‘‘Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot!’’ Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an epic poem written anonymously that chronicles both events in long ago England and life. The exact date of the poem’s creation is unknown but it’s estimated by its Middle English diction -prevalent between 1150-1475 A.D- lifestyle and hints about events that the poem was composed between 1350 A.D. – 1400 A.D. The epic poem inhabits a world filled with knights and their code of honor. It is a truly inspired piece that is very meticulous and provides great imagery.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a medieval romance. This genre of literature features adventuring knights, noble ladies, and often, elements of the supernatural. A romance hero usually adheres to a strict code of knightly conduct, which requires his absolute loyalty to his liege, lord, extreme generosity, refusal to break his oaths, and the defense of the helpless. Sir Gawain is the protagonist hero. If it had not been for him taking King Arthur’s place in battling the Green Knight, he would not have been. Sir Gawain’s bravery is witnessed when he is the only one among the knights to volunteer to fight the Green Knight, thereby relieving King Arthur of his responsibilities in the matter (Lines 339-361). However, even though he is a noble hero, he expresses great humility, as shown in Line 355, when he speaks of how little value his life is. In addition, Gawain never shrinks from his duty; he reiterates his desire to keep his word in Lines 1066-1067 when he discusses his circumstances with his host at a castle. Even when the lady of the castle (the lord of the castle’s wife) approaches him with guile, he defends himself against her flattery with humility in Lines 1263-1266. The anonymous author of the reviviting piece knew how to enact a catalyst and keep the action and tension going even at the end. This poem commences with arthur and his knights having gathered at his castle for the feast concluding their 15-Day Christmas feast, but Arthur has a custom of refusing to eat until he has heard a marvelous tale or witnessed a wonder. Suddenly, an enormous, completely green man carrying a giant axe rides in on a entirely green horse (Line 1-316). At first, mistaken as the wonder King Arthur awaits, it is really the first appearance of the antagonist, the Green Knight. When the Green Knight emerges he challenges the king and the knights to fight him (Lines 257-315). Arthur accepts the challenge but Sir Gawain heroically requests to replace him (Lines 316-416). Sir Gawain decapitated the Green Knight yet, he still spoke. This rising action brings surprise and anticipation of what’s to come. The Green Knight challenges Gawain (the crisis), which he accepts, to submit to a blow from his axe in a year and a day from the proceedings (Lines 491-669). His decision not only drew me in, it made me more excited for the next occurrences. The conflict is between Sir Gawain’s code of honor as a knight, which requires him to always keep his word, and his natural survival instinct. Once a year passes, Gawain rides out to meet his obligation and seeks out the Green Knight. It seems as if his code of honor is going to win out over his survival instinct and bye-bye, Gawain. This is the climax where the tension builds. Sir Gawain is led to the green chapel by a guide where our antagonist attempts to decapitate him but fails (Lines 2309-2321). The green man announces his alias -Bercilak de Hautdesert- and that the witch Morgana Le Fay sent him to test Sir Gawain’s pride. Even though, this is falling action where the poem should start to calm, my attention as reader spiked. The author keeps you captivated to the gritty end. As the resolution and symbolic conclusion approaches Sir Gawain returns to Camelot and tells his story, where upon all the knights wear a green belt to remind them of their sins (as reference to when the lady of the castle used a green belt to make Gawain kiss her and his actions engulfed him in guilt).
What really makes the poem stand out is its use of symbolism. The narrator of Sir Gawain is very clear about what the pentangle (five-pointed star) on Gawain’s shield represents. It is a symbol that Solomon designed long ago. As an emblem of fidelity, and justly so. Therefore it suits this knight and his shining arms, For always faithful in five ways, and five times in each case, Gawain was reputed as virtuous’’ (625-626; 631-633). These five ways in which Gawain is virtuous are in 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: generosity, fellowship, chastity, courtesy, and charity. Wow, that’s a lot of virtue.
The pentangle is an appropriate representation of these five areas of virtue because each of the five sides of the pentangle transitions seamlessly into the next. This aspect of its geometry might represent the way in which the virtues are interrelated, each area feeding into and supporting the other.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a fantastic epic poem whose story lingers in the reader’s thoughts and keeps them on their toes. The poem explores feelings and events that are common to all mankind, including life and its conflicts, death, love and honor. This allows a connectivity that brings a reader that much closer to the poem’s content. In addition the content draws you in more with its emotional ties and use of symbolism. It is truly an inspired piece of writing by an unknown visionary.
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