Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written by an unknown author probably between 1375 and 1400. It is one of the greatest medieval poems ever composed. The passage that describes the fox hunt and the last day spent by Sir Gawain in the castle is central to the entire poem. In it, all the individual character lines come together and are tied tightly together: that of Sir Gawain, who commits a sin for the first time in his life, that of the beautiful lady, who tries to seduce the knight, and that of the lord, who, as we find out later, is the Green Knight himself. The lord and Sir Gawain agree to exchange the day's gains with each other over the period of three days, and on two previous occasions, Arthur's best knight has kept his promise. But on the day that the passage describes, the lady gives Gawain a girdle that she says can save him from certain death, and we are about to find out whether Sir Gawain can be totally honest.

The passage starts with the third description of a hunt in the poem. The first hunt is for a deer, and the second hunt is for a boar. Both times, the lord kills the animals, brings them home and gives them to Sir Gawain. Arthur's knight, keeping his part of the agreement, gives the lord his gains for the day (which turn out to be the lady's kisses).

In this passage, the lord is hunting a fox. The choice of the animal, in this as in the previous hunts, is not accidental; it symbolizes Sir Gawain's future sin. The description is very detailed. Interestingly, the fox is mentioned by a human name, "Sir Reynard," which is a typical name for a fox in medieval tales. That probably indicates the respect that hunters (or the unknown author) have for this clever and cunning creature.

While the hunt is going on, Sir Gawain is celebrating at the lord's house after his third morning meeting with the lady. He already possesses the girdle. Being a smart person, he must have assessed his situation by that time and come to a decision to conceal the belt. However, the fact that he is about to lie doesn't bother him: "With the ladies, that loved him, he lingered at ease..."(Norton, 1927). His reaction is just the opposite. Thinking about his future mortal fight, the knight is "glad at heart" that he will have the girdle with him. And so, his mood during the entire evening is "good-humored," and he apparently has no doubts or repentant thoughts when he lies to the lord: "All that I owe here is openly paid"(Norton, 1941).

As if nothing has happened, Sir Gawain takes part in the final feast in the castle and the activities that accompany it. After that, he thanks the lord and all the other knights he has met in the castle. His extreme politeness both contrasts with and highlights his deception. There is also a wordgame going on when the lord tells Sir Gawain "...with a good will / Every promise on my part shall be fully performed"(Norton, 1970). Since the lord is the Green Knight and already knows of Sir Gawain's sin, he knows that he has already delivered his blow and succeeded.

Sir Gawain is looking for the Green Knight because he wants to keep the promise that he has given almost a year ago. Arthur's knight thinks of the future fight as the ultimate test of his strength. However, the real test comes in this passage, and Sir Gawain fails it.

Related sites:

  • the Camelot Project site

  • The Luminarium site