Friday, August 19, 2016

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Severe Spoilers Ahead

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an anonymously written piece of medieval literature which tells the tale of one of Arthur's knights of the Round Table and his journey through the woods.  On the eve of Pentecost, a green knight rides into Camelot and demands that someone accept his challenge.  Arthur reluctantly steps up to take the challenge, but Gawain insists that it be given to him.  The green knight tells Gawain that he may strike him once with his ax but that in one year's time the green knight will strike Gawain in the same place.  Gawain hews off the green knight's head, but the knight picks it up and sets it back on his shoulders again.

For the rest of the year Gawain stresses about the fact that he will have his head cut off in just one year.  He knows that it is his duty to find the green knight like he promised he would, so he sets off into the woods.  Tom Shippey commented that you can't have a good tale without a forest, and so appropriately Gawain journeys on in the midst of the wild land of England.

By good fortune he comes across a friendly lord who lets him stay in his hall.  There Gawain is treated exceptionally well and the place he is to meet the green knight is very near, so he stays there for the remainder of the year.  The lord makes a deal with Gawain.  He will go out hunting each day and give Gawain any and all profits he makes while Gawain stays around the hall and gives the lord whatever he gains.

Throughout the day, Gawain lounges around.  The wife of the lord of the hall comes to his bed three mornings in a row to tempt him, but Gawain remains a noble knight and does not indulge.  Each night he is obligated to give the lord of the hall what he received that day and does so faithfully; he gives the lord of the hall three kisses that he had gotten from his wife unwillingly.  On the last morning, however, Gawain is given a green piece of fabric by the lord's wife which he does not give up like he should have.

The next day he goes out to meet the green knight wearing the fabric as his colors.  Gawain bends down, preparing himself for the blow.  The green knight hefts his ax down but merely pricks Gawain's neck.  In a flash, Gawain has his shield and spear at the ready since he has gotten his one promised blow and will take no more.  The green knight is revealed to be the lord of the hall who had asked his wife to tempt Gawain.  Seeing that Gawain is such a noble knight, the green knight spared his life instead of dealing him the promised blow.

I like this story because Gawain is a very noble knight who keeps his promises--for the most part.  Of all the stories of King Arthur and his knights, this one has probably the best narrative which is very easy to follow and comes naturally.

The writing--like pretty much all medieval literature--is a bit tricky, but once you get into the swing of things it goes by easily.

I would recommend reading this either just before Le Mort d'Arthur (Sir Gawain is an easier read and can ease you into the writing style) or just after so that it blends into the overall story.  Either way it should be read in conjunction with the larger story for full effect.

Have you read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?  Did you like or dislike Sir Gawain?

Are you reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the future?  Did I just spoil it for you?

Comment below :)

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