Though often extensive detail may be condemned as mere flowery language, in understanding Sir Gawain and the Green Knight one must make special emphasis on it. In color and imagery itself, the unknown author paints the very fibers of this work, allowing Sir Gawain to discern the nuances of ritualistic chivalry and truth. His quest after the Green Knight is as simple as ones quest toward himself. Through acute awareness of the physical world he encounters Gawain comes to an understanding of the world beyond chivalry, a connection to G-d, the source of truth. He learns, chivalry, like a machine, will always function properly, but in order to derive meaning from its product he must allow nature to affect him.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - lines 491-565
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the greatest 14th century text. The poem is made up of two stories, one (the testing at Bercilak's castle) set inside the other (the beheading of the Green Knight at the beginning and the return blow at the end). The unknown author describes in the poem adventure of the brave and courageous Sir Gawain who challenges the Green Knight.
The passage that starts Part II of the poem illustrates the feast given to honor Sir Gawain for his bravery and courage after he meets the first challenge of the Green Knight. All knights present at the Round Table celebrate this great event and have a lot of fun after drinking: "Gawain was glad to begin those games in hall, /But if the end be harsher, hold it no wonder, /For though men are merry in mind after much drink" (Norton, p. 212).
The "Christmas game" that the Green Knight comes to play with Arthur's court at the instigation of Morgan Le Fay provides the structure with which the plot of the entire story is held together. At first, the court believes that the knight has come for "contest bare" (line 277); when he reveals his intent to exchange one blow for another, it seems that it would be an easy contest for an opponent to win, since no one expects the knight to survive having his head removed with his own axe. However, the knight picks up his severed head and leaves, revealing the seriousness of Gawain's promise to accept a return blow, Arthur downplays the importance of this promise, saying, "Now, sir, hang up your axe," and returning to the feast. (line 477) Arthur also downplays the importance of the contest before Gawain deals his blow to the knight, prophesying Gawain's eventual success:
In the final scenes of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain’s encounter with Sir Bertilak allows Gawain to perceive his own flaws, manifested in his acceptance of the Green Girdle. The court’s reaction to his personal guilt highlights the disconnect between him and the other knights of the Round Table. Gawain’s behavior throughout the poem has been most noteworthy; his understanding of his sin, one that many of us would dismiss since it was propelled by his love of life, enhances his stature as a paragon of chivalry.
The greatest part of these studies have involved the middle-English text Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Extensive work has been done on this alliterative four-part poem written by an anonymous contemporary of Chaucer: feminists have attacked his diatribe against women at the end, or analyzed the interaction between Gawain and the women of Bercilak’s court; those of the D. W. Robertson school seek the inevitable biblical allusions and allegory concealed within the medieval text; Formalists and philologists find endless enjoyment in discovering the exact meaning of certain ambiguous and archaic words within the story. Another approach that yields interesting, if somewhat dated, results, is a Psychological or Archetypal analysis of the poem. By casting the Green Knight in the role of the Jungian Shadow, Sir Gawain’s adventure to the Green Chapel becomes a journey of self-discovery and a quest - a not entirely successful one - for personal individuation.
The Poet’s Quiet Attack
Throughout modern and ancient literature, much has been discussed about the culture of knightly chivalry, particularly that of King Arthur’s Court. Some of these pieces praise the principles of this culture, while some seek to critique or attack them. One example of the latter is the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by an author known as the Pearl Poet. In this 14th century classic, popular views on knighthood are challenged by the testing of a knights virtues. In a subtle attack on the romanticism of knighthood, the Pearl Poet exposes the flaws, fallacies, and falsehoods of chivalry through the characteristics and experiences of Sir Gawain.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th Edition, Vol. 1 Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000. pp. 156-210.
In Gordon M. Shedd’s “Knight in Tarnished Armour: The Meaning of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, he argues that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is truly about the strength and weaknesses of human nature. One particularly interesting part of his argument asserts that Gawain’s humanity broke medieval romance tradition.
The story begins during the New Year's feast in King Arthur's court. Then a green knight enters asking all of the knights in the court if they would like to play a game. The game is he will allow which ever knight that chooses to challenge him one swing with a battle ax to try and chop off his head, but in order to play the game, the accepting knight must meet the green knight one year later at the green chapel. The brave knight Sir Gawain accepts to the challenge of the green knight. Sir Gawain takes one swing and chops off the head of the green knight. Right after the green knight's head is chopped off he gets up immediately, picks up his head and leaves. Once a year passes, Gawain sets off on a journey to find the Green Chapel. He arrives at a castle in which a lord welcomes him to stay for several days (Gawain only needs to stay there for three). The next morning the lord makes an agreement to share everything he gets during these three days with Gawain, but Gawain must agree to do the same. During days one and two the lord's wife tries hitting on Gawain, but he only allows her to give him a few kisses. At these days Gawain shares what he got to the lord for what he has hunted those days. On the third day, Gawain finally accepts to take a magic girdle from the lord's wife, but he didn't share it with the lord. This magic girdle helped Gawain survive the three fatal swing's of the green giant's ax, only leaving him with a little nick. After Gawain survives these 3 swings at his neck, the green knight then reveals his identity and explains that he is Bercilak, the lord of the castle. He also said that the three blows were taken at him in regards to the three days of their agreement.
In the opening scene Sir Gawain faces his first trial when the Green Knight proposes his “Christmas game.” The room falls silent for “If he astonished them at first, stiller were then/ All that household in hall, the high and low;” (lines 301-302). The Green Knight begins to mock the court; and then boldly, King Arthur accepts h...