Sir Gawain and the green knight” is an adventurous romance, chivalric in nature, which tells the story of Gawain, a heroic knight, and nephew to the king of Camelot, King Arthur.
Gawain’s adventure sets on when, during New Year’s celebration, a mysterious green man (the Green Knight) arrives riding a green horse and challenges Arthur and his knights to a Christmas game (Neilson 7). The game would involve one giving the Green Knight a blow with his axe once, and he (the Green Knight) would return the strike in a year’s time. King Arthur is ready to take on the challenge as his knights didn’t dare, but Sir Gawain accepts the dare in a quest to prove his honour of knighthood, and the other knights agree. He gives the Green Knight one quick strike on his neck that ends up beheading him. Surprisingly, the Green Knight does not die, he picks up his head, holds it up to Queen Guinevere (King Arthur’s wife), and straddles his horse. The bleeding head starts speaking and reminds Arthur and the knights of the deal and tells them that he would see Gawain at the Green Chapel in a year and a day (Neilson 22). The paper seeks to unravel an account of Gawain’s adventure and what he learns as well as the insight the story gives into life in the Middle Ages.
At the onset of the holiday of All Saint’s Day, Gawain starts his journey to look for the Green Chapel as he was instructed by the Green Knight to keep his end of the deal. After a long trip, Gawain finds the castle of the lord and lady Bertilak in an enchanted forest on Christmas Eve. After narrating his story, the couple assures him that the Green Chapel is not far off and offer to host him until the last day. Lord Bertilak proposes a game in which he would go out hunting while Gawain remained in the castle and they would exchange their winnings every evening, to which Gawain agrees (Blair 2).
On the first day of the game, Lord Bertilak sets out to his hunting quest on which he catches a doe (female deer). Gawain remains in the castle, and Lady Bertilak goes to his room and tries to seduce him. Gawain finds the situation difficult as he did not want to anger the lady and he ends up kissing her before she leaves the room hence upholding the chivalric ideal (Blair 3). Later that night, Lord Bertilak presents Gawain with a well-dressed doe and in exchange Gawain kisses him without telling him the source of the kiss. The second-day events occur just as the first day and as per the rules of the game, in the evening Gawain and Lord Bertilak exchange a boar with two kisses.
On the last day, lady Bertilak seduces Gawain again, but this time she extends her affection by offering him a gold ring as a memento which Gawain refuses to accept. The lady then gives Gawain a green girdle that she says is charmed and would protect him from harm and knowing he faces the Green Knight the next day, he is tempted and accepts the girdle, after which they exchange three kisses. When Lord Bertilak returned in the evening, he presented a fox to Gawain who gives him three kisses but did not show the girdle hence breaking the rules of the game (Neilson 37).The next day was Gawain’s set date to face the Green Knight. He wears the girdle on his waist and sets forth in search of the Green Chapel where he spots the Green Knight on hearing him sharpening his ax. Gawain is ready to receive his strike as promised, but on the first attempt he flinches, and the Green Knight hesitates. On the second try, Gawain does not flinch but the Green Knight withholds telling him he wanted to test his nerve but Gawain insists.
The third time the Green Knight strikes Gawain but only leaves a small wound on his neck. He then reveals himself to Gawain as Lord Bertilak and explains that the whole scheme was orchestrated by Morgan le Fay (King Arthur’s sister and a sorceress) to scare Guinevere to death and put Arthur’s knights to the test. Gawain returns to Camelot and narrates his adventure to the King and his fellow knights. He decides to wear the green girdle for the rest of his life to symbolize his failure but the Knights pardon him, and all decide to wear green sashes from then henceforth to recognize Gawain’s adventure and to remind them to be always honest (Neilson 47).The adventures that Gawain encounters in his quest with the Green Knight serve as an enlightening experience for him and the other knights.
He learns the importance of the virtue of honesty. By not giving Lord Bertilak the girdle he was provided by the Lord’s wife, Gawain portrays dishonesty as the rules stated that they were to exchange their winnings for the day. Gawain dishonours Arthur’s court and is ashamed of his behaviour as it goes contrary to the code of knighthood (Blair 4). In an attempt to symbolize his shame and failure to keep his word, Gawain decides to wear the girdle henceforth (Kronenberg 23). The scar from the wound serves as a mark of Gawain’s sin of dishonesty.The narrative gives clear insights of how the life of the middle ages was. To begin with, the Middle Ages was the age of chivalry. Knights had a social and moral code to follow.
Gawain acts as the precise mirror of courage in the story/. Gawain portrays the chivalric ideal by kissing lady Bertilak after failing to give in to her desires by which he does not disappoint the lady and the same time does not compromise the boundaries of her marriage (Richmond 82).Secondly, life in the middle ages involved significant regard for nature and the natural environment. The colour green is used in some instances more so with the Green Knight. The narrative describes him as “all glittering green” with butterfly and bird embroideries on his outfit (Brands 51). As per English traditions, green was used to symbolize fertility and nature while in the medieval ages colour green depicted love and lust. The Green Knight shares a strong survival inclination with animals showed through his second game most especially in his hunting quests.
The forest where Gawain finds the castle in addition to availability and variety of animals, i.e., deer, Boar, and fox also show the natural setting of the times. Hunting was also a significant source of living as demonstrated by Bertilak’s hunting quests.Finally, during the Middle Ages times, seasons and religion were much valued.
There is a representation of various holidays in the narrative including; Christmas, All Saint’s Day, and New Year’s Day. The holidays involve big celebrations and merrymaking as described at the beginning with King Arthur and his knights and the Lord Bertiaks castle when Gawain arrives on Christmas Eve. Religion played a part during the middle ages as seen with the Gawain’s dishonesty being depicted as a sin on which he gets the scar as some punishment and the knights and Lord Bertilak forgiving Gawain of his crime. Gawain tends to rely on his cunning and ways instead of God’s will (Brands 52). Even in present day, the adventures of Gawain serve as a great lesson to humanity.
Moral values and attributes such as honesty are essential and breaking these codes may lead to consequences as seen by the scar on Gawain’s neck and the girdle around his waist.