Lengthy Poem Surrounding
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a lengthy poem surrounding well-known King Arthur of Camelot and one of his most noble and loyal knights, Sir Gawain. Throughout the story, the noble knight is traveling to battle the antagonist of the poem, the Green Knight, a being that challenged Sir Gawain to track down and decapitate him. During his journey, he is tempted three times by Lady Bertilak, the wife of the Lord who is granting Sir Gawain shelter in his time of need, and his knightly honor is challenged by this.
Despite being given plenty of opportunities to betray King Arthur and pick the path that would label him as morally corrupt, he remained noble and true to his vows. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written in the late fourteenth century. During this trying time period, the Hundred Years’ War was raging and the Black Plague was finally beginning to come to a halt. This poem covers knightly chivalry and morals. Throughout the story, these two themes are challenged through the temptation of the main character, Sir Gawain. During the late fourteenth century, the Hundred Year’s War was still going on with full force and it didn’t look like there would be a cease-fire any time soon. In addition, the infamous Black Plague was tearing through Europe and destroying morale in society.
However, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight does not spend time on the dirty aspects of society that were extremely hard to swallow during the time period. The author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight decided, instead, to give the people of Britain an escape through literature, has not mentioned the fact that the British society was crumbling. The time period had an incredibly heavy influence on the story because without the absolutely crushing events going on at the time, the motivation behind the author providing an excellent story to give the downtrodden people an escape and a person to look up to in times of extreme grief, such as Sir Gawain, the poem never would have been written in the first place. At the very beginning of the poem, Sir Gawain is at a grand Christmas feast at King Arthur’s court. The author uses imagery to depict how vibrant and red the feast is, providing a stark contrast when the Green Knight walks in and disrupts the monochromatic feast.
The unknown author also uses choice words and phrases to describe the feast as jubilant and suddenly turns to an air of unease when the Green Knight is introduced. Not only did the author use imagery to set the tone of the story, but the author also used plenty of alliteration to emphasize a point. An example of the author’s use of alliteration is And all his vesture verayly watz clene verdure, / Bothe the barres of his belt and other blythe stones. (Sir Gawain, lines 161-162). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem filled with symbolism, the main three symbols in the story are the pentangle, the color green, and the green girdle. First, the pentangle is made to be a representation of five virtues: generosity, fellowship, chastity, courtesy, and charity.
The reader is shown what the pentangle is meant to symbolize through these lines: 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, (Sir Gawain, lines 625-626; 631-633). Next is the color green, a symbol that remains constant throughout the entire story. While the unknown author does not bluntly state the meaning behind the color green, there are plenty of clues within the poem to suggest its hidden meaning. The Green Knight himself is a solid green color and he carries a massive ax in one hand and a holly branch in the other. Both of these items are directly correlated to nature. The holly branch is a piece of nature itself and the ax as a tool to cut down trees.
Another clue is the chapel where the Green Knight is waiting for Sir Gawain. The chapel itself is described as one of the most wild, natural places in the poem (Symbolism: The Color Green, pg 1) thus leading the reader to believe that the color green is meant to represent nature itself. The third and final major use of symbolism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the green girdle Sir Gawain is given by Lady Bertilak. Unlike the symbol of the color green, the green girdle is a symbol that is much easier to understand and point out to the average reader. The girdle also is a symbol for many different things, the meaning behind it simply depends on the situation it is used in. When Lady Bertilak gives the green girdle to Sir Gawain, it is intended as a lover’s keepsake and something to remember her by. She also states that the girdle has the ability to make the person wearing it indestructible. When she mentions that, the green girdle’s meaning shifts from a lover’s token to survival.
Then, when Sir Gawain fails to give the girdle to King Bertilak as a part of their agreement, the meaning moves towards desperate desire to survive at the expense of his code of honor (Symbolism: The Green Girdle, pg 1). The story of Sir Gawain was a genuinely enjoyable experience, some older literature can be a difficult read but this poem is an exception. The extraordinary imagery used throughout the tale completely captured me and allowed me to get enthralled in the plot. It was incredibly frustrating when Sir Gawain was constantly being tempted by Lady Bertilak. This was aggravating because, as a reader, I wanted Sir Gawain to succeed in his journey and Lady Bertilak left a bad taste in my mouth because she could get in the way of his ultimate goal. Overall, once Sir Gawain came to the end of his journey and it was revealed that the Green Knight had played somewhat of a trick on him by being the orchestrator of the state of affairs with Lord and Lady Bertilak, I was absolutely shocked.
However, I must admit that in hindsight, I, and any other reader, should have taken into consideration that the girdle presented by Lady Bertilak was green, a symbol for the Green Knight himself. The story as a whole was truly a fantastic and the unknown author did an amazing job at keeping the readers on the edge of their seats. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight begins with the grand Christmas feast, which immediately establishes a vibrant aesthetic. The hall is decorated to be nearly completely red, tying in with traditional Christmas colors of course. However, the Christmas feast is not the only example of a beautiful aesthetic. The author describes Sir Gawain’s armor in great detail. Then, the author goes on to talk about the pentangle on Sir Gawain’s shield and how it is supposed to represent five holy virtues. Another form of imagery the author uses is the changing of seasons throughout the text. The seasons drive the plot and Sir Gawain’s journey and are mostly described by the changing of the leaves around Sir Gawain. A great example of this is when Sir Gawain is searching for the Green Knight. During this time, it the middle of the winter. At this point, Sir Gawain is getting worn, then he notices a green field. This is where the author uses imagery to bring in the supernatural force of the story. Otherwise, it would not make any sense whatsoever that there would be a lush green field in the middle of winter.
The sudden appearance of a summery scene is to entice Sir Gawain in a sense, it is trying to make the reader and Sir Gawain feel like the castle is a safe haven. This ends up being a test by the supernatural force, the Green Knight, further proving that the appearance of seasons throughout the story drive Sir Gawain’s journey. Next, the author uses language to bring life and beauty into the piece of writing. The intentions behind why the author chose to write this story are unknown, but there are key factors in the time period and the poem itself that detail how it could have been so impactful at the time it was written.
In the late fourteenth century, a war was raging and the black death was claiming the lives of an unimaginable number of people. Due to these two major facts about the time period, the people needed something to escape to. Reading about war and death was unappealing to them because they were living in that hell every single day. It can be assumed that the author chose to write a story surrounding chivalry and true honor because that’s what the people of the time needed to see most of all. Sir Gawain showed the public that it is desirable to be so honorable and noble, something that the people didn’t see much of at the time.
However, the author also showed a somewhat softer side to Sir Gawain that could relate with the everyday person, he feared death just as much as any normal human being would fear such a fate. This showed the readers that Sir Gawain was human and even though he was the poster child for being noble and chivalrous, he still feared the inevitable. Not only did Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have an impact on readers at the time, but its religious themes have held true. Around the world, Christianity is practiced. The author at the time most definitely had different values and practiced religion in a vastly different way but people now are still majorly impacted by Christianity. This poem was simply a contribution to push Christianity forward as an attempt to express the author’s own values and morals but as an attempt to keep Christianity at the forefront of society. The author most certainly accomplished that feat, and it is evident through the fact that millions of people continue to practice Christianity and uphold the same values to this day.
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a lengthy poem surrounding well-known King Arthur of Camelot and one of his most noble and loyal knights, Sir Gawain. Throughout the story, […]