The Pentangle Essay

The Pentangle Essay

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In the anonymous poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the character of Sir Gawain is portrayed as the imperfect hero. His flaws create interest and intrigue. Such qualities of imperfection cannot be found in the symbol of the pentangle, which he displays on his shield. This contrast between character and symbol is exposed a number of times throughout the poem allowing human qualities to emerge from Gawain’s knightly portrayal. The expectations the pentangle presents proves too much for Gawain as he falls victim to black magic, strays from God, is seduced by an adulterous woman, and ultimately breaks the chivalric code by lying to the Green Knight.
The pentangle, also called the “endless knot,” (630) is a five-pointed star enclosed in a circle, worn as an amulet to “avert evil from or bring fortune to the wearer” (Talisman, OED). Writer Eliphas Levi says that when the pentangle is pointing up it represents spiritual dominance over the material. Presented the other way, the physical world rules over the spiritual -often associated with dark magic (Pentagram, Wikipedia). This parallel foreshadows the trickery played on Sir Gawain by the Green Knight. The Green Knight challenges Gawain to a “Christmas game” (283) in an attempt to humble Gawain, tempting him with worldly pleasures and proving that even the greatest of knights are not perfect. Upon finding the Green Chapel, Gawain suggests that “Here might / The devil himself be seen / …at black midnight” (2186-8). Comparing the Green Knight to the devil proves accurate because at the end of the play, the Green Knight confesses that “the count of your kisses and your conduct too, / And the wooing of my wife—it was all my scheme!” (2360-1). Describing the midnight as “black” (...


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...ain as an imperfect hero makes him an interesting character and allows the reader to see his human qualities emerge in a moralistic story. The tension between two sides of a character trait is represented through contrast with the perfection of the pentangle symbol. God and material possession, fidelity and seduction, and knight and human are all parallel to the two interconnecting triangles depicted in the pentangle. It is impossible to have one without the other. The interconnectedness of our senses, our bodies, our spirituality, our love and emotions, and our personality create a pentangle, binded by a circle: life. The pentangle perhaps places too high an expectation on perfection and does not allow room for human flaws. Such flaws lead to the downfall of Sir Gawain because he was unable to live up to the expectations of the symbol displayed on his shield.

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