Green helmet. Green body. Green blood. Such descriptions refer to a central character in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight--they depict the appearance of Bercilak as the Green Knight. The use of "green" is a reflection of Garden of Eden imagery in the poem that portrays the Green Knight as a tempter, a serpent, in the garden, Arthur’s court. In Genesis’ account of Eden, Adam and Eve live in a perfect, pure garden until the evil, green serpent successfully tempts them. When the serpent tells Eve that consuming fruit from the forbidden tree--the one God warned them not to eat from--will result in the same knowledge God holds, Eve convinces Adam to eat the apple. According to Genesis, this begins the fall from grace, from a state of innocence, purity, to a state of knowledge and sin. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain, too, faces temptation from a "serpent," the Green Knight, and his wife, Lady Bercilak, but his garden is not without sin and his tempters are not evil. His fall to temptation in this allegorical Garden of Eden, ironically, leads him from a state of sin to a state of purity as he moves from innocence to knowledge.
Gawain’s garden is not a literal one with flowers and plants. However, as Adam and Eve were allowed to eat all that they wanted before the fall, Gawain, too, eats and drinks in excess. He lives in an allegorical garden, a paradise, as many admirers viewed Arthur’s court, which the Green Knight implies when he says ". . . the praise of you [Arthur], prince, is puffed up so high, / and your court and your company are counted the best" (258-259). Gawain, too, receives much appraisal, for he is the most honored "of all knights on earth" (...
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... that much more change is needed in Gawain’s society, for the other knights are unable to grasp the meaning of the belt--they all regard it as a symbol of bravery and honor, and not of humility and excessive pride. Thus, as Adam and Eve create a world of sin for their posterity, so will all the knights who fail to see the true value of Gawain’s experiences.
Works Cited and Consulted
Benson. Larry D. Art and Tradition in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 1965
Howard, DR, et al Eds. Critical Studies of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Notre Dame:University of Notre Dame Press, 1968
Miller, MY, et al. Eds. Approaches to Teaching Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1986.
Whinny. James, ed. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press 1996
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