The Pentangle in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

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The Pentangle in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

When writing, never explain your symbols. The author of ``Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'' dropped this unspoken rule when he picked up his pen. Why? The detailed description and exposition of the pentangle form the key to understanding this poem. By causing the reader to view Gawain's quest in terms of the pentangle, the narrator compares the knightly ideals with the reality of Gawain's life. The narrator uses the pentangle to promote the knightly ideals, but he also accentuates the primary need for truth in knightly conduct. Finally, the difference between Gawain's reaction to his failure and others' perception of his faults remind the reader that no one can reach the ideal, and rather than getting bitter, we should learn from our mistakes.

According to Elspeth Kennedy, medieval knights were the primary audience for Arthurian romances like {em Sir Gawain/}. Many of these romances were intended to inspire knights towards the goals of honor and chivalry; in fact, as Kennedy points out in ``The Knight as Reader of Arthurian Romance'', later knights who codified chivalric practice often quoted Arthurian romances as a source. (Culture, 70).

Lays like The Song of Roland encouraged fervor for the deeds and honor of knighthood and indirectly teach the benefits of courtly conduct. However, {em Sir Gawain/} is inique; it directly addresses the ideals of knighthood by including the symbol of the pentangle.

This symbol first appears before Gawain leaves to find the Green Knight, when the others from Arthur's court ``showed forth the shield, that shone all red / With the pentangle portrayed in purest gold'' (28. 619-20). Gawain wears this star ``formed of five points'' on `...

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May He that was crowned with thorn

Bring all men to his bliss! Amen.

Works Cited

Green, Richard Hamilton. ``Gawain's Shield and the Quest for Perfection.'' Sir Gawain and Pearl: Critical Essays. Ed. Robert J. Blanch. London: Indiana University Press. 1966. 176-94.

Kennedy, Elspeth. ``The Knight as Reader of Arthurian Romance.'' Culture and the King Ed. Martin B. Shichtman and James P. Carley. Albany: State University of New York Press. 1994.

``Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.'' Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Patience, Pearl: Verse Translations. Tr. Marie Borroff. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 2001. 15-74.

Strickland, Matthew. War and Chivalry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1996.

``The Song of Roland.'' Trans. Jogn O'Hagan. The Harvard Classics: Epic and Saga Vol. 49. Ed. Charles W. Eliot. New York: P. F. Collier & SonCompany. 1910. 97-2008.
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