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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an Arthurian story about the first adventure of Sir Gawain (King Arthur's nephew). The author and date of this romance are not exactly known but may be dated circa 1375-1400, because the author seems to be a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. From the very start of the story, the author gives a grand introduction for Arthur and his court, and then Arthur's men are described as "bold boys" (line 21) which means that they are brave, but only boys. If they are so brave why then did the author not describe them as men? Chaucer uses this kind of irony to describe his characters in "The General Prologue" of The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer made no direct judgements on his characters in the "General Prologue," nor does the unknown author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This particular passage (lines 763-841) from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight deals primarily with Gawain, Arthur's most courteous and well-mannered knight, finding the castle of the Green Knight, whose name is Bercilak, and then there is a lengthy description given of the castle. Gawain is on a journey to find the Green Knight almost one year later. He promised to take his hits from the Green Knight. The most important item in this passage is the description of the castle. Bercilak's castle is well protected and similar to other castles during this period. This castle is unlike others, however, because it is magical and because of its symbolism.
Castles in the Middle Ages
A Summary of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Analysis of Passage
In this particular passage, Gawain is a knight who is on a journey with deep faith in his religion. This is expressed through his fervent prayers to Christ and Mary. No one is here to help him except God who he speaks to and asks to hear mass on Christmas Eve. He humbles himself "meekly before God" in the snow and cold. His prayers are then answered immediately. Bercilak's castle appears out of nowhere, green with trees and grass as if it were springtime. It is almost as if the castle were provided for Gawain by God. He is at Bercilak's court, but of course, does not know this until the end. After praying, he crosses himself three times and then this grand estate appears before him like magic.
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Gawain is now at ease, but not at all suspicious of the sudden change in scenery. A lengthy description of the castle, which is well protected, and the grounds on which it lies, is given. The place is beautiful. There is a moat which surrounds the castle. The grounds are described as fair and green with a fence of pointed sticks that enclose the area of trees that stretch for more than two miles. After viewing this beautiful sight, Gawain thanks Jesus Christ and St. Julian, the patron saint of hospitality. He rides his horse and by luck, as the text says, he chooses the correct path, which brings him quickly to the end of the bridge. There are two deep moats which defend the castle. The decoration on the palace serves two purposes, one of beauty and the other, more importantly, protection. The cornices crown the palace in an attractive style and there are bolted watch towers which protect the gate. Also, there are numerous small holes, or windows, to look out from within to see who may be approaching. Gawain thinks to himself that he has never seen a castle which was so well made and protected. This, of course, means if this knight from Arthur's court has never seen something of its kind, it must be wonderful. A complement from Gawain is of value. Behind all this is a great hall with rows of small tower shaped projections with spikes at the top called turrets, and these contain weapons. The points taper upward and next to these are turrets, which are triangular end sections of wall between two slopes of a roof made of delicate and intricate ornamental work. These were made from gold, silver, and other fine twisted wire. These formations are made in a striking array specifically to cover and protect the castle. All of these designs compete for Gawain's attention. The castle is described as being so perfect it looks like a castle made of paper. Castles made of paper were table decorations used at a king's feast. This castle is very well made because of the protection it provides, like Medieval castles of the period. This castle, like those, has a moat, protective coverings and many windows to peer through so that the inhabitants could see who may be approaching.
Gawain is then greeted by a porter who is described as polite. Gawain asks him to ask his lord if he can stay here. The porter then replies that a noble knight like Gawain wants and deserves a much better welcome than that and he leaves. He returns with numerous servants to greet Gawain. They kneel on the bare earth to welcome him as best they could. They then accept Gawain's offer to stay and the doors to the castle open wide for him to enter. Gawain signals for them to rise. He rides over the bridge and gets off his horse which is taken by people, who are described as strong, to be put in the stables. The upper class nobles then lead Gawain into a bright hall. Here, a throng of people take his helmet, sword, and shield and take care of it for him. In this hall, where there is a fire blazing, Gawain meets the lord. He tells Gawain that he is welcome here and that he can have whatever he wants and do with as he pleases. Gawain thanks him and the two men embrace as two friends would. The lord is the Green Knight but, of course, Gawain does not know this.
"He (Bercilak) said, To this house you are heartily welcome:
What is here is wholly yours, to have in your power and sway."
Importance of this Passage
This passage is essential to the whole work because it is when Gawain, after his long, hard journey, finally finds the Green Knight's castle. With so some many Christian elements present, it could be argued that symbolically the Green Knight's castle is the Garden of Eden and Gawain is Adam. Here, Gawain enters a place that is extremely beautiful like the Garden of Eden would be, with lots of greenery and an immense amount of protection. Before arriving here, Gawain does pray and his prayers are answered immediately. God provided the garden for Adam and Bercilak is the one who provides the castle/shelter for Gawain, so Bercilak could symbolically be God. Then it is obvious that Bercilak's wife is Eve, since she provides the temptation for Gawain. However, realistically God is not married to Eve, or anyone for that matter. There is also the porter at the door who speaks of Peter the Porter. Christian symbols are abundant in this section as well as in others of the story. The magic of this castle comes from the fact that it appears out of nowhere in the middle of winter with a lovely green landscape. The lord, of course, is Bercilak who is large and green and so is his horse. Also, another inhabitant, Morgan Le fay, King Arthur's half sister and Merlin's lover, brings her magic powers to the castle as well.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Sixth Edition Volume 1. M.H. Abrams, General editor. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993. pgs. 218-219
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