Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Sir Gawain & the Green Knight One of the poems we read this semester was the anonymous poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This folklore poem combines two plots: the contest of the beheading between Gawain and the Green Knight and the attempt of a lady to seduce Gawain. The longest section of the poem combines the scenes of Bertilak’s hunt with those of Gawain and the lady in the bedroom. It seems we are meant to draw some sort of connection between the two events. There appears to be some kind of parallel between the hunt during the day and what happens in the bedroom that same day.
First I think Bertilak is testing Gawain to see if he can be truthful and live up to the chivalry of the Knights of the Round Table. He sends his wife into Gawain’s room every day to kiss him and he receives the same amount of kisses back. The Lord might be trying to see how truthful Gawain will be when faced with the decision about keeping his promise with the Lord and exchanging the day’s gifts and protecting his own life against the Knight. It appears that Bertilak’s wife is the bait that he is using to snare the hero, the moralistic Gawain. Perhaps it is because of his lustful reputation that Bertilak employs such a plan.
Gawain tries to be truthful because every time the lord comes back with the hunt, in keeping his promise Gawain kisses the lord on the cheek. But he deceives the lord on the last day because Gawain receives the girdle (ironically it was green) from the lady yet does not exchange it with the lord when the Bertilak brings him the fox. It is like there is two hunts going on: the lady hunting Gawain in the bedroom and Bertilak hunting the animals in the forest. Concerning the connection between the hunt and the events in the bedroom, the book shows how Gawain is the animal being hunted. For each different animal being hunted, Gawain acts in a different way during the bedroom scene. There are three times Gawain is tempted by the lady and three times the lord goes hunting.
The hunt of the animals represents Gawain’s struggle in the bedroom. The first hunted animal was the deer. The deer was a startled, frightened animal that was on the run. It was dazed with dread as it was turned back and forth by the beaters. It was cornered just like Gawain. When the lady comes to his room the first time, he is like a frightened deer caught off guard by her seduction.
He was laying in bed where he pretended to sleep when she first came in and as she sat by his bed he got up, as startled from sleep. At the end he does give the lady a kiss, but the kiss did not appear to be anything more than a chivalrous kiss that was frequently given at that time. Therefore Gawain did past the test, and that is why he gave Bertiak the kiss when he returned from the hunt. But also Gawain could be giving the lady the kiss to tide her over just for the day, only to savoir his advance and plan for a conquest some time in the future. He did tell the lady that she was the one for him and there was no one more beautiful. The next day during the hunt, they came across a wild boar.
It was a struggle, with each time they shot it with an arrow; it did not pierce its hide. That struggle represents the same struggle Gawain had in the bedroom. The second time the lady came to his room, the fair lady is more persistent making it harder for Gawain not to sin. She talks of how he is the noblest knight of their time and every household knows of his name, yet not one word of love has come from his mouth yet. The author says, Thus she tested his temper and tried many a time,/ Whatever her true intent, to entice him to sin, (line 1549-1550).
Her tenacious attempt to seduce makes it the toughest challenge for Gawain to hold back from sin, just as capturing the wild boar was the toughest task for the hunters. It can even been seen as maybe the arrows not piercing the tough hide of the boar is the same as the attempts of the lady not braking the noble Gawain. On the third and final day, the lady comes to his room one more time while the others are on the hunt. While they are talking Gawain tells her he wishes he had his most prized possession to give to her for her deeds. She then pulls out a ring and asks him to take as a token from her. Gawain refuses saying he forgo all gifts, so she then asks him to take her green girdle and this accepts.
During the hunt they come across a fox which is the animal that the lord brings back to Gawain. A fox is animal that is seen as sly and mistrustful, which is the same way Gawain acted with Bertilak. I think the author chose the fox as the ultimate animal to be trapped because they are normally associated with deception and for being clever animals. When it came time to exchange gifts, Gawain does not give up the girdle, breaking the deal he Bertilak made. The fox during the hunt was crafty almost throwing off the hounds but was caught anyway. In the same way; Gawain was deceptive in attempting to hide the girdle but was caught by the Green Knight later (who turned out to be Bertilak).
It also can be seen that the main point of the kills on the first two days were for food, but a fox is only good for its skin. The skin can have some parallel to the girdle since it was worn on the skin of the girl. The final aspect of this poem is the constant reference to the color green. Green is usually associated with jealously. It is possible that the Green Knight was jealous of the fame for Arthur’s kingdom and how renowned his knights are. A stronger point of the color green is a conflict between Christianity and Paganism.
The Christianity part is easy to notice with Arthur’s kingdom. Gawain is faithful to God and constantly trying to push away sin. Paganism is often associated with the worship of nature, especially trees. Part of what is seen is the way the Green Knight might be an embodiment of nature. He is entirely green, like a plant, and arrives holding a holly bob, which is an evergreen; a common symbol of nature’s survival through the winter. Also, the green chapel (which is covered in vines) is actually a burrow under ground that can be seen as both a place of natural worship and a symbol of the knight’s link to earth.
So the constant referral to green can be seen as a conflict between Christianity and Paganism. Since the scenes of Berilak’s hunt and those with Gawain and the lady in the bedroom are the longest sections of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it seems obvious we are mean to draw some kind of connection between them. The hunt being seen as a reflection of the occurrences in the bedroom, and each animal representing Gawain each day seems clear. Plus the color green being interpreted as a conflict between Christianity and Paganism is important part.