Sir Gawain

The tale of Sir Gawain

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a unique poem which not only tells the tale of a knight (or "knyyt" as it is written in the Middle-English manuscript) who goes on a quest, but also provides a subtle criticism of Arthurian legend by way of telling us how Sir Gawain is a "pearl amid white peas" when he is evaluated by the Green Knight late in the tale (line 2065).

Why is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight important?

This poem consists of 2530 lines that are arranged into 101 stanzas. It is commonly considered to be a part of the 14th century "Alliterative Revival" and is written in a language dialect that is from the English northwest Midlands estimated to be in the vicinity of Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire. As such, the "Pearl Poet" (most common designation for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight's unknown author, though he is also referred to by some as "the Gawain Poet") is classified as a "northern poet" in contrast to, for example, a "southern poet" like Geoffrey Chaucer.

The "Alliterative Revival" was a form of poetry that hearkened backward to pre-Norman conquest Anglo-Saxon poetry that emphasized accented meter instead of syllabic rhyming (such as Chaucer).

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is usually described as a fusion between two main poetic subject traditions: French romance and Celtic literature.

Summary about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Written in the late 14th century, it tells the story of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's court, who accepts a challenge from the mysterious Green Knight during an unusual Christmas party at Camelot. The challenge is a kind of "game" which involves exchanging blows "kind for kind" between the Green Knight and Sir Gawain. The conditions of this "game" are that though Sir Gawain will strike first with an axe, the Green Knight will be allowed to return the blow.

Gawain's swing decapitates the Green Knight's head, who casually picks it back up and announces that in one year's time he will meet with Sir Gawain at The Green Chapel. The astonished group watch as the Green Knight exits, and then begins Gawain's ordeal of preparing and then pursuing his appointment at the Green Chapel in one year's time. Because Gawain doesn't know the location of the Green Chapel until near the end of the poem, to fulfill his end of the bargain requires passing through strange lands and dealing with a number of hostile peoples and strange beasts.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is considered one of the greatest works of Middle English literature. It has been analyzed to demonstrate that it contains complex themes, vivid imagery, and a rich symbolism. Issues of chivalry, honor, and human weakness are explored, and the poem raises questions about the relationship between appearance and reality. The poem utilizes alliteration and other poetic devices, creating a musical and highly memorable reading experience.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is frequently studied as part of the literary canon of medieval literature. It has been translated into a number of languages. Despite the remarkable age of the story, it continues to be widely read and appreciated by scholars and general readers alike.


* The book (from the Cotton Nero A.x. manuscript) ends with "HONI SOYT QUI MAL PENCE" - This is a Anglo-Saxon motto derived from Old French meaning roughly "shame to he who thinks evil of it" though it is more often streamlined to be "shame to him who finds evil here"