Many games are involved in the plot of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Green Knight, Bercilak de Hautdesert, plays a "Christmas game" with Arthur's court at Camelot (line 283); Gawain's host's wife plays games with Gawain throughout the third section of the poem; Gawain's sees his arrangement of mutual trade with his host as a game (line 1380); and all of the events of the story are revealed as a game of Arthur's sister, Morgan Le Fay (lines 2456-2466). Throughout the telling of the story, the author plays a mental game with the reader or listener, as well.
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:
Keep, cousin, said the king, what you cut with this day
And if you rule it aright, then readily, I know,
You shall stand the stroke it will strike after. (lines 371-374)
Although neither the reader nor Gawain is aware o...
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...h century or today, is human and subject to failings, as well. Gawain learned his lesson from the Green Knight and communicated it to Arthur's court. I believe that the author hopes that his audience will take the message to heart, as well.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume One. General Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: Norton, 1993.
Bennett, Michael J. "The Historical Background" in A Companion to the Gawain-Poet, pp. 71-90. Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, editors. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1997.
Putter, Ad. An Introduction to the Gawain-poet. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1996.
Riddy, Felicity. "Jewels in Pearl" in A Companion to the Gawain-Poet, pp. 142-55. Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, editors. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1997.
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