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Three Arthurian Misfits of Gawain and the Green Knight

Three Arthurian Misfits of Gawain and the Green Knight

"Hevys hys handys one heghte, and to the hevene lokes:

'Qwhythene hade Dryghttyne destaynede at his dere wille

That he hade demyd me todaye to dy for yow alle.'" p. 264

Awholly determined and brave commitment, mouthed by a gracious king. The Gawain poet, however approaches Arthur much differently in his tale. In stanza five, he describes the hot-blooded nature of the king, who makes rash demands as a rule before eating. Stanza twelve shows us a king who is overwhelmed in speech by the Green Knight, and who seems to have ignored the challenger's statement of peace completely. Finally, the court is utterly ridiculed, to a point at which Arthur accepts the challenge rashly in stanza fifteen, akin to a child taking a swing at another after so much urging. The usual grace and courtesy with which King Arthur is usually endowed is clearly subverted by these stanzas in Gawain and the Green Knight, seemingly to no purpose other than comedy. Here we shall discuss the elements of the three stanzas described above, with their uncharacterisitic treatment of Arthur, and take a deeper look into their purpose within the poem.

Stanza five elaborates on Arthur's desire to hear a marvelous tale before he joins in the feast. He appears to stand - "He stightles stif in stalle;" (104) he is not seated at the head of the feasting table, next to Guinevere as he should be. Instead, he is ready to listen to a tale "Of alderes, of armes, of other aventurus;" (95) or joust with a challenging knight - with the risk of losing his life. The wish of the king for deadly sport seems inappropriate in the Christmas setting of the poem, possibly even irreverent in light of the religious aspects of the holiday. Though the king's demands are childish or "child-gered" (86), he sets the scene for the appearance of the Green Knight, which effectively fulfills the request as Arthur "that aventure byholdes" (250) in stanza twelve.

The impression of Arthur delivered by the poet is not a dauntless, seasoned leader, but an impatient, belligerent boy. We already know of his strange pre-dining antics, and we are also told that, "His lif liked hym lyght, he lovied the lasse | Auther too longe lye or too longe sitte," (87-88). He is too restless to stay lying or sitting for long, and thus he stands at the the end of the stanza.
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