Green Knight

Joshua Folmer-LaFleur


British Literature

Course research


At Christmas, a knight who is completely green rides into King Arthur's hall. The Green Knight asks if anyone wants to play a game.Any person brave enough to strike off the Green Knight's head may keep the Green Knight's ax, but that man must accept a return stroke in one year. Gawain accepts the challenge and cuts off the Green Knight's head. The Green Knight picks up his severed head and leaves, telling Gawain to look for the Green Chapel. Near the end of the allotted year, Gawain sets out in search of the Green Chapel. He finds a castle in the wilderness. The lord of the castle asks Gawain to stay until New Year's Day, because the Green Chapel is nearby. The lord proposes an agreement: He will go out hunting while Gawain stays at the castle, and the two men will exchange whatever they have gained at the end of the day. The exchange of winnings takes place over three days. Each day, the lord goes out hunting, while the lady of the castle tries to seduce Gawain in his bed. Gawain politely refuses her advances, although he does give her some kisses. Finally, she offers him a magic belt that will protect the life of any man who wears it. Gawain repays the lord his lady's kisses, but he does not mention the belt. Gawain keeps his appointment at the Green Chapel. The Green Knight raises his axe to cut off Gawain's head, but twice he draws back. The third time, the Green Knight barely cuts Gawain on the neck. The Green Knight reveals that he was Gawain's host and that his appearance as the Knight was made possible by Morgan le Fay. He tells Gawain that the first two blows were for the first two days of their agreement, when Gawain fairly repaid him his wife's kisses. The small cut was for accepting the belt and concealing it. Overcome with shame, Gawain acknowledges his fault and wears the belt to remind him of his fault. When he returns to Camelot, the entire court wears green sashes in fellowship with Gawain.

Part 2

I am going to look at the Sir Gawain and Green Knight through the allegorical possibilities lens. The poem shows many different symbolic and metaphoric meanings, such as the meaning behind the colors green and red, and the pentangle of Gawain’s shield.

The story symbolizes the color green as to represent nature. Nature is always healing itself and is always growing. As we first saw in the poem the Green Knight was about to heal himself and was still able to talk and walk perfectly fine after getting his head cut off by Sir Gawain. As in nature when a horrific event happens, nature always seems to bounce back and heal itself. You also see the color green in the green gridle that Bertilak’s wife gives to Sir Gawain. The green girdle represents many different symbols as the story goes on. The green girdle represents a symbol to remember the wife. Gawain said he will always wear the girdle to represent his failure. Another meaning of the girdle is, the men are King Author’s court get a similar belt and then the girdle represents honor.

The color red represents love, anger, and blood. You see red symbolizing love when Bertilak’s wife wore a red dress when trying to seduce Sir Gawain. In the poem red symbolizes anger when Sir Gawain was wearing a red tunic when he was searching for the Green Knight. Red represents blood when the battle breaks out and blood us gushing out of the bodies and the shoulders of the Green Knight.

The pentangle on the shield has five corners to therefor the 5 points each represent something different. Each point means something different and they are: the dexterity of his five fingers, the perfection of his five senses, his devotion to the five wounds of Christ, his reflection on the five joys of Mary in Christ and, finally, five virtues.

Each point of the pentangle is connected to each one and each point are the characteristics of what a perfect knight would consist of. The pentangle is endless and the lines are always connected.With the lines being endless and unbroken, the pentangle represents perfection. The lines are perfectly spaced and evenly distributed.

Part 3

Stephanie Hollis discusses the pentangle that is painted on the shield and is Sir Gawain has all of the characteristics of a great knight. The pentangle on the shield represents all the characteristics a knight should have. The pentangle represents perfection, “clearly the pentangle is a symbol of trawpe, which is equated here, in accordance with its ancient significance, with perfection” (Hollis). Hollis discusses although the shield may represent perfection with the unbroken and endless lines of the pentangle, the author never associates Sir Gawain with perfection.

Sir Gawain is not the perfect knight as we all find out as we read the poem, but he does succeed to his own satisfaction, “he remains, in his own view, a knight whose identity consists of the qualities attributed to him, the only difference is that they now include bad qualities. The pentangle, as it were, acquires a bend-sinister in the form of the green girdle” (Hollis). Gawain wears the green girdle to represent his failure. He wears the pentangle and the girdle as his own defining symbols. Although he may not be looked at as the perfect knight and has failed, he owns up to those actions and embraces them.

Gerald Morgan first discusses the five points that the pentangle represents. “The star-shape painted on Gawain's shield that represents the of his 5 senses, the dexterity of his 5 fingers, his devotion to the 5 wounds of Christ, 5 knightly virtues, and his reflection on the 5 joys of Mary in Christ” (Morgan). As we discussed in class, the five senses are, sound, touch, sight, small, and taste. “The give wounds of Christ are two hands, two feet, and his head. There is not, for example, a consistent relationship between the five sides of the pentangle and the virtues represented by them; the fourth group of five, the five joys of Mary (644—50), stands for the single virtue of courage, whereas the fifth group stands for five distinct virtues (651—55). It seems likely too that the second group of five fingers (641)” (Morgan).“The five virtues attributed to him, separate yet inextricably connected like the points of the pentangle, are franchise, fellowship, cleanness, courtesy, pity” (Morgan). Fist he discusses the give virtues and what the five are. These give virtues are extremely important. Although we know that Sir Gawain is not a perfect nor ideal knight due to the fact that he is a coward and knights have to be strong and courageous at all time, Sir Gawain does show signs of all five virtues as the story goes along. Obvious signs are of his courtesy, an example of how he shows courtesy is when he takes King Authors spot in the Green Knight’s game. All the other men sat down at the table and were going to get their king complete the challenge. We all know that his men should have stood up and volunteer to take King Author’s spot as you do not want to see you king in battle. We all understand where King Author is coming from, the Green Knight came and disrespected King Author in his own house.

Lawrence Besserman starts off by discussing the meaning of the color green. “While green skin suggests the devil, the dead, or fairies, the green and gold of the figure's attire represent gaiety, courtesy, and youth; and thus "the nature of the Green Knight is such . . . that he can be in harmony as well as out of harmony with the court on which he intrudes"” (Besserman The color green is a very important symbol in the poem, I mean the color green is literally in the tittle of the poem.

The attire that the Green Knight was wearing counterbalance the other meanings of the color green. While the color green represents the dead and the devil, the Green Knight is wearing clothes that represent the opposite, he is wearing clothes that represent youth.

Part 4

To start of my research, I start off by looking up broad statements. An example would be, when looking up symbolisms of the pentangle, I would start off by looking up “Sir Gawain and Green Knight symbolism”. Depending on the database I used, I got way too many results and had to narrow the results down. To narrow the results down, I put “pentangle” in the box below and made symbolism the topic. The results I got were much more precise on what I was trying to research and find.

I usually stuck to JSTOR and MLA International Bibliography. I tried looking into other databases by the results were slim pickens and not were helpful. I did have trouble finding results that were connected to my research because many of the articles were connecting the story to other stories that I have not read yet so connecting the two would be pointless. Also, I had trouble at first trying to make my search specific enough. It is not like google, which is much easier, where you can just search words that would be in the website and connected to the article. You have to know exactly what you are looking for to use the databases, I did start off broad but you have to now where and how to narrow your results down to the useful and helpful ones.

To name my research method I would name it, Jackie Bradley Jr. research. I would call it that because, if you watch any RedSox game, JBJ does not get many hits and his batting average is sub-par, but when he does get a hit it is a great occasion and everyone gets excited. That relates to my research because I was struggling to find articles related to my topic but when I get it was amazing and get me wicked excited.