The story begins in King Arthur's court, where he and the Knights of the Round Table are celebrating New Year's. While they are enjoying their feast, a gigantic Green Knight rides in on a green horse with an immense axe in his hand to offer them a challenge. His offer is: "I shall bide the fist blow, as bare as I sit…….., but in twelve month and one day he shall have of me the same." (Norton Anthology,208)
After a moment of consideration, Sir Gawain accepts the terrifying challenge. As he tries to perform the first part of the challenge, he stumbles into an even bigger surprise. As Gawain hits the Green Knight with an ax, the head of the Green Knight falls on the floor. Instead of the Green Knight falling, he jumps up, grabs his head and leaves, with these final words: "Sir Gawain forget not to go as agreed…To the Green Chapel come, I charge you to take such a dint as you have dealt – you have well deserved that your head should have a knock on New Year's morn." (Norton Anthology,211)
The year goes by, and Gawain prepares for his long journey. When the final day comes, Sir Gawain is given a farewell celebration, and armed with a ceremony, off he goes. His journey is not an easy one. While traveling, Gawain encounters challenges from beasts, monsters and most of all, from the terrible cold. In a moment of a deep desperation for a shelter, Sir Gawain discovers a beautiful castle where he is welcomed with kindness and pleasure. In this enchanting place he meets the host and his young and beautiful wife who offer him hospitality and rest before he goes to the Green Chapel. He accepts with pleasure unaware that this is the place where the real challenges are going to take place.
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...coming truly unworthy: "Though I am not he of whom you have heard; to arrive at such reverence as you recount here I am one all unworthy, and well do I know it." (Norton Anthology,228)
But all his methods turn out to be worthless, as he makes an error of judgment and falls into the trap by concealing from the host the acceptance of the green girdle, thus violating the agreement between him and the host. Though in the end we realize that for Gawain, just as for other people, it is impossible to reach perfection, he still remains an honorable and noble figure in our minds, admirable to us – the readers until the very end.
1) M.H. Abrams, Norton Anthology Of English Literature. Sixth Edition. Volume I.
W.W.Norton & Company. New York. 1993.
2) R.A. Waldron, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Northwestern University Press.
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