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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Notes

 

Characters:

Sir Gawain: the story’s protagonist. Arthur’s nephew and one of his loyal knights. He has a reputation as a great knight and a courtly lover. He prides himself on observing the 5 points of chivalry in all aspects of life. His flaw is that he values his own life and will lie to protect it.

 

Green Knight: a mysterious visitor to Camelot. He is large in stature and has a green complexion. He poses a game to the court that is quite deadly. He wants to have someone take his large axe and chop off his head if one year and a day later the person will come find him so he can repay the favor. He shows himself to be supernatural when he picks up his own head. Eventually shown to be Bertilak, Gawain’s host by the end.

 

Bertilak: the sturdy lord of the castle where Gawain spends Christmas. We learn his name at the end. His beard resembles a beaver and his face a fire. He plays a game with Gawain where they exchange their winnings this eventually leads to Gawain’s foil. At the end of the poem we learn that he is also the green knight who is working for Morgan le Faye.

 

Bertilak’s wife: she attempts to seduce Gawain on a daily basis during his stay at the castle. She is an amazingly clever debater and a beautiful young woman. She is another pawn in Morgan le Faye’s plot.

 

Morgan le Faye: half sister of King Arthur. A powerful sorceress trained by Merlin and Merlin’s mistress. She is the old lady in the castle Gawain stays at. All is controlled by her to cause trouble for Arthur and to scare the queen, which we find out at the end.

 

King Arthur: the king of Camelot. In this story he is young and his court is in their golden age. He refuses to eat until being entertained by a fantastic tale, at which point the green knight enters. At story’s end he joins his nephew in wearing the green girdle to show his own fallibility.

 

Queen Guinevere: she is Arthur’s wife. She is young and beautiful and sits at the table of honor with Gawain. She is not like the later Guinevere of legend.

 

The 3 days Gawain is at the castle:

 

Day1

        The lord hunts a herd of does, while Gawain sleeps late in his bedchambers

        He receives 1 kiss from the lord’s wife

        The lord asks where he could have received such a prize and Gawain says that wasn’t part of the deal

 

Day 2

        The lord hunts a wild boar

        Gawain receives 2 kisses

 

Day 3

        The lord hunts a fox

        Gawain receives 3 kisses

        The lady asks for a token but he refuses

        She gives him a green girdle which she says has the power to keep him from death

        He does not give it up to the lord or speak of the magical girdle

 

Themes:

        The nature of chivalry

        The letter of the law

        The changing of the seasons

        Symbols such as the pentangle

        The green Girdle

 

The Pentangle:

        A symbol of truth that forms the endless knot

        Each line passes over one line and under one line and joins the other two lines at its ends

        Symbolizes the virtue Gawain aspires to:

o       To be faultless in 5 senses

o       Never to fail his 5 fingers

o       Faithful to the 5 wounds of Christ

o       Strengthened by the 5 joys of the Virgin Mary in Jesus (annunciation, nativity, resurrection, ascension, and assumption)

o       To possess brotherly love, courtesy, piety, and chastity

o       Side of the shield facing Gawain contains an image of the Virgin Mary so he never loses heart

 

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