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In a land of magic, love, betrayal, hatred, loyalty and mystery, there exists a kingdom called Camelot. At the heart of Camelot are the Knights of the Round Table who maintain their loyalty to King Arthur. From the famed knights emerges one knight, who stands out as being traditionally the most loyal, chivalrous, and courtly of all: Sir Gawain. It is during one of Arthur's New Year's feast, that a stranger rudely gallops into the great hall and begins what will be a yearlong test for Sir Gawain. His color, physical stature, power, and magic are astounding to the Knights of the Round Table. Only one knight dares to accept the challenge of this green giant. This is the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a fourteenth Century Arthurian romance by an anonymous poet.
"Great wonder grew in hall/At his hue most strange to see,/For man and gear and all/Were green as green could be." (Norton, 161) Throughout this text, great emphasis is placed on the color green and the fact that great power is associated with the color. Green will again be emphasized at the end of the story when Lord Bercilak's wife gives Gawain a magical green girdle, which has the power to protect Gawain from the Green Knight. The green of everything about the knight is then countered by the red glow of his eyes. In these times, dragons and monsters are green with glowing red eyes. They are also powerful and serve as tests for true knights and heroes. The color green is given a mystical power in this story because not only do the girdle and the Green Knight act as green symbols of magic, but the Green Chapel is also a powerful image of magic. While it is not a traditional Judeo-Christian chapel, but rather it seems to be a prehistoric cave. It can be viewed as a holy place simply because it is the only green "life" that exists in the suffocating white snow of the winter. This alone should have alterted Gawain to believe that magic was afoot.
It is the sheer size of the Green Knight that intimidates many of the Knights of the Round Table: "As lightning quick and light/He looked to all at hand;/It seemed that no man might/His deadly dints withstand." (Norton, 162) Because Gawain must uphold his knightly duties, he alone takes on the Green Knight's game and presents himself as the student of humility.
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Anonymous. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Seventh Edition.
Ed. M.H. Abrams. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2000. 156-210.