The poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight tells the tale of one of King Arthur’s bravest and noblest knights, Sir Gawain. The author spins this magical tale of heroism and adventure over the course of one year. During this year, the hero Sir Gawain undergoes a serious alteration of character. When Bertilak enters King Arthur’s court as the mysterious green knight, he sets Sir Gawain’s destiny in motion. Change, especially spiritual transformation, is a common thread running through the poem. The poet depicts Bertilak as somewhat Godlike, and Bertilak plays a significant role in Sir Gawain’s spiritual transformation, through which he becomes more like Christ.
Bertilak first introduces himself by making an astonishing entrance into King Arthur’s court. The poet describes the appearance of the Green Knight thus: “…There hurtles in at the hall-door an unknown rider, / One the greatest on ground in growth of his frame: / …Half a giant on earth I hold him to be” (l. 136-140). His forcefulness and size are the aspects of him that the poet first describes; however, the fact that the huge knight is entirely green from head to toe amazes the court more. The author notes that, “Great wonder grew in hall / At his hue most strange to see, / For man and gear and all / Were green as green could be” (l. 147-150). The color green here may symbolize spiritual growth, although green sometimes suggests evil in literature. The Green Knight was especially fascinating because his physical appearance, as well as his apparent immortality demonstrated that he had supernatural qualities, and therefore was not entirely of this world.
Throughout Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the poet port...
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... depicted Bertilak, sometimes the Green Knight, with Godlike characteristics and supernatural qualities. At different times in the poem, Bertilak represents the wise, just, godly master of the castle, and is sometimes transformed into the mystical Green Knight. Both characters are essential for Sir Gawain’s transformation, which Bertilak manipulates freely. In a Christ-like sacrifice, Sir Gawain learns of his weaknesses, and experiences the process of spiritual absolution. In this poem, Bertilak, whom the author has granted supernatural characteristics, facilitates Sir Gawain’s spiritual journey for truth and complete transformation.
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.
8th ed. Ed. Alfred David, James Simpson. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, Inc.: 2006. 3 vols. 162-213.
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