three days that the lord is out hunting, his wife attempts to seduce Gawain. At the end of the story, it is revealed that Morgan le Faye has orchestrated the entire situation to disgrace the Knights of the Round Table by revealing that one of their best, Sir Gawain, is not perfect.

The passage begins with Lord Bercilak returning from his first hunting trip. As has been agreed, he hands over the wild boar he has killed to Gawain. In turn, Gawain gives the lord a kiss. The lord gives Gawain a chance to admit that he has been intimate with Lady Bercilak when he says, “it might be [the kiss] all the better, would you but say where you won this same award” (Norton 187. Gawain is a gentleman, who would never kiss and tell, so the two reaffirm their pact for the next day. The lord’s determination in “pursuing the wild swine till the sunlight slanted” is paralleled by his wife’s determination in seducing Gawain as “she was at him with all her art to turn his mind her way” (188).

Lady Bercilak attempts to exploit Gawain’s reputation as she tries to seduce him. She greets him in the bedroom and coyly asks how “a man so well-meaning, and mannerly disposed…cannot act in company as courtesy bids” (189). Lady Bercilak is not subtle (she points out that the door is locked and the two are alone in the castle) as she offers herself to Gawain, saying, “I am yours to command, to kiss when you please” (189). She tries to make Gawain feel guilty by implying that he is insulting her by not succumbing to her seductions and proclaiming his love to her.

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